Friday, August 6, 2010

Negative influence of girlfriend's feelings about parental authority

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Comment: Thanks. Your response echoed that of a friend and a counselor. I struggle with specifics - need to figure out which "battles" to pick. This has been tough because it went from the rare one to many issues lately. But, we're working on it and things seem to be getting better.

Questioner:  Anonymous

Subject: Negative influence of girlfriend's feelings about parental authority

Question: My 17 y.o. son started dating a girl when they were both 15. She brought some attitudes to the relationship about restrictive parental authority that had not been part of our relationship with our son. Because her parents had interfered in her older sister's relationship with a young man, our son's girlfriend ordered him to keep elements of their relationship secret from us.

Prior to this relationship, our son had shared his life with us joyfully. Now, a year and a half into the relationship, everything is a secret. And any question we ask regarding his work, his play, etc. becomes an intrusion. We homeschooled, and as a result I am responsible for getting all of his pre-college materials in order. He refuses to talk to me about the work he's doing, and when I ask it's an intrusion.

While I could see a "typical" separation response occurring in him at some point, this hostility towards "the parents" is something I believe he has learned from her. Her parents are very restrictive because of her responsibilities in their family business. We have gone out of our way to assist their seeing each other. We get gleeful smiles when we do that, but the hostility returns as soon as we get home.

He ignores his chores, ignores the destruction his cat is doing at home, refuses to take care of anything because he frankly doesn't care if the stuffing is ripped out of a chair. This has been such a radical change that we're reeling. We don't know where to start. He and I can play music together - it used to be fun.

Now, as he explores a career in music, nothing I do can match the musicality of what he wants. So our music together has become painful. I could go on, but the central issue here is how to recover some of the trust that he used to have in our ability to respond to his growing up.

Answer: Dear Margie;

Unfortunately he is 17 which means he will be 18 shortly. He is pulling away from you and it just isn't how you imagined it would be. I can hear your hurt in your letter.

It sounds like you are right and the girl friend has influenced him however, he is responsible for what he thinks and how he behaves. As tempting as it maybe do not focus on the girlfriend as you then let him off the hook for his own behavior.

I homeschooled my children as well. It sounds like you maybe taking too much responsibility for his college career. It is easy when we homeschool our children to do too much of the work for them and lower their motivation to help themselves.

I would sit down with him and tell him you know he is almost an adult. You respect him as an adult however their are also responsibilities that come with making his own choices. He needs to take it on or you will let it drop.

I know that is not what you wanted to hear. It would be much easier if I could give you a magic cure for making this play out the way you want it too however, life is about learning and sounds like he needs some life lessons.

As far as the hostility is concerned, you get to draw the boundaries on acceptable behavior. Let him know when he is not treating you right.

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller

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