Saturday, December 17, 2011

Teen's depression over loss of friend

My youngest son (age 15) was/is very close to my oldest daughter's boyfriend of nearly four years (both my daughter and her boyfriend are 21 yrs. old). My son and the boyfriend did not see each other often, because both he and my daughter attend college, but developed a close relationship over time, especially through their mutual love of sports. The boyfriend also lived with us one summer. My daughter's boyfriend was like a big brother to my son.

My children's father is no longer allowed any parenting time/visitations with our children due to his problems with anger/violence. My children are relieved about this, but I suspect my son's relationship with my daughter's boyfriend was important to him, because he's never really had a father. It was obvious the boyfriend and my son were very close.
I didn't always feel the boyfriend had a mature relationship with my son and my son sometimes seemed more mature than the boyfriend. But, their mutual love of sports and the boyfriend's role to encourage and teach my son golf was very much appreciated by my son. My son thought he would one day end up living near his sister and her boyfriend, expecting they would marry. My son did not recognize any flaws in their relationship or the boyfriend's lack of maturity nor did he recognize any problems in the relationship between the boyfriend and his sister. Given his age, I would not expect this. However, because he did not recognize these problems or potential problems and because he is young, he really latched onto his relationship with the boyfriend quite strongly.

The problem: My daughter broke up with her boyfriend, as the relationship between them was not great for her. The break-up has been very hard on my son. We live in Ohio and the boyfriend lives in Arizona with his parents and attends college there. My son would like to visit the boyfriend in Arizona to spend some time with him this summer. He would be a guest of the boyfriend and his family in his parent's home. The boyfriend is concerned about my son and says he would probably be able to handle my son visiting him in Arizona for awhile, but has been somewhat mean to my daughter since the break-up and has reported to my daughter that his parents are upset with my daughter, as well.

My son wants his sister to be happy, but also admits the break-up delivered a sharp blow to him and that he struggles with the loss. This loss, I suspect, is likely too akin to my son feeling he never had a father or lost his father.

I am somewhat uncomfortable with my son going to the home of people who are openly expressing anger at my daughter, who had very good reasons for breaking up with her boyfriend. On the other hand, I recognize my son may need some feeling of closure over feeling a loss of his friend. I don't know if a trip to visit the boyfriend would only be prolonging the inevitable need for my son to let go. I also wonder if he should be encouraged to make new friends closer to his own age rather than spending any more time with a friendship, which isn't likely to be maintained, except via instant messenger.

My son is already asking if he can fly to Arizona to see the boyfriend this summer. He has saved money for an airline ticket and is eager to book a flight now.
The boyfriend will be traveling to Ohio for a golf tournament near us this summer and my son will serve as his caddy. My son hopes to visit with the boyfriend in Arizona prior to this, so the two can fly back to Ohio together for the tournament. I don't know yet if the boyfriend will stay with us or not and will base this decision on my daughter's comfort level with this, knowing her boyfriend hasn't treated her well lately. It has been nice that the boyfriend shares concern about my son with her and that he seems to care about my son and the level of upset the couple's break-up has caused my son.

I do not know if it is a good idea for my son to go to Arizona to visit the boyfriend or not. I'm looking for some help with this.

Thank you for any advice you can offer.
Maggie

Dear Maggie:

Your struggle with your son and to be the best mom possible is admirable. I hear your guilt over the loss of his father, I hear your worry over his need for a male figure in his life, I hear your concern over his attachment to a man who may not be the very best model for him, I hear you walking a tight rope between your need to be there for your daughter and your son.

As parents we can only do so much to protect our children. You cannot fix this and it is not your fault. Your husband being violent and not being there is not about you. It affects your children and it hurts you to see how it affected your children. Your son's need for a father and your daughter's less than perfect relationship with her ex-boyfriend.

I need you to lighten up on yourself. Then I strongly encourage you to get the entire family into a grief counselor. You are grieving, your children are grieving and this is the best thing you can do for your son. Encouraging him to continue his relationship with your daughter's ex boyfriend does not sound like a good thing for him. However, this is a choice only you can make. I am concerned you are going to far to keep his approval and make up for his losses.

Really a grief counselor would help him, your daughter and yourself with all of the losses you have survived over the last few years. Being a parent is the toughest job any of us ever sign up for and being a single parent triples the toughness.

Your children are fortunate to have a mother who cares so much. I can hear your concern for them in your letter. Please be as kind and as compassionate to yourself as your are for your children. They need you to be so as a model in their lives.

Your son will get past this just like he will learn to deal with the loss of his father. Both however will be easier if you are not making allowances you don't feel comfortable with in order to keep him from feeling his losses. Remember our children have their own paths in life to journey on and we cannot keep them from pain.

I know this is hard. It is the hardest part of parenting. I saw this as a professional and as a parent of adult children. The letting go and letting them heal is so difficult because when they were little everything we did was geared towards keeping them safe and happy. Letting go and letting them feel their feelings seems so cruel when they are grown up. It is however, essential to their own growth.

He needs you to be there and listen, listen, listen, listen until you think you cannot listen anymore, and then listen some more. You will hear what you don't want to hear and you will want to fix everything however you need to just listen. Breathe, breathe deeply and let go with each breathe. He will be okay. Trust the love that you have for your children, it is what they draw from as they journey through life on their own. Trust that love.

Learn to enjoy their presence in your life, learn to respect the honor of being a witness to their lives and let go so you can journey forward with your own life. Your greatest gift to them know is to focus on being happy and showing them the bumps in the road are only part of the journey.

Thank you for your question.

Sincerely,
M Kay Keller

P.S. Please don't let your concern for your son overshadow your need to be there for your daughter. She has broken a cycle by not allowing a less than supportive relationship in her life. She still needs your affirmation and validation even thought she is all grown up. The best part of your relationship with her is being there for her as an adult.
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COMMENT:
A very helpful and thoughtful response right on target with our lives and situation...amazingly so. Also, a quick response, which I needed. I am VERY grateful for this insightful response.