Advice from a Mom of Adolescent Children
As a parent, one of the hardest things is watching your child suffer. This is no less true as your children grow into young adults. What becomes harder as they get older is finding the right balance between intervening and stepping back. Letting your child endure the natural consequences to some decisions are no big deal, like waiting until the last minute to start a big assignment, forgetting lunch money, or choosing not to wear a coat. Letting your child endure the serious, even life-threatening, consequences of not taking medication for a chronic illness is not reasonable.
I found that the more I tried to help my son deal with his chronic illness, the farther he retreated. He did not want me to remind him to take his medicine or ask if he had. He did not want me to suggest ways to help him remember. He wanted to handle it on his own.
With the automatic delivery of medications through the mail order pharmacy, it was evident from the accumulating bottles of the medication that he wasn’t taking it. The more concern I expressed, the more hostile and angry he became.
Finally, I decided that we needed family counseling. I signed up as the patient with a therapist who handled family issues and chronic disease. My husband and I went several times. We even managed to get our son to come twice.
My primary goal for the therapy was to find a way to effectively help my son manage his medications so that his compliance with taking them would increase. The therapist told me, “If it isn’t working, stop doing it.” By this, she was referring to nagging my son about his medications.
So, I stopped nagging. I still shook the containers and occasionally counted pills. I still sent out occasional text messages asking about his medications, but I actively avoided making every interaction about the disease and his medicine. He may still not be as careful as I want him to be about taking the medication, but he is not nearly so angry with me all the time. At least now that he is not actively pushing me away, I have a chance again to be a source of support and help, rather than a source of stress and anxiety.
If you are always there hovering, your child will only reach out to push you away not to bring you closer.
This is the second time I have had a therapist tell me to step back and let my child deal with his own issues and accept the consequence of his choices. When my older son was around the same age, he and I fought intensely, mostly about choices related to school.
When I felt as though every interaction with him was filled with anger and yelling, I sought help from a professional. The recommendation was to step back and disengage about school. Provide the support in the form of school supplies, tutoring, transportation, books, and resources and then let my child choose to use the opportunities provided or not. I was told that I couldn’t live his life for him. He had to be free to make his own choices even if, to me, they were not the right ones.
I did as advised, and ultimately my relationship with my son improved. He has grown into a successful, independent person, capable of making his own decisions. More importantly, his success is his own.
You would think that I would have learned by lesson the first time. But just as each child is different, each situation is different. Where I could step back about school and take that advice to heart with my second child, I could not apply that advice when it came a health issue. The lesson that I hope I have finally learned is that stepping back is sometimes the best way to get closer and have a more meaningful and supportive relationship with young adult children.