I am well over 50 now and my addict in his late 20’s. When most of my friends and family ask – “How is your son?” I reply “He is OK”, and quickly change the subject.
Except I am lying.
Even though he is physically matured – he is a long way from being OK, and I am living with it by myself, not telling anyone. Sometimes I don’t even admit it to myself. I am just plain telling untruths. I cannot speak about my other children because I don’t have any, so I try and put the best spin on his situation, or just keep my mouth shut and don’t offer any information about him.
As a loving parent my plan was to bring him up with a healthy mind and body, with the potential to become whatever he wanted. I expected him to grow into an independent, generous, kind, happy, successful, law-abiding, contributing member of society who made the most of all the advantages my husband and I had worked so hard to give him.
Except he didn’t. …
I expected the child I raised to be the best and the brightest. To finish his education, even if it took him a few more years than expected. To explore all the opportunities open to him and choose one that was likely to give him a rewarding and meaningful career or at least a decent job. To pay his own way, even if I had to provide a safety net for a while. To be emotionally independent – to own his own feelings and not blame me for his failures. To not expect me to constantly keep boosting his self-esteem. To play by the rules and not take dumb risks that would ruin his life.
Except it seemed that was too much to ask.
It must have been easier for our parents, who didn’t worry the way we do about making their kids happy. While none of them wanted us to be unhappy, what mattered more was making sure we had what we needed to assure our own future: good education, an appreciation for hard work, a value of self-sufficiency, an ethic of responsibility.
Thinking I had to keep him happy may have left me a little wanting on the side of teaching him responsibility, so it’s no surprise that he grew up expecting me to provide “his responsibility”, and then gave up the obligation of finding it for himself – in the places that adult people discover it: in the satisfactions of work, love, connection, commitment, self-sufficiency, and achievement.
Seeing the positive outcomes of my parenting skills affects my self esteem as much as his; when he is well adjusted, socially and personally, my levels of psychological well-being are generally higher and my levels of depression lower.
In spite of all we’ve done to give him every advantage and every opportunity, he is not OK. Be it depression, addiction, trouble with the law, leaving varsity, not finding or holding down a job. Whatever it is, I had high hopes for him and the fact that my child is not exactly my pride and joy is one of life’s greatest heartbreaks.
Unfortunately with addiction, I find myself in a club no one wants to belong to, and knowing about others in the same boat is not always comforting. What does lessen the psychological pain is to find approaches that will let me move on so that I can be happy.
The “Where did I go wrong?” approach is nothing but torture. Even if I can pinpoint some actual failings – divorce, illness in the family, financial issues – going back over the past won’t make it better. The fact is I did the best I could. Blaming myself is of no use. The minute the “self-blame mental conversation” starts, I have to think about what is good about me, and what I’ve done that have made a positive difference. It may be as small as offering to baby sit a child so that her Mom can have a little “me” time, or sending an e-card to cheer up someone who’s sick. Everything counts as long as I am patting myself on the back.
If my child needs money or a place to stay when times are tough, I will do what I can. But I need to be careful of allowing “emergency aid” to turn into the long term “enabling” of a dysfunctional adult child.
Why can’t I be happy unless he is? Why do I make excuses for him? It isn’t even my disappointment that I continuously dwell on; it’s my anger at why it is taking him so long to get on with his life so that I can get on with mine. I cannot make my grown child happy. As long as I expect that I can, he will, too.
And we will both be disappointed.
I think when I look back at what I expected, maybe it was more than I should have expected, but right now I’d be satisfied if he would just get a life. If he would just be happy. I remember how I used to say I didn’t care what he did as long as he was happy?
Maybe I really meant it after all!
I have learnt that if my child finds his way home, I will be ready to look to a new beginning. If he never returns or changes his ways, I have the right to live this chapter of my life without dwelling on the fact that my child didn’t fulfil his potential. I gave him life, but I cannot give him a life.
No parent can.
It is difficult not knowing whether he is just going through a stage that he will grow out of some day. But if and when he does, or even if he doesn’t, the shape his life will take and the choices he makes will be up to him, not me.
What Nar-Anon has taught me is that I can only come to terms with the choices I’ve made, am making, and will make in my OWN life!