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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5334
Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology in private practice
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I'm a 59 year old mother with a 41 year old son. I'm trying

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I'm a 59 year old mother with a 41 year old son. I'm trying to figure out how to have a relationship with him as an adult and I'm failing miserably. An example: He called yesterday and brought up his fiancee was angry because he didn't go home the night before. He spent it at his work shop because he had had a few too many beers during the evening and didn't want to drive. He didn't call her because his cell phone was dead and figured she would know he was there. I responded something like...I'm glad you didn't drive if you were drunk, I thought you told me you weren't drinking a lot anymore? How come you didn't try to let her Know? You should have called her somehow." He got angry and told me he didn't want to talk about it...change the subject. I said something like...You brought the subjects up,  I should be able to say something in response. "Fine, I won't tell you anything anymore if you're always going to be on my case." That's kind of the jist of it....with a similar conversation today telling me not to treat him like a kid by telling him how to run his life. Soooo, I Know I am doing it all wrong, but I'm not sure how to change it. In the past he has had trouble with drinking in moderation and thats improved 98%, I guess I still worry over what might happen. The not calling his finacee of 6 yrs was just wrong. period. From a Moms point of view and a womens. I would like to have a good relationship with him but doesn't that imply we both get to feel good about it? Not just all his way with me never getting to ask questions or voice my concerns or thoughts? Any thoughts orconstructive suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Em

Hi! I'll be glad to be of help with this issue.

I can imagine how frustrating this situation must be for you. He's your son, you raised him, you want to now enjoy an adult relationship with him. That's really quite admirable of you, by the way. Many parents go the other way: they want to keep treating their kids like they are little kids who need to be told what to do all the time so they won't make mistakes and get hurt. That is very counterproductive because, of course, adult children have to make their own mistakes and are going to get hurt. And sometimes hurt themselves as well.

But you're trying to have an adult relationship. And that means you share good times, bad times, and make suggestions, etc. Adult relationships are thus two way: you want to give and to get and you expect him to give and to get from you.

The problem is that kids don't often (very rarely, in fact) have the emotional tools to have that kind of relationship with their parents. Your son is indeed older now, but he still feels about you as "Mom". That means to him that you are there to be his cheerleader.

I know that sounds awful. But it isn't really. He still feels he needs your approval. Cheerleader to him means that you think highly of him and approve of him. So every time you make a comment that questions his behavior (like an adult to an adult), to him it's not just another adult asking him about why he's doing what he's doing, it's his mother telling him he messed up again.

And so he's super sensitive to it. Will he ever get past this stage of development? Maybe. There are no guarantees. However, you have a better chance if you are super careful to remember that for him, when you talk it's not just an adult talking to him, it's his mother. And so with that super careful watchfulness, you don't make any comments.

In therapy, I have parents in this situation practice listening to their adult kid saying something like he did, that he didn't call Carol and let her know, leaving her to worry. And they practice not responding with a criticism for sure. BUT, they even don't respond with a question. That's very important, not even an innocent sounding one like, Wouldn't it have been thoughtful to call and let her know?

Rather, they practice just saying things like: uh, huh. And that's it. Just that. Or, "I see". Nothing else. And then they either wait for him to continue or they bring up something else. And you know what happens?

Usually, at first, the adult kid has to pick himself up off the floor because mom didn't behave as he's so used to and he can't tell her how she's ruined his day again. Because she didn't play the same part as always of saying something he can feel is a criticism.

But after a while, he'll get used to it. And then one day, the blessing will occur: he'll actually tell you he has something he's not sure about and he'll ask you for your advice. And that day will be the first time you say anything and he'll be glad to hear it.

Well, it takes a lot of patience. But that is how you deal with an adult child who's not matured yet past that stage where mom's approval means so much to him and he's always looking for evidence that you disapprove. So that's what you have to do.

Okay, I wish you the very best!

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