Q: This is a lovely big mess that I have created for myself and thought I solved by sweeping stuff under the rug… apparently that doesn’t work in the real world. I have a daughter who is 18 months old (an April Fool’s day baby actually). I love her to bits but really could use a life without her dad. My current boyfriend often refers to the problem as “you can’t fix stupid”. Her dad was a great guy when we were together. Did everything for me but he was very lazy and as a long haul truck driver was gone most of the week. I was stuck at home with a newborn and no help from him. Skipping ahead… we ended up separating for many, many, MANY reasons. We have already been through the court process but I really gave into a lot of what he wanted to save myself from having to get a lawyer. We should each be paying daycare costs proportional to our income but I agreed to 50/50 to shut him up. Because of his work schedule he only gets her every other weekend. I usually give her to him for an extra weekend just so that he can spend time with her (he’s a good dad). He throws it in my face and says that I just want time to spend with my new boyfriend. All he does is yell and scream at me.
We leased a car together not long before we split and my credit is what got the car and he took it when he left. The only thing I can do to get my name off the lease and the insurance is to either get him to agree to give the car to me or default the lease and they will repo it. I have asked him to find a co-signer so I can get my name off the car but he won’t agree. There are so many other small things that really irritate me to no end. My boyfriend and family are telling me to take him back to court and to stop playing nice. I gave him the benefit of the doubt long enough but he still continues to treat me like garbage. Should I have the car repo’d? Should I get a lawyer and take him back to court??? My new relationship with my boyfriend is really important and I am going to marry this man. I would like to make it so that I don’t have to speak or see her dad unless its and emergency. There is the tip of my mighty ice berg dilemma…. I feel like a sinking ship that has the chance to stay afloat if I make the right decision…
Help. The sunshine is fading…
A: Dear Sunshine,
You’re not gonna like a lot of what I have to say. Let’s do the car thing first: if that car is in a crash, it is your insurance company that is going to be first in line to deal with a lawsuit. This affects you, regardless of who is driving the car. Call the leasing company. Your legal obligation is with them, and with the car out of your possession, the leasing company and your insurance company need to know. Refinancing a lease can be expensive, but if you can get your name off of it, it is cheaper than putting it in a lawsuit. And a repo doesn’t leave you off the hook. You signed a legal contract. When it comes to money and divorce and kids, I am a huge advocate of parents working and knowing at any point, they may have to support that child on their own. Child support can disappear overnight for many reasons; counting on it as income is a mistake. Legal contracts made together have to be legally unmade.
Next: You do not have the option of a life without your daughter’s father. Period. She should be your first concern. And second and third. The better she knows her Dad, the better for you. You are contradicting yourself as you go: he was a great guy who did everything for you, but he was lazy. Which is it? Forget it. I know what it is. While you were into him, he was great. When you weren’t, he wasn’t. I’m going to make some assumptions here, and I may be wrong, but here goes: if you have an 18 month old and you’re into a new relationship you believe is secure enough to be guaranteeing marriage, you left your ex in a knotted ball of bad feelings. He’s angry; he’s hurt; he’ll have to get over it for the sake of his daughter. But you have too many unfinished messes going on here to be plowing ahead. If the courts give him access every other weekend, simply write him a note and say “I’m happy to honour the court’s direction, but I also understand that you might want to see Abigail more often. I will do what I can to ensure that you can. Please let me know with some notice, otherwise we’ll stick to the schedule”. You are both running the risk of using this poor kid as a consolation prize, the first place prize being time NOT spent with her. If you are trying to get extra weekends with your boyfriend, realize you now have a baby and free weekends will be, well, never. That’s what having a kid means, quite frankly. If it’s ‘not your weekend’ but the ex gets sick, guess what? It’s your weekend. The child comes first.
Let me explain why it’s better for your daughter to know her father. When custodial parents aim to cut off access to children, those children create a version of the missing parent that the custodial parent couldn’t possibly compete with. The missing parent becomes a myth to the child, a perfect idea of a perfect Dad; what’s to counter the idea? There is no Dad telling her to brush her teeth or do her homework. Mom thinks she’s made her life easier by nudging the guy out, but that kid hits 12 or 14 and all hell breaks loose. And they go running for the myth because You’re Not My Real Dad. A loving and supportive step parent is great; they are not the substitute for a parent who is ready and willing to play a firm and constant presence in their child’s life. Access and money are two different things. Money does not buy visitation. Money does not replace visitation. Visitation should never be denied because of money. In a perfect world, all of these people would be grownups and acknowledge this. It rarely happens. But how great for your daughter if she could have two great men (your words) in her life? Oh, and if your new guy is reading this? The best gift my kids’ stepfather ever gave them was never, ever saying a single negative word about their father. Ever. In over 13 years. Kids know they are a combination of both parents, and if they believe one half of themselves are terrible and horrible, they crumble. Think like a kid.
So, what’s this all mean? You two share a daughter. She’s as much his as yours. You’d both better get your sh*t together for her sake. You will both go forward and form new relationships. Neither of you should be in a rush to do this, because this one is still dripping blood. You throw a kid into these situations, you’re playing for real. Am I happy for you that you found a great new guy? Sure. But you thought you had one 2 years ago, too. Lawyers will make this a bigger mess; find a mediator. A real one, not your aunt or your neighbour. Sit down like the grownups you need to be, sort though the emotional wreckage and find the best answers going forward for that little one.
Told you that you wouldn’t like what I had to say…but I had to say it. Forgive assumptions I may have made that were offside, or generalizations. That little one deserves you two finding a way to be decent to each other.
Q: I am divorced from my husband and it is not a friendly situation. I believe he has a narcistic personality disorder (stated by a therapist I saw after the divorce) and everything that happens is always my fault. We have been divorced for many years and our two sons, now 17 and 19, lived mostly with me but did see their father regularly and, in high school, started spending fifty percent of their time with him. My youngest is a bit of a blabber mouth, thank goodness, so I have been privy to comments he has made about me which were not kind.The oldest has always worshiped him and when he finished high school, he went out to live with him and got a job. He was undecided as to what he wanted to do post secondary ended up with a few dead end jobs. He often came on weekends to stay at my house. He has now started college and I rarely ever see him. His father’s home and mine are not very close and I certainly would not be welcome to pop in for a coffee with him. We do family dinner every Sunday with his step sisters and their husbands, all who he adores. He comes over maybe once a month to join us. His younger brother tells me he is rarely at home as he has use of a car and is often spending time at school, at school clubs or with new friends. I will call him and send texts and I very seldom get a response. When I do see him, he is talkative and I get a big hug but it is the lack of feeling like I know nothing about his life that really bothers me.I have gone so far as to ask if he is mad at me and discuss, in an appropriate manner i.e. not in an accusing manner that I expect my messages to be acknowledged. My biggest worry is that his father is somehow enjoying the situation and contributing to it in some way to get a one up on me. My younger son seems to do a better job at balancing the fact that his parents are not at all close and has gone so far as to tell his father to stop the comments about me, saying he does not need to hear them . He is far more emotionally mature than his brother. I don’t want to nag my son and part of me, as his mother, knows he loves having use of a car and is just spreading his wings, in a “I am an adult now” way. I love my sons dearly but feel like one is slipping away from me. No young man wants mom to be calling all the time and drilling them about life, but he is my oldest so this is all new to me. Any suggestions?
A: Hi Elizabeth,
I’m going to pull this apart a bit, and tackle what is really a bunch of questions in one. I can only go by what I read into your question, so if something I say isn’t right, I apologize. But it’s probably right for someone else. Bear with me.
1. No matter what kind of whack-a-loon your ex-husband is (or is not), you’re free of him. If he is enjoying this situation, it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. The thrill for him will be knowing it bugs you. Stop letting it bug you. Stop picturing him picturing you going through a personal struggle. You are divorced for a reason: stop letting that negative baggage force you to have to divorce him every day, over and over.
2. Your younger son sounds like a sweetie. Now ask him to stop telling you what Dad says. He is being forced to defend his loyalty to both of you, and that’s too much to ask of a kid. This young man is trying to be a grown up liaison between you and your ex, and that’s just not right. Tell him you’re fine, and this too shall pass. You know this man as your ex-husband, but he only knows him as Dad. Some men are great Dads, and crappy husbands, or vice versa. Same with women. Your child believes he is helping you by revealing things that can’t be addressed, nor fixed, nor cured. There is no point to giving this garbage air, and fueling it like a fire. You can only have a tug-of-war if you are both holding the rope. Put down your end of the rope. Let your youngest stop trying so desperately to love both of you and prevent your pain; it’s not his job, and it’s killing him. Trust me.
A note on the ex: whatever is going on in his house is no longer your issue, at all. Your sons are old enough to take care of themselves, and I would give different advice to someone with little kids. But any thought you give to your ex is just holding you back. You. Not him. He is maintaining control as if he’s planted a fricking microchip in you. The paperwork purged the man legally from your life. You need to find a way to purge him emotionally. Every thought you give him empties your tank. You know what? To hell with that. The best way to move on is to finally feel indifferent. Not love, not hate, not regret – indifference. Show your boys that no action by their father is going to impact how you live your life. You can be cool about it, and say things like “I wish him well”, even if you really wish him at the bottom of a well, but stop there. Smile and say nothing else. You’re giving this guy way too much power. Rip out the microchip.
3. Sounds like you’ve done a very nice job of raising these young men. Both of them. I see kindness, compassion and trust. Your oldest is doing *exactly* what he’s supposed to be doing: growing up and away. You have to let him. Don’t hobble him with your insecurities, after you’ve done such a nice job of making him feel secure enough to go find what he loves. I don’t see warning flags – he’s in school, involved in clubs, and friends. That’s a total win. You note he has a good relationship with his step-family. That’s cool; it’s a nice bonus. A family is there for you and lets you touch base and doesn’t get all pissy if you get a better offer than Sunday dinner with a bunch of married people. One day he’ll be at that stage, and get it. He’s not supposed to get it right now. He gives you a big hug and shows up once a month? Not bad. Truly. Embrace that and don’t ask for more, and you’ll probably start getting more. If someone is impossible to please, if it’s never enough, we back away. Be genuinely happy for him, and enjoy the visits when they happen. Don’t say “when will I see you next”. We can force them to do funerals and weddings, but they have to want to spend time with us. I picture holding something with an open hand. Make a fist, and lose it.
4. I have two sons. They are 18 and 21. They like receiving calls and texts from females. Any female who isn’t me, that is. Don’t. Think back to when we were in school. If you went into residence, your parents couldn’t call you or text you. It was heaven. It was the whole point. They could mail a letter, which you wouldn’t answer. You would call- collect – if you needed money. Cell phones are pretty umbilically, if you think about. Frighteningly so. I’ll be honest, if I’m out, the last thing I want is a text from my kids. Bad news travels whip-fast, and trust me, you’ll know if something is up and he needs you. But calling and texting our kids makes us a pain; all those minutes on those plans are not called Parent Minutes. If they were, there would be a single minute on that plan. If I’m on the road, I permit myself to text each kid once, saying “I love you, I know you won’t answer, but tell me if anyone is bleeding”. They ignore them. And that’s fine. It means nobody is bleeding. Besides, it’s only the girlfriends, if they like you, who will respond. Oh, and always like the girlfriends. Always. I don’t care what she has pierced or tattooed. Whoever is the most important woman in his life at any given time gets your respect. Period. And yes, whomever he’s sleeping with is the most important person in his life. You can have a little sob by yourself over that, but it’s okay. That’s life.
5. I can’t say this enough: you sound like you have lovely boys. Really. They are engaged and caring and curious and loyal. Please see their actions as a fundamental extension of all that good work you did – they are going out into the world with all that love and security, safe in the knowledge that they can always come home, there will always be a base for them. Honour their moving into adulthood by making and keeping your own life rich and fulfilling, and not reliant on what they give back to you. It will make you a valued, treasured part of their lives, and not a duty. We all know people for whom the bond with their families is only an obligation. That terrifies me; I want my kids to like me, not just feel obliged.
That’s the long answer.
The short answer? Be cool. You’ve done a good job. Give it some time.
And, stop texting them:)
Q: My husband and I split up last year. I found out he’d been seeing another woman, and in spite of counseling (which I think he only did so he’d look better in court), we are getting divorced. I have to fight for every thing I can, because the judge decided that men can hide income and that’s okay. We don’t have children, but again, that was his doing not mine.We’d be divorced except for one thing. He wants back my engagement ring. I refused. It’s my ring, I’ve been wearing it for 6 years, and it’s mine. He says because it was his grandmother’s I should give it back. He said he’d pay it out, but I want the ring for sentimental reasons. His family have tried to get it back, too, but I believe it’s my right to have this ring. My lawyer agrees it’s mine because it was a gift, but since this is holding everything up I should just trade it.Isn’t it my right to keep something that is legally mine? What should I do?My Ring
A: Dear Ring,
Give it back. Take the money, go buy a ring you love that you’ll never have to give back to anyone, and move on. You’re holding up this divorce for pretend reasons; I think you know once all the ties are severed, he’ll be gone. That’s what you don’t want to lose, not the ring. But you seem willing to accept even bad, soul destroying attention from this man to keep him in your life. He ain’t worth it. Hand the ring to his lawyer and walk away. My guess is you think he’s going to give it to someone else. Trust me: any woman who would take that ring after the history it’s had is nuts.
Legally, family heirlooms, when given as gifts are (probably; I’m no lawyer) now the property of the recipient. But come on – if you know something is part of generations of one family, and you’re no longer part of that family for any reason, and you don’t have kids it would make sense to pass it on to, let it go. Flip side, if you want back something you should have kept in the family, pay up. But ferchristsakes, all parties need to move on.
Q: When it comes to this section of my website, do you ever wonder if I’m yelling into the wind? Ever wonder if I make these letters up? (I don’t; if I did, there would be more, and trust me – the questions would sound just like the answers. Writing styles are like fingerprints.) Ever wonder what happens after I’ve bestowed paragraph after paragraph of helpful, insightful judgyness on someone? Well. I have heard back from several Blame it on Lorrainers – the teenage girl wasn’t pregnant after all, it wasn’t the right time for the Young Married to have a baby, and I was told I was too hard on the young woman whose Dad wouldn’t let her sleep over at her boyfriend’s – but a note landed in my mailbox last night that made me smile. No, not because she tells me I’m right (okay, a little bit), but because someone made some good changes, didn’t hurl anyone under a bus to do it, and most importantly, she recognized she was stuck and did something about it. I think that’s brave, and I told her so.‘She’ is my Warcraft Widow from 2 years ago.Here’s the original letter.
And here is the letter I received last night:
Hi Lorraine,I’ve been thinking for a while that you might like to know how one of your “Blame Lorraine” questioners turned out. I sent the question about a gaming husband 2+ years ago. You were absolutely dead on with your advice. I joined Online Gamers Anonymous, which helped me see that that this is indeed common and frequently irremediable. I went to further counselling, with and without the DH. We finally found a social worker who told him straight up that he was addicted (without judging though), and opined that he might have Asperger’s. The DH admitted that he used gaming as an escape, and promptly switched to paintball. Let me tell you, at least gaming was comparatively cheap! I thought a lot about what you’d said – “don’t have kids with this guy” – and figured that yeah, that could be the dumbest thing to do if he wasn’t willing or able to face his problems. We split this fall, and are much better friends for it. So even though it didn’t work out, it allowed me to start working on my own codependence issues and be free of being a mother to my husband. So I want to thank you for waking me up. I’m so much happier than I have been in 2 years! It seemed like such a silly thing to complain about, and such a stupid reason to break up, but the proof is in the pudding and even coworkers have said much happier and more confident I seem lately.All the best in what you do,
A: Hi Beth,
Tons of tips! Believe it or not, I think this is a good time of year for your son to be getting used to driving. If it was spring, you’d be sending him out with less concern, probably, and come fall, you’d be even less worried. Then the snow and ice would hit, and he’d be at that point where he wasn’t quite as cautious as he is right now. I hope you have winter tires on.Let him drive whenever you’re in the car. You might already be doing this, but continue to. It’s also a good excuse to make him clear off all the snow and ice, and learn how the defrosters work, and how to find the buttons without fumbling.Watch what boots he’s wearing. All those court cases about ‘rapid acceleration’? BS. It was driver error, usually caused by someone jamming on both pedals at the same time or getting a flip-flops or boot caught under a pedal. Fat winter boots are frequently the culprit. If he has those big snow boots, go to a hiking store and buy him some narrower ones. I have Merrells – they’re super warm and way more fitted.Teach him how to fill up the squirter stuff. Keep extra on board. The roads can become a nightmare mess quickly. You can teach him how to fill up the gas tank, but I’ve found it’s a lesson they never, ever use.Hit the brakes. Both on snow and on dry pavement, take him somewhere you have some space (a quiet street, the south end parking lot at Mapleview Mall in Burlington), tell him to get to 50K, then bring the car to a stop as fast as he can. Make him stand on the brakes. People rarely do this until they’re about to hit something, then they feel the ABS pulsating and freak out. Teach him to hold steady and hard, and see how much space he needs to physically stop. Put a cone or use a light standard as a marker for where you’re going to say ‘brake’, then make him get out and see how far it took. Seeing is believing. Wet pavement will take an extra 50% stopping distance, or double at some speeds.Make him put on the headlights all the time. Make sure your light setting is in auto at all times, or your rear end might be dark. Point out other cars on the road, and tell him this is why. Their setting isn’t in auto, their instrument panel is lit up, so they don’t know they’re invisible from the back. It’s a huge problem, on many brands and models. But teach him to just always put on his lights. It’s safer.
The only way to get better is to get wheel time. Don’t take him on highways at peak times or in bad weather, initially. Go a few exits. When you’re in the car with him, just keep your voice very even. That’s why instructors are so good; they don’t get freaked out, even when they’re freaked out. Ask your son who he is less stressed driving with, and let that person go with him most frequently. Don’t take it personally if it’s not you. The point is to get the kid safe behind the wheel, not to reassure your parenting skills. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Remind him that nobody knows they’re sharing the road with a new driver. Tell him to run his own race, and not get freaked out if someone is up his arse or honking at him. People are mean. People are terrible drivers. Tell him if he gets in the least rattled, to just pull into a lot and sit. Tell him if he gets lost, it’s no big deal, you can always get from here to there. Missed highway exits happen all the time, and you can just get off at another one. That’s what Tim Horton’s are for: sitting in their parking lots trying to figure out where you are.
If you find a RIDE program in your area one day, take him back out and make him go through it. It’s a good first intro to how to be pulled over, how to deal with cops. It can be unnerving for anyone, but for new drivers it’s even more so.
If he’s a lousy parker, tell him to park your car at the back of the lot and walk.
If I could only tell any driver one piece of advice? I’d tell them to raise their vision. Your hood ornament isn’t going anywhere. Look high and far down the road. Nothing should be a surprise to you, not an opening car door, not that kid stepping off the curb, not that truck backing out. Look high and anticipate. Hitting your brakes on snow and ice is not great. It’s far safer to let up on your gas pedal than to hit your brakes. If you’re looking far enough down the road, you can control your car much better this way.
Remind him that where he’s looking is where he is going to go. If he starts to slide and is staring at that tree, he’ll end up in that tree. Our brains are computers, and our hands follow our eyes.
Winter driving is about driving for conditions. Speed limits are out the window on snow covered roads. Black ice is real. The only thing between you and the road are four hand-sized patches of rubber, so you need to think that way.
I’ll stop there for now. If you don’t know what to get him for Christmas, I highly recommend the Bridgestone Winter Driving Academy at Mosport (http://bridgestonecanadianwinterdrivertraining.ca/). This season is a little wonky with track renovations and they’re only booking groups of ten, but it’s a day long program that is well worth it. I can’t recall exact rates, but I think it’s about 500 bucks for the day, but they have family rates, which is a good idea. If you want more info, ask me and I’ll contact John and see if they have any spots, or see if they’re doing a press day with some spots in it.
Hope this helps!
A: Dear Carol,
I don’t know that gender plays much of a role in bipolar. It might look different as it plays out, if episodes of mania trigger risky behaviours, and maybe for males those risks are simply different: driving too fast or jumping out of planes. People who aren’t bipolar do those things too, of course, but if it’s wildly out of character, it’s notable.What does a manic mind feel like. Good question. It feels fast. It feels euphoric. It feels immortal. There is nothing you can’t do. There is a sense of clarity, in that you get these really large, brilliant ideas that in reality, aren’t usually all that great. It’s been compared to a cocaine high. I’ve never done coke, but hearing descriptions, I’m apt to agree.
While I only really know how my manic mind feels, sufferers tend to use the same terminology which lets me believe we are feeling at least some of the same things. I talk faster. And faster. I become acutely aware of my thought processes, as if I can see them happening.Picture a treadmill that is slowly being turned up faster and faster. A manic mind believes it can stay on no matter how fast it is running. And the mind ramps up like that, too. The energy translates into your body, and a lot of manic people don’t sleep, or don’t need much at all. They can turn out a ridiculous amount of work, which means being manic can be something that feels pretty damned good. All that energy, all that insight, all that productivity. Getting slammed to the ground with the depression is rarely taken into consideration. And it slams you, hard. And for far, far longer than the mania lasts.As you note, the problem is in the details. Your father bought furniture he couldn’t afford. Mania can make you do that. People can be promiscuous or outrageous. Maybe buying furniture isn’t the worst thing your father could be doing. You buy things you think you need, and you don’t really think too hard about paying for them. The details are boring, and get in the way of these grand pictures you have. Anyone who points this out to you is simply stomping on your brilliance.
I’m uncertain from your wording if your father is still alive. If so, I’m not sure if he’s getting help. I hope so. This isn’t something you treat like the flu or a cold; it doesn’t just come and go, even though symptoms of it might seem to. Ongoing treatment is fundamental in keeping things steady. It’s hard to imagine that manic is a bad thing – it feels pretty fine in the moment. But it’s a marathon. Psychosis can flip the whole table, making it more important that he is with someone who can isolate and treat the whole thing. It’s tough.If he’s passed, I’m wondering if you’re asking me this because you’re seeing things in another family member perhaps. I might be reaching. Wouldn’t be the first time. But. If bells are ringing and you’re seeing similar behaviour elsewhere in your family, or yourself, you’re more likely right than wrong. Genetics play a huge part in mental illness; identifying it early makes a big difference, and sometimes a life saving one. Find a counsellor who specializes in mood disorders (you can ask, that’s the phrase), and be honest. If this is about you, don’t be afraid.Families hand down more than furniture. Take care of anyone exhibiting similar behaviours by educating yourself, and locating help.
Q: Dear Lorraine, At what age do you think young adults, who live at home with their parents, should be allowed to have a “partner” sleep over and what conditions do you think should be attached?Liz
A: Dear Liz,
Oh, I remember going through this with MY parents. The more things change…I’m going to start by saying that more kids are living at home as adults than ever before. That said, it’s still a family home and not a hotel. Hotels are anonymous and nobody cares; homes are not, and everybody does. There are still rules, based more on decorum and respect than anything else. Let’s take two ferinstances: Kid One has been way at school, comes home to visit for a holiday and brings a Friend. It is obvious Kid One and Friend sleep together elsewhere. This, actually, makes no difference. If you are uncomfortable with this sleeping arrangement in your home, you toss Kid One on the couch and tell him his Friend will be using his room and you’ve tied tin cans to the doorknob.The second scenario involves an ongoing relationship where you are part of the day to day rhythm. It is far more likely that you have come to know this Friend. Friend, or series of Friends, has not been sprung on you and forced you to say “nice to meet you, sorry, what was your name again? if you’d like an extra pillow, they’re in the hall closet.” This is where things are awkward, and this is your house, and you don’t have to do awkward.
For me, there are two major issues: the length and seriousness of the relationship, and the composition of the household. Casual daters are not welcome to treat my home as a hosting site for a hook up from Craigslist, even if they live here. However, if one of my adult-aged offspring has a relationship of long duration, is responsible and respectful of house rules, I shrug.My biggest warning bell is always about younger siblings. Whatever you decide for Kid One, be prepared to defend to Kid Two and Three. Also, depending on their ages, it might be a bit much for them to consider that their older sibling is doing that, in there. With younger kids, I’d just say it’s couch time. This is a decision you make on behalf of everyone, and if somebody feels disrespected, then it’s a no-go.Oh, and if you’re the Kid One or the Friend reading this? If somehow it all goes smoothly, and you find yourself sharing a single bed, resting on a Spongebob pillowcase staring at a World of Warcraft poster over the bed, don’t do it. Just, don’t. You can wait.
Q: Hi Lorraine,Do you have any suggestions on how to guide an 18 year old who has no idea what he wants to do with his life? Tony finished high school last June and said there was no point in going to college if he did not know what he wanted to take. Tony has never liked school and has never put a lot of effort into it. He certainly has the smarts if he would apply himself. He had a psycho educational evaluation done in elementary school to rule out any problems, none were found. He is now working at McDonalds. I am fine with that, so long as he is working. College admission forms were due at the start of the month. When I asked him if his was all ready, he replied that he was not going to go to college and he and his girlfriend (she is a whole other story that could make your head spin) are going to get an apartment.I am recognizing that Tony is an adult and I know he was to make his own mistakes. He is also rather young for his age. I am curious how he thinks he will get first and last month’s rent, furniture, etc. If asked for it, I will reply that the money I have put aside for his education will be there whenever he decides what he would like to do. He lives at this father’s and has pretty much unlimited use of a vehicle, thrilling for a young man of his age, I am sure. He is paying rent to his father so it is not all free. He comes for many weekends at our house and we do get along fairly well. It seems as soon as I make a suggestion about the future, I am wrong. I am making sure I am not talking about it all the time or nagging him. I am trying to do all the right things, listen to his opinions, as I said, treat him as an adult. What I am really worried about is that he will get into all these low end jobs and end up with no skills, no prospects and no idea how to get out of the rut. He has been offered many chances to experience different jobs, course, etc but turns them all down. Maybe I have to put myself in neutral and just let him get some life experience and do some growing up. I really am trying but you know how mothers are!!! Your thoughts would be appreciated.
Thank you, Tony’s Mom
A: Hi Mom,
Let me start with what I hear about Tony from your letter: he’s working, he has a girlfriend, he pays rent, he graduated from high school less than a year ago, he hasn’t wrapped a car around a tree, and you like your kid. Not to be flip, but I know a line-up of parents who would trade places with you like *that*.
Throw in computer games, and you are living a scenario not unlike my own. Sure, I want to tell you my kids are geniuses fast tracking through university on full ride athletic scholarships and spending their spare time in the lab curing cancer. But they’re not. They’re trying to decide what to do in some of the most uncertain times in recent memory. You’d have to trek to a nursing home to find tales of similar circumstances. I often tell parents to think back to when they were teens to try to understand better that mindset. But you know what? On this matter, it’s not fair. Sure I was in university and had 3 jobs. But I also had more options: university tuition was 1500 bucks a year; full time summer employment was about picking which job I wanted, not wondering if I would get one. I was getting an arts degree because I could always figure out something with a degree, unlike today where it’s barely worth the frame it sits in.
My oldest has had some false starts. He’s a couple of years older than Tony, and is finally getting ready to head to college this fall. He did a victory lap, he worked, he tried university, and I’m hoping this one takes. I agree with you: it’s not about the smarts. But it is about the motivation, and I can’t give him that. I’ve tried nagging, begging, yelling, silent treatment, bribing and threatening. Yup. Mother of the Year over here. But a wise woman once told me to listen to what others told me about my kids, rather than relying on my own biased you-didn’t-take-the-laundry-down-again, why-are-the-recycling-bins-still-at-the-curb?, why-can’t-you-put-the-dishes-another-6-bloody-inches-into-the-dishwasher, get-up-it’s-3-in-the-afternoon, why-is-there-no-gas-in-the-car-again?, self. My son holds doors for people; he caught a purse-snatcher and returned a purse to a little old lady; he’s a respectful boyfriend to a lovely young lady. Look at Tony’s values, rather than his day to day machinations. I have to keep telling myself that I’d rather they struggled and flailed and found their feet at this age, then at 45 with a mortgage and two kids. No guarantee that won’t happen, but this is the age for it.
I think you’re smart to keep his education fund for education. If he wants to set up house with the head spinner, buy them a lovely set of towels and let them have at it. Nothing like having to do it all yourself to make you appreciate those who have been doing it all for you. I know many materially successful people who aren’t happy, and many happy people who aren’t materially successful. I say be kind and supportive, but don’t bail them out beyond things you would do for him anyway – bag of groceries, couple new tshirts, zit cream. Do me a favour: keep an eye on him for signs of depression. It’s not to get labels that don’t belong, but if there is an underlying thing going on, it might put more of his choices (or non-choices) into a different light.I think when it gets down to apartment hunting, and the numbers are all in black and white, the kids might get a wake-up call. He might ask you what ‘utilites not included’ means. Or ‘cosy’, or ‘up and coming neighbourhood’. He’s not picturing working 70 hours a week at McDonalds to barely afford it; he’s picturing having sex every night.
It sounds like Tony might need to do things in reverse order: find out what he loves through working, then head back for schooling for a specific reason. He’ll probably spend more time finding out what he doesn’t love, but that’s all part of the process, too. You note he’s emotionally young, and 18 is still pretty young chronologically too. I’m hoping you and his Dad have some decent communication (I might be dreaming in technicolour; forgive me), because a united front on this would be really, really beneficial for Tony. I tell my kids they don’t have to necessarily be taking steps forward every single day, but they have to at least be facing in a decent direction. They know I will never have a 32-year-old manboy living in my basement.
Even though you have little say in choices he makes, you can still say ‘darlin’, I love you, I’ll help you any way I can if you’re helping yourself, but I won’t aid and abet you by softening the blow of life’s realities because that would make me a lousy parent’. Keep him talking to you. That will prove to be one of the best things in his life, a mom he can talk to. Oh, and offer to pay for all the birth control. Tons of it.Good luck.
Then slowly as I went to therapy and was put on the right medication the CCAS worker gave me unsupervised time with my kids and it went so well that in June of 2010 my file was closed.Now just so you know, I have raised my daughter mostly myself. I had NEVER hurt my children nor will I ever do such thing. My parents helped me out a lot looking after my kids when I was at home and when I was at the hospital.About a month after I moved in with my parents my husband delivered custody papers. He wants sole custody of our son. I was horrified to say the least. I wished that we could have decided together how to share the custody but he didn’t want that. This custody battle has been going on for 2 years. I was trying the whole time to come up with a fair proposal but he does not want to agree. Every month or so he came up with a new idea, trying to give me as little access as possible, to be the one to make all the final decisions, to have me supervised still when I have my kids, to have access of my daughter even though she doesn’t want to see him.He is using my mental health issues against me 100% and it is really unfair. His lawyer is arguing that me being in hospital and on medication and in therapy are all a negative thing, but the way I see it, is that I very much wanted help. I was spending my days crying, sleeping, not taking care of myself or my kids and I didn’t want them to see me that way. I wanted to be better so that I could care for my kids. I couldn’t afford to stay that way.
My lawyer hoped that we could settle this out of court but to my dismay it is not happening. From the very beginning her and I didn’t see eye to eye and she told me she would write a letter to legal aid on my behalf to get a new lawyer, but when I applied they denied me because she told them everything was fine. I also attended what they call “examinations“, where his lawyer asks me questions under oath and can later use them at the trial. Then my lawyer writes a letter to me stating that in her opinion she thinks I should give in to what he wants because I have a great chance losing. I asked why and she said she learned new things about me at the examinations.
I told her I explained everything and if needed she had consent from me to obtain my file from my other lawyer who handled the assault charge, which she did not do. Also I told her months ago that I was seeing a psychiatrist and she failed to inform the opposing lawyer and now they don’t want to accept a letter that he is writing on my behalf stating he had no concerns about my parenting abilities. She also was explaining that the judge looks at the past depressive episodes to determine whether it may occur again in the future. As we all know it is a possibility. The only problem is I could lose a lot of time and participating in my child’s life, should I be well for years ahead. I plan to. I have learned how to manage my symptoms more effectively since I was 19 years old.
In the course of two years I have been stable on my medication, I no longer take sleeping pills or tranquilizers, I have seen many therapists and am looking for work (which I am having great difficulty finding) or I may go back to school. I have been the active parent in my daughter’s life. I assist her with school work, go to parent teacher interviews, take her to the doctor’s and dentist, care for her when she is sick, take her to dance lessons, provide her with social time with friends, everything a “normal” parent does and I do most of the same for my son when he is with me. I have been very capable to make appropriate decisions for my children and caring for them properly. The good thing is that I am very aware when I don’t feel right and I ask for help until I am better, instead of ignoring my symptoms. I just feel so labelled and discriminated against and it just is not fair. There are many people out there with a certain form of mental health and they are loving and capable parents. I really hope the judge sees it that way too.
I was expressing my concern to a professional and she suggested that I needed more support from people who may understand. She suggested I write to you for possible support, another perspective and possible guidance. I would really appreciate your response.
It’s just not fair
A: Dear Just Not Fair,
Yours is a long note, and I left it pretty much intact. It’s a straightforward summation of years of your life, and I felt it best to let you speak.
For the record: I am not a lawyer. I’m not a therapist, nor a shrink, nor a pharmacist. I’m not a judge (in any sense of the word), so I’m just going to wade right in here and hope you hear this from someone who very much understands a lot of what you’re going through.
First: Congratulations on the past two years. Stability is a hard- won state, and I know how much it can take to maintain that.
Second: I doubt your ex is ever going to be cool with all you deal with. I believe he sympathized with you when he signed up, but I doubt he had any idea what that promise entailed. That said, I get it. Who could know?
Third: Your parents sound awesome.
Now take a deep breath, because I’m going to talk about your kids. You actually have three children. Your mental stability will forever be an unpredictable 2-year-old. You must treat and protect it the same way you would your son and daughter. You must make tough decisions to defend it, and sometimes move at a pace that you find frustrating. The second you ignore it, it will dart into traffic.
I don’t think your ex-husband is a bad guy, frankly. He lovingly signed up with a woman who already had a child; the fact he underestimated the next five years makes him perhaps naive, but not malicious. From your note it appears he has always treated your daughter well. The lack of a mention of her father in the picture makes me glad for this.
I don’t think he’s mean, but I do think he’s scared. He has watched the woman he once loved catapult all over the place, and been totally unable to fix it. Men, especially, like to fix things. It’s a lovely trait for something like a broken tap, but he can’t fix you and he watched a succession of people who supposedly could, be unable to.
Our legal system is broken. It is supposed to serve people, but it mostly forgets that actual human beings get caught up under its wheels every day. This is why it is always always always better for a couple to make arrangements long before a judge gets to. Nobody wins, and in the ensuing years, those children get batted around like ping pong balls. Remember I said your mental stability was one of those children?
Several things jumped out of your letter at me. Your ex is requesting visitation with your daughter. This is a good thing. He cares about her, and he cares about the relationship she has with her brother. There is nothing worse than half- or step-siblings being treated differently. It can lead to a wasp’s nest of bitterness that often lasts a lifetime.
You may not like to hear this, but I think you should encourage her. If she ‘doesn’t want to’, as you note, it’s your job as her mother to understand the importance of this relationship. You’re the grown up. Try. At least try.
I understand your frustration and desperation at being unable to get help in the courts, from lawyers and the process. Again, I’ve yet to meet a single family served well once things get this far along. So, you need to look elsewhere for answers, and for peace.
You say in the past two years you’ve seen ‘many therapists’. This actually concerns me. You need one. You need a tether, a trusted ally. You can’t do this with drugs alone, and I think your next big step is finding a therapist you trust, and sticking with them. I realize that’s hard; it’s also imperative. Sorry if I’ve misread, and you’ve already done this. I’m going to say something I hope you won’t misconstrue, especially if I’m wrong: bouncing from therapist to therapist and lawyer to lawyer can often indicate you’re not hearing what you want to hear. Think about that.
No divorced people are ever happy with how their children split their time. Many people use the threat of sole custody like a sword, only to discover how difficult it is to raise children alone, and how unfair it is to deprive those children of their other parent. Children should rightfully be protected from abusive parents; they should never be shielded from imperfect ones.
Here’s the thing: children make up their own minds. It’s hard to understand that when they’re young, but time flies and children are sponges. They miss nothing, they form their own opinions, but most importantly, they never forget who tried to poison them.
You’re absolutely right that admitting you need help is still used against you. In the courts, in the workplace, within our own families. It doesn’t mean you don’t do it. Many of us are trying to change the perception. It’s difficult, but it’s doable. All I can tell you is that every day you wake up and walk the walk, push aside the demons when they surface, and are an asset in your own life, is another brick in the wall. Protecting your stability and being judicious with your resources, both emotional and financial, will ultimately benefit your children more than any round in a court room – even if you win the round.
I am not going to suggest you stop trying to be in your son’s life more. I am going to suggest that ‘fighting’ for him will wound you both. Not to get all Solomon on you, but you’re pulling this child in half, and you’re expending a lot of money, emotion and time doing it. So is his father. For what most couples spend on lawyers to argue, they could pay for their kid’s college tuition.
Nothing is fair. Nothing. Leave that frustration behind. Create a healthy environment for yourself and your children. Channel the rage and frustration into physical activity. Map out your next courses of action about schooling and work, and put in place steps you can take to achieve them. You may not take a step every day, but at least be facing in the right direction. Establish a rhythm for your children that is reliable and safe. Establish a pattern of consistency. This demonstrates your stability more than stating it ever can. It may not be fair, but if mental illness brought you to the dance, that is who you dance with.
Child custody issues are horrendous on everyone, not just those coping with a mental illness. The strain and stress can exacerbate existing conditions, and create new ones. This is no mystery. What you have to be able to do is not focus on what you want, but what truly will most benefit your children: a stable, predictable mother who will maximize her resources to make their lives loving and supportive. You may not be able to prove much to your ex-husband, but you can certainly model your capacity for strength and wisdom for your children.
One last note: things change. Don’t despair what you can’t alter today because life, and all its players, never remain the same.
Work on staying strong.
One more thing – my parents insist on treating my sister and me exactly the same, since we are twins. They will not want to give me an occasional privilege that she does not have. I have always insisted that if she had shown more respect in her behavior, our father and mother would have given her more freedom, but now that I face her situation, I am really not sure.I know you have sons who are in/approaching university, and, while we may be a bit older than them, being in our 24th year, I think you may be able to appreciate this parent-offspring dilemma from a slightly different angle. Boys can act out of self-interest, I won’t deny that, but young women can too. If they understand me as a responsible young woman, why can’t they imagine that, after a few bad boy choices, I’d be able to learn and pick one who might be worthy of their trust?
A: Dear Help,
I’m not quite sure where to start unravelling this.
First, your sister isn’t waiting for the privilege of staying over at a boy’s house. She’s doing it. If you and your mother quit covering for her (which I highly recommend), she’d have to negotiate for the same privilege you want, no? You and your sister are on the same side in this equation – you’re dividing and conquering each other before your father even gets to the fight.But let’s back up. You have just learned that nothing is free. That free education has cost you your father viewing you as an adult. When it was His House, His Rules and it worked the way you liked (no job, bills paid), it was a good trade. But you are finally learning something important about your father: his currency. It’s not dollars, it’s control.What you’ve written indicates that you and your sister aren’t too concerned about loosening emotional ties with your parents; her actions are flagrant and, quite frankly, rude. You say you’re totally capable of making your own decisions about men (or boys), and maybe you are. But the nut in the middle of this letter is that while you’re not afraid of testing your father’s control emotionally, you don’t want to risk the sweet deal you both enjoy living at home. Can’t have both, cookie.
‘Responsible young women’ work. ‘Responsible young women’ don’t regularly sneak into the house with their mother abetting them. “Responsible young women’ takes those educations, and, perhaps, rent an apartment together so they can demonstrate just how responsible they truly are. Oh wait. You wouldn’t want to live with your sister, would you? Because she’s not remotely responsible, and nobody knows it better than you. I’m sorry if you feel unfairly maligned with the brush you tar your sister with, but by helping her to thumb her nose at house rules, when you rightfully want to address them in a mature way, you only mess up your own cause. How can you be viewed as separate from her when you’re assisting her?
I actually have some sympathy for you. I do. I believe by age 23 young people should be able to negotiate their way in the dating – and yes, sex – world in a responsible, respectful way. I don’t even have a problem with you sleeping with the wrong men; that’s life. I also believe that your mother isn’t helping by splitting parenting styles. If she feels strongly enough about your sister coming in at 7am to cover for her, she should feel strongly enough to address your father about revisiting rules for the two of you.
Ultimately, this has little to do with differences between you and your sister. I treat my sons differently in different areas, and they know why. This is about your father governing by edict, and you finding it suffocating now it means you can’t have the freedom you crave. I doubt your father would attend a family counselling session, though it would be eye opening for all of you. He no doubt loves you very much, and believes he is simply doing what he has always done: supporting and protecting his family. But until you turn a spotlight on all the behaviours at play here – your mother, you, your sister – and recognize the selfishness factoring in, nothing will change. Your mother is delaying the inevitable – your father will find out. Nobody wins an ultimatum, and I’d hate for your father to be backed into a corner. But by acting the way you all are, it’ll happen.
I was actually the only one of my sisters who lived at home as an adult. I moved out around age 23 (yes, an eon ago) and my father was very much like yours. But I renegotiated boundaries that didn’t fit anymore; neither my father nor I was particularly thrilled, but that’s the sign of a good compromise.
If your father sees you maturing in other areas, you might find more avenues open up. But ultimately, your life is your own, and if you want to make your own decisions you have to finance them, own them, and be responsible for them.
I often hear the story of how his friends’ parents are at least helping their children, by funding them through University.I am tormented by the fact, that I feel that if I don’t pay for my son to go to University, he won’t go, and if I do pay for it, he won’t succeed, and will blame that on something else. My son will soon be 19 years old, and although I know that he has a lot of potential ability, I feel that a tough love approach to him, is fast approaching, and I feel that although I don’t want to cave in, I haven’t got the strength for the battle. Thank you.
Signed, How Much Do I Owe My Kid?
A: Dear How Much,
First, rest assured this scenario is being played out in households all over the place. Doesn’t make your situation any easier, but I personally still find a little comfort in numbers.
I have to remind myself – often – that times are different. When I trundled off to university, tuition was 1500 bucks. I lived at home and car pooled to Hamilton, and could earn my tuition working full time each summer making $5 an hour. The good old days. I do know that university costs more – my son has delayed it a year, and cost is a factor.
However. Let’s use the car purchase as a Ghost of Budgets Past. You and your son had an agreement, and he broke it. It’s likely you will make another agreement, and he will break that one too. I find some kids have this weird idea that higher education is something they are doing for us. Nope. If he thinks he is doing this for you, it stands to reason he expects you to pay for it. The first thing I would do is gently explain that this is his life, and as much as you may have hopes and dreams for him, he will ultimately have to achieve them on his own. The first step is acquiring the marks to be accepted into a course of study. The next step is having a plan in place to pay for it.
You already know the value he will place on this if you pay for it. Save yourself the money and stress. If he works full time from February to the end of August, he can save enough for school. I don’t know if he’s looking at residence; if so, that’s a bundle more. I would ask him if he’s looked into available grants (if you’re a single Mom, there are some programs available). I would ask him if he knows how much meal plans and books are. Define the mountain before you try to climb it.
My guess is that he won’t be able to work the numbers. My advice is that you don’t do it for him. He’s still young. I would offer to let him still live at home while he works the remainder of this year to save, and if necessary, until the fall of 2012 if that is what it is going to take. I’ll be honest: he already has a car and money for poker. It’s going to be hard to find a carrot big enough, and you’re probably going to end up using the stick. I don’t care what his friends’ parents are doing: we don’t owe our kids a university education especially if they aren’t trying to get one for themselves.
The bigger problem here, however, isn’t your first born. It’s the signal you send to the next two by what you do now. If Number One gets a free ride and endless second chances, you will be left with two more who justifiably expect the same thing. You can’t afford that, financially or emotionally, and it’s not good for them anyway. The other problem is if Kid Two and Kid Three manage to plan and finance their own ways, Kid One could very well become the one that you bail out forever. Trust me: the resentment that will build between the siblings will be a lifelong albatross. It is far easier to change the path of an 18-year-old than a 45-year-old.
Sit him down. Present how much the car is costing. If he is the principal driver, I’ll estimate that insurance is close to 500 bucks a month. If he’s not the principal driver, you are risking insurance fraud (I don’t know all the details: I’m going by what you told me). The two of you need to calculate what university is going to cost – if he is in residence, he won’t need the car. Factor in how much he needs to earn to make school happen. If he can’t come up with a reasonable plan, he can’t go. If he plans to live at home while saving for school, he has to fork over to you a (high) percentage of his pay to you to save in lieu of board. He doesn’t like that idea? Fine. He is now officially working and paying rent.
University is too expensive to help someone finance who doesn’t want to be there. He has to take the lead in making it happen, or go off and do something else that is productive. Not everyone takes the same route; I urge you not to compare your children’s journeys to others. A year or two spent finding direction now is far cheaper and less disruptive than doing it in 5 years. Or twenty.
As parents, our job isn’t to make children. It’s to make adults.
You have two options: you can stay or you can go. But what happens within those options is where your life gets in gear.I’m glad you have dismissed the idea of an ultimatum out of hand. I hate those things, and tell anyone who is presented with one to do whatever the deliverer doesn’t want. Even when you ‘win’ an ultimatum, you lose. People need to arrive at their own decisions, or they will never live happily within them.
After 3.5 years, your concerns here are totally valid. You have been open and honest. You aren’t playing games. You are contemplating the next chapter of your life, and the decisions you make right now are important. Probably the most important.
It has been my experience that men don’t do things, because they don’t want to. It’s rarely more complicated than that. If they don’t call you, it’s because they don’t want to. If they don’t wipe down the counters after they make a sandwich, it’s because they don’t want to. Conversely, if they want something, they will hunt it down like a hungry jackal on a National Geographic special. Remember when he wanted to get you into bed? Remember when he wanted to get home in time for the game? Remember when he spent that entire Saturday getting to the next level? Yeah. They can do things, when they want to.
Maybe all the babifying going around you is scaring him. Having little kids sucks, if you ask me. And you should. I have two. It’s overwhelming at the best of times, and I have no clue how you identify the best of times. Ask him. Maybe watching from the sidelines is making him think you have to live through it all at once. You don’t; you only have to get through each day. And they’re kinda cute at the various stages, and then they get big enough take out the garbage and shovel snow. There is no perfect time to have kids; but two parents who love each other can iron out a boatload of wrinkles.
You would be wrong to let things roll along like this when you are hurting. I suggest you talk to him, and I suggest you say things like this: “As much as I love you, and as much as we have had general discussions about our future, I’m concerned that we are not having a conversation that very much needs to happen. I don’t believe someone should be pressured into something as important as marriage and children. However, for the same reason, I know I can’t live a life without those two things, and I have no interest in coercing you. But my feelings are as valid as yours. These are things I want. I want these things with you, but if you have had a change of heart you owe me that truth, however difficult it might be to say.”
This is not an ultimatum. This is a truth that, I’m guessing, will be painful for you to put in words. Sometimes all the big things really do line up, and it’s just a lot of details that are gumming up the works. This gives him a chance to tell you which it is. This decision is only between the two of you, and anyone else is extraneous to the conversation.
Here’s a concrete thing I recommend: take some time apart. Whether you take off for a girls’ weekend, or take a road trip to nowhere on your own (my favourite thinking time), both of you need a few days to think this through. This is a very big crossroads, but one neither of you can afford to delay any longer. If you’re meant to go forward together, both of you need to be on board in a positive, excited way. And if you’re not, you need to let each other go with dignity so you can both fulfill that which will make you happy.
God, that sounds obsequious. But I do mean it. Unless he’s rabidly into having kids, save yourself and move on. Better you define yourself and aim high then let someone else decide who you are and settle for crumbs. Life’s too short.
A: Hi BIOBYH,
Can I put my tent in both camps? I know. Weazel answer to a very important question. I first should make clear than I have an uncanny ability to remember my youth. Every embarrassing, sordid moment. But it is because of this that I refuse to lie to my sons, and more importantly, myself. Delusional Parenting should be outlawed.I’ve spoken with enough cops and counsellors to know how touchy this subject is. The second a kid is told they can’t do something is the second they’ll want to try. Actually, that’s not just kids. Ever seen an “Unassumed Road – Use at Own Risk’ sign stop most people? There is something in our DNA that says “I have to find out for myself”. I don’t actually think this is a bad thing. I’m more concerned by individuals who are prepared to let someone else package up their experiences for them, and gingerly step through life never touching the electric rails. I think everyone should live their life, not watch it fly by the window.
Having said that, I think its important for parents to know that not all kids want to drink. Really. There is a difference between being an overseer and being an instigator. I despise parents who encourage their kids to get drunk or high with them. That’s evil, frankly. That’s not your job. Your job is to explain the law, the social consequences and the consequences within your home. And there should be consequences, just like in the real world.I don’t think parents who enforce the law should be told to change; I also don’t think parents who make adaptations to it should be told to change. We parent individuals, and we parent as individuals.But here’s the thing for me: I believe the single most important thing you can have with your teen is trust. I believe if your child knows they can talk to you, about anything, that ability will be a lifeline through every bumpy road they will encounter. I want my boys to be able to talk to me. That means they have to be able to be honest without me losing my mind. If your child knows they will be penalized for speaking the truth, they will lie. Period. If they confess to something that makes your hair curl, it is because they want your guidance. Here’s your chance to guide them, not slam them with punitive measures that will ensure only that they will never come to you again.
I once knew a young lady I adored. At 15, she tearfully told me that she couldn’t talk to her parents about anything. I knew her parents very well. I asked why. She said they had never drunk as teens, never done drugs, and were each other’s first sexual partners. She could never live up to that, and fearing they would think less of her, she told them nothing. A 15-year-old guiding herself. A 15-year-old with two lying dogs for parents. They had done all of this, and far more, and I knew it. I wondered how this example was serving this child they claimed to love. Set an impossible standard and berate her for failing? The hypocrisy was blinding.
I do not buy my sons booze. I know my sons have experimented. Yes, I have seen both of them drunk, and it is not a proud moment. But I measure my reaction. Couple of times a year? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? I do not have my head up my butt regarding their transgressions, but I am far more likely to hear the truth – and be able to act accordingly – by talking openly with them.
We have a smoking bribe in place, and it seems to be working. Both boys were told when they were very young that I didn’t want them smoking. My father, a nonsmoker, died with lungs full of asbestos, and watching someone struggle for 7 years just to breathe as he spit out pieces of his lungs is not something I ever wish to revisit. So. Each kid was told if they made it to their 20th birthday without having smoked, I would give them a thousand bucks. My sister matched it. So did their father. I have a bloodhound’s nose. Christopher has a year to go; Ari’s friends are jealous of the pact, and he laughs at them as they smoke and he doesn’t. And more than one of his friends have said they wished their parents had done the same thing. My sons know I will honour the agreement, just as promised punishments are delivered.
Do not be the ‘cool’ parent. You should be more ‘pain in the ass’ than cool. A bunch of 13-year-olds getting drunk in your basement? Stupid. A bunch of 17-year-olds having a beer during Super Bowl? I can live with that. Most kids are too weirded out to drink in front of parents. They’ll grab a Coke instead. It’s almost like they know they should be sneaking around like criminals.
I don’t care if a teenager wants a glass of wine at dinner. They don’t, so it saves me wine. Encouraging your kids to get drunk is stupid. Acknowledging it can happen is smart, and making sure they can tell you and call you is paramount. If a kid calls me in the middle of the night (and not just mine; my phone number is in a lot of teen’s wallets), I will get them, no questions asked. It is imperative they do not get in a car with an impaired driver, and do not drive drunk. Call.
Teach them one simple rule: You can always follow a bad decision with a good one. And make sure that talking to you is always a good decision.
A: Dear M,
Sweetie, you have several problems here and while it may seem they all lead back to Captain Fantastic (CF), they actually all lead back to you. Let’s unbraid them. After 9 months in an exclusive relationship with a man you share your bed and heart with, you would like to be appreciated, loved and valued. Out loud. Words. Words that he won’t give you. While words of love don’t cost anything, they hold great value, perhaps the greatest value we know. As the cost is apparently too great to him, there are two possibilities: he doesn’t love you, in which case you need to leave him and go give your love to someone who reciprocates your feelings. Or he does love you, but enjoys withholding that love from you and watching you twist, in which case you need to leave him and go give your love to someone who reciprocates your feelings and isn’t too mean to let you know.From your letter, he seems capable of love. He seems to love himself a great deal. I’m presuming he is aware of how you feel, that you have had a conversation with him, adult to adult, and said “this is what I need in this relationship to be happy, to be fulfilled, to feel valued and confident”. I don’t call this ‘coddled’. I call this forthright. People have different needs, but I’ve found that in general, most people are happier if they feel they are attractive to their partner, if that partner makes an effort to protect and nurture that relationship, and if they feel valued. Captain Fantastic seems to only have one side of that dialled in – he’s getting all he needs from you, and he’s getting it for very little cost.Why is this your fault? Because you are accepting it.
That resentment you mention? That’s your understanding that this is wrong. Resentment is a very real emotion, yet another one you are stuffing down to be with this guy.
Moving right along…different cultures. This can split two ways. Many different cultures and religions can come together harmoniously. Genuine love and mutual respect often unite the most disparate families. I’ve seen it happen; as our world gets smaller and smaller, the chances of maintaining pre-historic ‘tribes’ are remote. I have watched this play out in my own family. It can be wrong to assume a family will reject you based on your faith or background.
It can also be right. Maybe CF knows damned well that his parents will freak out if he brings you home. Perhaps they have his future mapped out, and it doesn’t include you. Maybe he’s getting in all the fun he can before they lock him down and marry him off. You get one of two scenarios: he is ashamed of you – in which case, you need to move along and find someone who is proud of you. Or he is afraid of his parents, in which case you need to move along and find someone who is a grown up.
I would never suggest anyone dismiss their parents’ feelings, or separate from their cultural underpinnings in a reckless manner. What I would say is that you haven’t seen an inkling that this young man is prepared to support you in the face of adversity, or that his dealings with his family remotely resemble someone who is making adult decisions.
So how is the family issue your fault? You are allowing him to treat you with disrespect. Meeting the parents matters to you; it should. While I’m all for children loving their parents, you’re stuck on the bottom of the teeter totter, with his family riding high – and I don’t think it’s going to go back up.
This is a long-winded version of this: you are not getting much out of this relationship. I doubt that will change. But going forward, you can at least know heading into another one to require open and frank communication. At nine months, love just shouldn’t be this much work. This is the springtime of a relationship. What you’re describing is the last dead period before the snow.
You’re young. Go be happy. Love and be loved. Require it.
A: Dear Wally,
First, let me say I am appalled, once again, by the morons who are allowed to reproduce.Now then. You don’t say how old the lad is, but if he’s anywhere from 3 to about, oh I dunno, 20, I can safely say that after the third time you HAVEN’T come to the fence to witness his little drama, he’ll quit. As for his mother? She’ll never change. Too bad, too. Kid is in for a world of hurt if that’s the example he has to lead him.But for your peace of mind, please read this piece. Originally published by the U.S. Coast Guard, it’s been linked and picked up virally, and it’s really worth sending on. ‘Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning’ is important. It also should give you a few more tools in your kit for dealing with your Boy Who Cries Wolf.
It’s also important for parents who think they can sit by the pool or the dock on the computer, with a book, or on the phone. You can’t trust your ears: you are rarely likely to get an audio warning that someone is in trouble.
Now that these are your awesome new neighbours, all I can suggest is that if you ever see the kid unattended in the pool, call authorities. It’s a crappy way to have to deal with people you must live with, but there are some things you can’t let slide. You’ve done the right thing in addressing his mother. It’s unfortunate that people can’t appreciate something more neighbourly and caring than a visit from the police or Child Protection Services, but you’ve done your duty.
I can’t and won’t hold him to the fact that he said we’d have kids before we got married. People change and what they want changes. So after trying to talk to him about it a few times, I finally told him I would not bring up the topic again, but I would let him bring it up when he was ready. I don’t want to feel like I nagged him into it. Nothing worse for a child than to feel unwanted. I had that happen to me as a child with my dad. My mom made up for it, but I always knew my dad hadn’t wanted me. I don’t want to put a child through that. My husband’s too responsible to do it either. So now while we’re happy, this thing is between us. I would like a baby with him. I think he’d be a wonderful patient loving responsible dad. But he has to want that too.Recently we’ve had a spate of people around us, friends, colleagues, relatives, have babies. So its sort of hard to avoid. It makes me sad and I’m sure it makes him think. But I don’t know what to do about it. I really dont want to bring the topic up again unless he brings it up, but I also don’t want to resent him if we don’t have children. I know I could be with him for the rest of our lives and be happy, but also know I will feel regret at having missed out. Its funny how a few months ago I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mom and now I really want it.
Signed, What Do I Do?
A: Dear What Do I Do,
I remember your letter. You and your husband are in your late 20s, financially secure, and happily married. He was raised by unhappy parents. Let’s start there. By all indications, you and your husband have a entirely different marriage then the one his parents have. But kids have a weird way of responding to discord in a family: they blame themselves. I’m wondering whether your husband, upon reflection, isn’t thinking his parents might have been happier if they hadn’t had kids. Maybe he thinks children – him – wrecked the marriage. Maybe he fears a child will wreck yours.It is difficult, if not impossible, to have an open discussion about a topic when one of the participants has shut down. I worry that you feel unable to talk about something that is such a crucial part of your relationship. I agree that people grow and change and change their minds about things. But this issue is a central part of your marriage; the issue of having children- or not – is a central part of any marriage. I cringe when someone crashes into being married without discussing something this big. You did all the right things, had all the right conversations, and now feel not only cheated, but shut down. Your feelings are valid; so are his, but he doesn’t get to gather up his thoughts on the topic and go home. This involves you. You are his wife.
I don’t believe anyone should ever be talked into any major decision. I don’t believe anyone should be tricked into major changes. I do, however, believe that there are times when someone should be strongly encouraged to seek out an independent third party for assistance. I think you might have a better chance of finding out what’s going on with a referee in the room. A counsellor. And here’s why I think you need to push him, even once, to consider it: whether you admit it to yourself now or not, if you stay silent, and the laws of inertia let your marriage chug along, and your husband never brings up the topic again, you will resent him. Every time another couple in your sphere produces another little hatchling, you will add a brick to the wall that will slowly come between you.
You discussed children before you were married, and came to an agreement. You discussed children after your were married, and were still in agreement. The very least you are owed is an explanation if that agreement is now being tossed out the window. Your feelings are just as valid as his. He must be as considerate of you as you are prepared to be of him.
This could actually be quite simple. Perhaps he is thinking a two year time frame, and you are thinking more immediate. Maybe in the past few months, your baby fever has heated up more than you realize. This is something that can be negotiated. It might be a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’. But silence lends itself to invention, and if your imagination is filling it the spaces, your husband needs to speak up and take part in a very real conversation, with some very real decisions being made. Maybe he is thinking ‘oh geez, I didn’t know she wanted to get pregnant on Tuesday’, not the more dramatic ‘I never want to have kids’. Without a heart- to- heart, both of you are doing each other a disservice. Before one of you is doomed to heartbreak, I highly suggest a chat with a counsellor – someone who can rationally bring up the issues, and help you untangle them.
Good luck to you both. And if you want me to open up a blog post to hear from the men on this topic, just ask. I’m sure you’ll read some valuable things.
I certainly don’t like the person he has become since they got together. I know I can’t keep them apart at school so telling him not to see her is beyond my normal control. I have debated calling her parents, who I really don’t know at all, and informing them that our children are engaging in sex and I certainly don’t want them becoming parents. Some friends said to stay out of it as long as I know he is using condoms (I have bought them for him) others say if is was their daughter they would want to know. I also don’t know what to do about this lying as he does it all the time and shows absolutely no remorse and still won’t admit it when he is caught red handed. I love my son but don’t like him very much these days.
A: Dear Liz,
I’m going to answer your note with a blend of having teenage sons now, and remembering my own teenage years. It can really help to dredge up some honest memories.We do ourselves no favours by asking questions we already know the answers to. Instead of ‘how did this earring get in your bed?’, turn it a little. You know it’s hers; you’re well past the ‘you’re not allowed to have sex’ discussion, so instead get to the nut of what really matters to you. He is acting disrespectfully toward you, his little brother, and his girlfriend. If they were to be surprised by family coming home, he would be putting all of you in an awkward situation.’Please consider the impact your actions will have on others’.
I agree that lying to you is unacceptable, and I don’t know a single teenager who doesn’t do it. But if telling the truth will only get you punished every time, they’re gonna lie. I am a big proponent of counsellors being on tap for teenagers, especially those who specialize with young people. But a counsellor should be viewed as a tool, a source of support, not as punishment. Your son should also know that his conversations with a counsellor will be private, unless he has expressed a desire to hurt himself or others. Let him use this place to vent and question safely. Everybody needs a runaway lane once in awhile.
But as much as I understand your concern over the sex, there is a far bigger issue at play here. If this young girl has the kind of turmoil in her family that you’ve alluded to, it is this that is forming the dynamic between her and your son. If her father is unable to parent or devote attention, she will look for that male attention elsewhere. She has found it in your son. At their ages, everything is pretty black and white, and they don’t have the experience to put this relationship in a greater perspective: it is everything, because neither of them know they will look back and see it as a stop on the road to adulthood.
Your son sees himself as her protector, no doubt. Regardless of how good or bad her parents are (and you are right to understand you are getting these reports through his Sir Galahad prism), she has found male attention, support, direction and love in your son. If you, too, push back against her, he will protect her from you, as well. You’ve actually probably raised a pretty nice kid: hickies aside (and yeah, they’re gross, but other kids think so too. That behaviour will peer pressure itself to a manageable level), she’s no doubt drawn as much to his regular, stable family life as she is to the public displays of affection. Remember: she is searching for something that is missing.
The ‘she’s scared of you’ is pretty common. It usually indicates a parent who is engaged in their kid’s life, and takes the time to do things like visit the school, get a counsellor, buy condoms. An engaged parent pisses teenagers off, initially. But I’ll tell you now: diss her to your own peril. It’s pointless, and nobody wins. Her fear will present itself as anger or sass (geez, I sound a hundred years old), but don’t forget the girl inside. And at 15, you bet she’s still a girl.
I would try this. Tell ‘Bill’ he’s obviously happy dating this young lady, and for that you’re happy too. Initial shock made you overreact – he is your firstborn, this is all new to you too. You would like to include her in some family things, so that she can be a part of things and get to know all of you. You will not be encouraging their sexuality, but neither will you be pretending it doesn’t exist. Ask if she’d come to dinner or lunch, and don’t make it an interrogation. Talk about her interests, not her family. Relax. Compliment her tattoos and piercings, or whatever is going on, but don’t make her feel she’s on a witness stand. If her home situation really is bad, at some point this girl could probably use a kind, calm advocate. But don’t expect her to sell her parents out, just keep silently hoping they get their sh*t together if indeed it is splintered at this time.
You’re at a crappy crossroads; you can’t give him free reign to run over the rest of the family, but you can’t keep punishing him should he tell you the truth. Keep an eye on his younger brother through all of this – if you notice anything off, get him to a counsellor too. ‘Bill’ is getting to the driving age, and if you don’t trust him, he won’t be driving your vehicles. That’s a flat out deal breaker. But if you can both make steps toward the middle (yes, we parents also screw up and must change), perhaps a family counsellor can bridge the remaining gap.
Oh, and do me one favour: don’t toss around terms like ‘pathological liar’. I know it is tempting, but it lends an extreme, possibly damaging tone to a situation that doesn’t need any more pressure. That’s a pretty severe, real diagnosis, and you and I aren’t equipped to make it. I do understand your frustration; but your son is still there, he’s just pushing back very hard against the person he knows won’t abandon him: you.
Best of luck.
We have gone to a few therapy sessions together, however I don’t think it’s helping as it’s (just barely) addressing the symptom, and not whatever deeper issues cause this addiction. I finally asked him last night if he even wanted to change, because I have a right to know if not; haven’t got an answer back on that one yet.
Thanks for your advice…
Signed, Warcraft Widow
A: Dear Widow,
You aren’t going to like what I’m going to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. This is just as bad as booze or drugs or gambling. Addiction to these games triggers the same response mechanisms in the brain that are the ‘rush’ factors for addicts. Any kind of addicts.
You have a man who is playing up to 48 hours a week – a week – on a computer game. Almost a third of his life is spent here. When the other two thirds are work and sleeping, what are you married to?
I know a lot about Warcraft. It is in my house. My sons play it. I hate it. We have had battles for 2 years now – battles that have entailed cut computer time, imposed Warcraft bannings, and me ripping my hair out. The thing is, I can still ban my kids from playing it. I can still yank their computers (I disconnect the keyboard). I can still be the parent.
But what do you do when it is your partner? First, call this what it is: an addiction. If he won’t address this with you, go to Al-Anon or a similar support group. You will not be alone. They will help you understand that you are living with an addict, and when you hear and recognize the patterns of addiction (“I don’t have a problem” “You’re overreacting” “At least I don’t do drugs” “I can quit whenever I want”), you will start to understand your next steps.
I’ll be blunt: don’t have kids with this guy. You will be a single mother. He will not trade his computer for a kid. I can almost guarantee it. And the world doesn’t need another child who is ignored by a selfish parent.
You need more than me for this. You can’t make him see addiction counselling as a good thing unless he wants it. He seems to have no inclination to quit, or believe anything is wrong. “I’ve obviously changed my mind” is not something you can build a solid marriage and family on. Please see a therapist for yourself, or find an Al-Anon meeting in your town. Google it or check your phone book.
You deserve more in life than someone who has disappeared into another world and abandoned you. Don’t wait for children to come along and hobble your abilities to make decisions that will affect you for the rest of your life. You deserve better; I’m sure your husband does too, but you can’t force someone to change who doesn’t want to.
I’ve told him to take classes that he enjoys, but also try some new things because he could discover a passion for something that he never knew existed.So, my question through all this mess is, with your boys in the same age group, do you get involved with their choices or do you leave them in control and sign off on what ever they decide?
Signed, What Are My Options?
A: Dear Options,
We’ve lived this debate in my home for years now. And what I’m going to tell you is not in line with all the information being stuffed at you by the Powers That Be.
This causes young kids incredible stress. Suddenly getting to school every day, studying, hitting the mark, keeping fit and developing friendships isn’t enough. Now they have to map out their entire lives. And I agree with you: People change so much, they’re mapping out the lives of someone who they really don’t know yet.
My oldest, Christopher, is doing a victory lap. If you’re writing from within Ontario, you’ll know they lopped off Grade 13 a few years back. It was to save money; but it has arguably caused many rifts for children heading off to university less mature and less prepared than ever before. Like your son, Christopher was all over the map interest-wise in grade 10. He too liked playing football and eating. We found that the restrictions on options (they have to take English, Math, history, geography, civics, careers and a few others) didn’t leave many options each year, and while I wanted him to stay in French, he wanted phys ed or shop. If he’d had musical or artist talent, it would have further narrowed down his choices. Thank heavens those disciplines have eluded him.
He dumped French. He stuck with the basic math I insisted on, though it’s one of his weaker subjects. He’s a good writer with a gift for BS – wonder where he gets that from. In grade 10, he decided he wanted to pursue business. By grade 11, he was no longer sure. By grade 12, the stress was horrid, and I just looked at him and said “you can take another semester or year to figure this out”. It was a release valve. He’s back picking up some courses this year with his heart headed in a new direction – philosophy.
Statistics (I should link something here; they’re everywhere, so Google away) indicate that something like more than 30% of first year university kids change their major after that first year. That tells me the figuring out they used to do in high school is now being done at university or college. Where it’s conceivably costing tens of thousands of dollars. I know high school isn’t free; but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper for a kid to discover their direction there than in a huge, strange structure.
On a strictly observational level, I’ve found that girls seem more dialled in than boys at this point in their lives. Some of them need a little extra time. I think it’s important that your son loves football. He’s learning a lot there. He should probably start looking at a part time job this summer – I don’t like students working endlessly, but a couple of shifts a week during the school year is good for self esteem, and exposure to the work world. (Taxes are a huge surprise to many.)
My youngest was probably even more stressed by the ‘pick your life today’ speech than his brother. The problem is that they throw all the options at all the kids all at once. He came home from that assembly thoroughly rattled. How did I step in?
We know our kids better than anyone. Can you picture him sitting behind a desk all day in a cubicle farm? Can you picture him speaking to large groups of people? Can you picture him with a job that has him traveling or on the road a lot? Does he like to work with his hands, is he artistic? Are sports his single biggest interest? Has he expressed curiosity in the work done by people you know, or by you? Rather than considering jobs, you need to be considering skills and interests. Many of them are transferable across many disciplines. A little imagination can open many doors.
Do a little research on your own. Look up predicted trends for long term work projections. With a rapidly aging population, many areas are going to see surges in required workers. Kids who prefer definite conclusions and precise answers might be thrilled to work with numbers and planning. Good math brain, but can’t sit still for long? Lots of trades are going to be needing journeymen in the coming decades. Good critical thinker, likes a debate? Develop good communications skills – research and writing – and there are many fields (teacher, communications) that open up.
My youngest finally spit out that he wants to go into the trades. He’s got a terrific mind for math, though the reading and writing has always been a struggle. He loves working with his hands, and our family is full of blue collar men (Grandpa was a bricklayer; his stepdad is a sheet metal journeyman). he watched his stepdad complete his apprenticeship, and knows what it takes. His high school has a two year program to get them started, and he applied and was accepted. I think it might have been the happiest day of his life when he walked in and showed me the acceptance. He’ll take required science and math courses, and I’ve asked him to consider keeping his French. he grumbles; we’ll duke it out later. His last two years of high school have a direction he is happy with. And you know what? If he changes his mind, that’s fine with me.
We can only live each day as it comes. Talk to your son about his ups and downs, and let him know he’s not alone. Most people have accepted that we will change jobs – and even careers – more and more. The days of 40 years with a company are over; let him know that’s fine, and the best preparation is flexibility, curiosity and a belief in himself. I want my boys to be independent, productive and happy. If they can find their direction in school, great. If they need to look elsewhere, I’ll support that decision too. The world’s a big place – it’s never a bad idea to see some of it before claiming your spot in it. Check out programs like Katimavik (http://www.katimavik.org/) in Canada.
Mostly? Let him know the school’s framework is artificial. You should require him to work hard and keep an open mind, develop his interests and honour his obligations. Schools want students to succeed – they are there for guidance. But you know your son best. Encourage him to keep doors open, but none is slammed shut so tight it can’t be hammered open with a semester of make up courses or some summer school. Your faith in him is probably the most important tool he has. After all that, I let my sons define their own programs.
And hey, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 40.
Signed, How Do You Know?
A:Dear How Do You Know,
Interesting you should ask me this one. I know, I have two kids (18 & 15). But I never, ever imagined having kids growing up. I didn’t want them. And it wasn’t some dire family horror stories – I just pictured myself as a single lawyer with no kids. See how that worked out?
First, forget the horror stories. It serves no purpose, and people who do that should be smacked, if you ask me. You’d have to be living under a rock these days to not appreciate that yes, there can be complications with conceiving, delivering and raising a child. There can be complications crossing the street.The fact you both are talking about this is good. Child as Leverage is never a good sign; both of you wanting the same thing is a wonderful way to approach this.Practically speaking, when you have the time you don’t have the money. And when you have the money, you don’t have the time. That is the kid thing that trips most of us up. You are right to be considering this, medically speaking, at your age. Waiting until you’re 40 can bring additional heartache as your body says ‘what the hell are you doing? I was ready 20 years ago, and now I’m beat!’. Yes, women conceive and have children into their 40s. But the numbers work better in your favour at a younger age. Don’t throw things at me. It’s a fact.
So. You and your husband are solid. Having no debt and being settled in a home tells me you have similar values. This is probably the most important sign you can have a long and healthy relationship. How you handle and respect money is a big one. If you both agree, you’re over a huge hurdle already. I’m glad you found each other. Truly. I wish more people would pay attention to this stuff.
Do you both work? Can you exist on one salary? Having a baby is one thing on paper, another in the execution. Talk about how you want to raise this little guppy. Can you afford one of you to take a break from their career arc if that’s what you decide to do for a few years? Some women (and increasingly, more men) stay home with a child and are thrilled. Many find it suffocating. I had a company with my boys’ father, and worked part time doing my work while they were young. We planned it that way; decide how much flexibility you have while the child is young.
When they start school, they get sick and you have to stay home with them. If one of you is a lawyer putting in 100+ hour weeks, something will have to give. If you have a job that gives you a lot of money but zero freedom, a rethink might be in order. When you have a child, you start to measure things other then by money.
Yes, you will be exhausted! I’m still exhausted! My kids nursed every two hours, around the clock, seemingly forever. Now, they just plow through 300 bucks worth of groceries a week. But it passes; every stage brings with it new joys, and new concerns. You’re responsible for every moment of this little one’s life; as they get more independent, you stress that you can’t control every aspect any more. It’s a learning curve for the child, and for you.
As for your in-laws: you can’t know what’s in any marriage unless you’re one of the two people in it. I’m sorry your husband grew up in a miserable household. People stay together for many reasons, but obviously that ‘for the kids’ one can backfire. It sounds like your mom gave you a wonderful outlook, and great tools for being a responsible adult. All of these things work in your favour: you can go forward adopting the parts of your histories that were great, and correcting the ones that weren’t. Your love and respect for one another will hold you in very good stead as parents.
You don’t have to buy a child everything they want; you’re better off not doing that, frankly. You don’t have to outfit them in expensive clothes (they just barf on everything anyway). They don’t need rep teams and 6 kinds of lessons to be happy. Two parents who love each other and are working in tandem to raise him is the best thing any kid could have. There will be challenges. I love my boys, and I happen to like them as well. But there are days…
It ain’t all sunshine and roses. There are tears, and shouts, and worry. But watching them become independent of me is wonderful. You raise them with love and respect, you don’t sweat the little things, and you trust your gut about their well-being. You talk to parents you see doing something right. You watch for warning signs, you advocate for your child while letting him fight his own battles, at every step. And you love them.
Sounds corny, and it can be. But if you love kids and want one, don’t be scared. A stable loving home is the best gift you can give a child. Not money, not Baby Gap outfits, not private school. Love each other, pledge to support one another no matter what the future brings, and a child will test all this on a daily basis. If you’re someone who can see the beauty in the small moments, and can get over spills on the new couch, and doing laundry in the middle of the night, go for it.
You can only live one day at a time. You only have to do it one day at a time.
Signed, How Do I Start This Conversation?
A:Dear Conversation Starter,
Don’t freak out. I mean it. Do not freak out. He knows you found it. That fact is now hanging over his head like a guillotine. If he is close to his father, and the two of you are still a team for parenting, you need to first talk with Dad. If Dad is a freaker, wait until your son has returned home to you.It may be little comfort, but your son is doing what most kids do. I was at a football game the other day, and was speaking with a bunch of other parents. Turns out my 15-year-old is one of only about 5 kids who aren’t smoking dope in a particular class of his. And don’t think that makes me jump up and down with joy; it means it’s right there, totally accessible, and the numbers aren’t in our favour. I’ve been talking about drugs and booze and sex with my boys since they were old enough to cringe and clap their hands over their ears. You need to be having this conversation on an ongoing basis.
What he may have thought was unthinkable a year ago – or even 2 months ago – can change in a heartbeat. It’s a fluid discussion, not a one hit wonder where you check it off your list and move on. Involved parents – the kind who speak openly and honestly without freaking out – have the very best chance of assisting their kids in making good decisions. Note I didn’t say keeping kids out of trouble; it’s their job to get into trouble. It’s our job to help them steer the ship when the water gets rough.
You need to see what’s behind his decision. “Everyone’s doing it” means he needs some coping tools for peer pressure. If it’s deeper than that – if he’s upset, troubled, confused, angry – I urge you to get him to a counsellor who specializes in teens. Respect the fact your son is becoming a complex individual, and there are aspects of him you do not know. That’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. I pretty much play the ‘my house, my rules’ card, but I also respect my sons enough to consider their thoughts and respect their opinions. You need to listen to him as much as you need to talk to him.
Here’s the thing: he’s smoking drugs, and that’s not acceptable in your home. He’s blowing out brain cells he hasn’t even acquired yet, and he’s putting his own health and safety at risk. My biggest concern these days with pot (and most stuff) is that you don’t know what’s in it. It has higher concentrations of THC than it did when we were mucking about in high school. With a full blown recession on, drugs are cheaper. And they’re everywhere. Parents who don’t believe their kids can easily get their hands on anything are kidding themselves. But the thing is, you can’t remove every temptation from your child; you have to give them the tools to decide how to handle it.
The fact he’s involved in sports is a big deal. You can’t be high and play well. When you choose to talk to him – and don’t jump him when he walks in the door – stay very calm. Tell him you need to talk about what’s going on. Tell him the discussion is not a choice, but how he handles it, is. He will be more forthcoming if you are calm. If you lash out, he’ll get defensive and nothing will be accomplished.
“I found the bong. We need to talk,” you’ll say.
“No we don’t. Leave me alone.” I guarantee he will say.
“I love you too much to leave you alone. Siddown.”
He needs clear boundaries in place, from you, and reinforced at his Dad’s. Same rules. I’m hoping you and his Dad can work as a team. It’s important.
You don’t want him smoking drugs, or cigarettes. It’s not only habit forming and dangerous, it clouds judgment and can result in some really stupid decisions. Sober kids rarely kick over headstones, graffiti buildings, or throw fireworks at the police station.
You don’t want him drinking.
That said, you also want him to make sure he never compounds one bad decision with a second one. If he is unable to get home safely, he is to call you. Regardless of the time, the situation or the company. If he is in over his head, he is not to get into a car with anyone impaired, ever. He is to call.
You will not yell at him. You will come and get him.
It will be discussed the next day. He will not be punished for doing what you have told him to do.
If a bad decision if followed by a smart one, you will work with him. He has to know you are on his side.
Peer pressure is immense. But remind him that he is a peer too, and playing sports and getting good grades are examples as well. “I’ve got a game tomorrow” is a great escape.
Because my father died with lungs full of asbestos, I am defiant about smoking. I told my sons when they were really young I would make them a deal. If they reached their 20th birthday and hadn’t smoked (anything), I would give them $1,000. Cash. We are not rich. Not even close. I have a nose like a bloodhound, and they know it. If I smell smoke (or find pot or smokes), thousand bucks, gone. But it got better. My sister said she’d join in. So did my other sister. And their Dad. All told, each kid stands to get $3,000 on their 20th birthday, no strings. It is a flat out bribe. But when one of their friends offers them something, they laugh and say no way are they jeopardizing 3 grand. They can blame me.
I’ve also told my sons if they are picked up by the police and tossed in jail, they will stay there until morning. They know the house rules, they know society’s rules, and they know if they follow someone else into trouble, they are being stupid. And stupid costs.
It sounds like you have a great kid. Tell him the trust you have in him is very important to you, and you don’t want it compromised. But if his behaviour forces you to, you will yank your trust. And rebuilding takes an awful long time.
Meet this head on, calmly. Don’t read more into it than there is, and don’t transfer your own baggage onto it. Be honest about your concerns as well as your expectations. You don’t pound a gnat with a hammer, but you also don’t leave him to struggle on his own. As a parent, you guide him, but ultimately he will be responsible for his own decisions.
Just tell him he has an ally in making those decisions.
Best of luck. There are a lot of us dealing with the same things.
Don’t Want to be a Nag
A: Dear Not a Nag,
See how I did that? I already validated your concerns. Which is what your husband should have done. Fortunately for you, I am fluently bilingual. I speak English and Guy. I can also swear in German, but that doesn’t matter right now. Men and women are wired differently. That’s not a bad thing in a lot of ways, but when it comes to words, more fights start – and are prolonged – and it’s usually so avoidable. We talk the way we dress; men put on a pair of pants and shirt and say ‘ready’. Women try on that dress, these pants, iron that blouse, go looking for the right bra, dig through the closet for different shoes, swear when the skirt won’t fit and hold up 6 different earrings. And then say ‘I’m not sure. What do you think?’
Most men say something once and presume that should do it. Many women (and I am one of them) say something as if I’m trying on a dozen different outfits. And I expect the man I’m saying it to to hear each rendition, reply back and make a thing called a conversation. Men have their finger poised over the mute button wondering if they can unleash the grunting from UFC and not piss you off.
I would love to tell your husband he’s a lucky guy. Your questions were based on fear for his personal safety, not jealousy wondering if he was in another’s bed. In which case he should then be worried for his personal safety.
Here’s the thing: he always calls. And he always calls because it’s important to him that you care enough to be waiting for his call. It’s nice to be cared for, and he likes it.
The other night, he forgot to call. One night. I dunno why. Maybe someone stuck their head in his office or workspace and they debated whether the Coyotes are coming to Hamilton or not. Maybe when he shut down his computer, it choked and he had to spend an extra 5 minutes rebooting it first. Maybe he got all the way down and realized he’d forgotten his keys and had to go back up. We do things by rote. And when the things we do automatically get derailed, even by something small, the repercussions go down the line. Ever forget to set the alarm? It’s like that morning. You need to keep in perspective this is a *single* time.
I think your husband doesn’t fight well because he doesn’t like to fight. He’s probably a champion at not confronting people, which is probably why he’s a nice guy. He doesn’t punch random people in the supermarket or tell your mother she’s a bitch. This is a nice quality in a husband.
But he’s married now, and you are going to have to set up some boundaries where both of you can safely express concern, or hurt, or simply have a difference of opinion. It’s okay. It’s healthy. Tell him if he would prefer you only say something once, that all he has to do is respond. Tell him girl-hearing makes up things when it’s not filled with a response.
You: “Can you put the load into the dryer for me, please?”
Him: “Give me a minute, but I’ll change the load, no problem.”
Men will file away the request, intending to do it, but not verbally respond. When they ignore us, we try on a different version.
“Did you flip the laundry?”
“Did you do the dryer yet?”
“Didn’t you hear me ask you to switch loads?”
“Do I have to do everything around here?”
Men: It’s like Nike, guys. Just Do It. Acknowledge what we said, and we’ll shut up. And if we start babbling about that slut at work, be glad we have friends to call so you don’t have to hear it.
Still Men: If you’ve screwed up or forgotten something, just say so. “I meant to call, sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.” At which point, ladies, drop it.
There is nothing weak in admitting you’ve forgotten something or screwed up, Accepting responsibility for yourself is underrated, but one of the most appealing traits in a person of either gender.
If this doesn’t help, call me back and I’ll teach you how to swear in German.
For the record, I am not a permissive mother who let’s her kids do anything they want. As I had such a strained relationship with my strict parents I want to avoid the same with my children. I realize I could hit the ceiling and hands down say no way are you seeing this girl. I am learning as I parent my teens that the black and white world of kids is gone and, over time, I have to learn to let them find their own way. I hope the fact that he could come and talk to me about all this is a sign that I am accomplishing that, as I had to force him to tell his father (we are divorced).I know you have two teen boys and would appreciate any thoughts or advise on this matter.Thank you..
A: Dear Annie,
The good news is that you have a son who can talk to you. The bad news is, like many of us, you weren’t asking the right questions.Call me cynical, but I figure any time a boy and a girl are alone together, they’re probably doing something they wouldn’t do in front of their parents. Heck, any time any gender of teens are together, that’s probably true. And I adore my kids, and generally enjoy most teenagers as company immensely.
But we need to talk plainly about sex, birth control, drugs, and booze before they’re faced with it. Years before. And unlike many ‘experts’, I refuse to vilify male teens as overly aggressive; in a relationship without a huge age disparity, the girls are just as likely, if not more, to expedite sexual behaviour. It would do a lot of mothers good to remember, honestly, how 14 and 15 felt, and the importance that boys and relationships played in our lives.
Back to your dilemma: I’ll be honest. This isn’t about whether he can see her any more or not, or whether you support this relationship anymore. This is about whether or not the girl is pregnant. All discussion stems from this. A teenage girl being ‘late’ getting her period is pretty normal. If she hasn’t had her period by the time you read this, she needs to take a pregnancy test or see her doctor.
If she is pregnant, and she decides to keep the baby, your son is responsible for that child. If she is pregnant, and she decides to terminate the pregnancy, or give the child up for adoption, your son’s actions have produced results that will have a lifelong impact on both himself, and this girl. These are all pretty heavy duty concerns.
Your next steps must be taken carefully, but they must be taken. Tell your son the biggest concern right this second is her health. I also have concerns for your son’s health. If she’s had multiple partners, and doesn’t use protection (by the way, ‘we did it once without a condom’ – total BS. They haven’t been using condoms. Sorry.), he also needs to see a doctor for a full STD screening. There are several STDs running rampant, especially among teens, and your son needs to see his doctor.
I’m sitting here debating about talking to her mother. Part of me is imagining your son’s meltdown if you do that, but a larger part of me is considering that IF this is just a scare, but her mother finally realizes what her daughter has been up to, this young girl can be put promptly on a path to better medical considerations about being sexual active (yearly paps, how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, how to protect against STDs). I can make a thousand assumptions about why a girl of 14 (or younger) is sexually active, but many would be useless and many would be wrong. We see children; biology sees sexual beings.
This girl has spent time in your home. You know her. I would call her. I would say “Honey, we have a very big issue here, and we need to start making some decisions. I will come out there to take you to a doctor’s appointment, but I would prefer you had a talk with your mother. Tell me which option you would like to choose.”
Anyone can buy a home pregnancy test. You could know by the end of the day the answer to the question which drives the rest of this conversation. I’d make that call. I’d give her the option to talk to her mother before you do, but I’d only let her have it for the day. Time is an essential part of this equation.
Now, a side note to you, Mom. Do not blow up. Blow up later, if you like, but not now. Do not judge this girl’s mother – your son isn’t dating her. I didn’t think you were a permissive mother for a second reading your letter. Your qualifier wasn’t necessary. We all do the best we can under the circumstances and we all screw up. We also produce some amazing kids, and many of them become amazing because of how they recover from their mistakes. See? It’s not that they don’t make them – it’s how they fix them.
You might end up being the only calm person in the room if this thing goes sideways. But be that person. If, if, if this girl is pregnant, she’s carrying your grandchild. Oh, and these ‘biological sexual beings’? They revert right back to being children when they get scared. And this is scaring them. Badly.
Emotionally, your son is going to need considerations as well. A pregnancy scare is enough to bust up most young teenage couples. And providing it’s proven to be a scare, hopefully all will learn something and go forward better prepared. But if she is pregnant, regardless of whether they’re a couple or not, he has responsibilities. Because of his age, those become your responsibilities, too.
Your son brought you this problem because he needs your help. He’s not going to like all the ways you go about solving it, but remember that he brought it to you so you could use your wider experience and wisdom to solve it. Don’t blame this girl; the two of them are in this together. He’s trying to be kind (which is a nice reflection of how he was raised, don’t you think?), and you need to allow him that.
Now, it’s time to insert yourself into this problem as calmly, and as sanely, as possible.
It’s not the end of the world; it only seems that way.
Best of luck.