Losing Your Cool Can Teach You A Lot
by Wendy Keller, mother of a 20 yr old
My daughter moved back in with me this past weekend – for the fifth time in 14 months. I love her more than anyone on the planet, of course, but living together is hard on our relationship.
At dinner last night, I offered to pay the additional tuition for a university course she wanted to take and, long story short, she said I was pushing her to be an “over-achiever just like you and Dad.” From there, things escalated. Trying to stay grounded and conscious that the anger she was expressing had nothing to do with me, I snapped. Not into anger, into sorrow. After 10 minutes of being falsely accused, I literally went in my room, shut the door and burst into tears. I don’t know if married mothers get pushed that far, too, but I expect they do. My frustration with this child’s occasionally ungrateful, surly, sarcastic, even rude communication style sometimes just overwhelms me. Rather than say something I’ll regret, as I’ve done sometimes in the past, I chose to retreat to calm myself down.
In the end, we both apologized and she left to go see friends. I am certain she’s shaken off the incident, but it’s still troubling me. I review: I didn’t get angry. I used healthy communication skills. I did not raise my voice or stoop to discourtesy. I politely withdrew when things became untenable. I started out by trying to help her. The conflict began at the dinner table, while she was eating one of her favorite meals that I’d prepared and kept warm for her. Certainly, without a doubt (in my own mind) I am the Unjustly Attacked Party.
I bet you’ve been in a similar situation with a partner, a boss, a co-worker or maybe your child, too.
Someone is in your face and it’s just not fair.
Here’s what I should have done differently: kept my nose out of her life. My Great Idea of the extra college class is something she wished for aloud less than 48 hours ago, but young people change with the wind. I know that. I am meddlesome when it comes to her completing her education, and I know that too. And I know she hates it but I do it anyway. I press her buttons. I was a very different kind of person at 20, and I sometimes think she should be more like I was. I forget the #1 crucial rule of human interaction: the other person’s worldview is affecting their actions and reactions.
One level down, I realize I don’t have to be right, because it doesn’t matter in the long scheme of things. I just saved $550 by not having to pay for the additional academic course. How this 20 yr old person decides to live her life is her choice. I know I should offer my opinion, assistance and advice only when it’s requested.
Another layer deeper, I know that my motivation in offering her the tuition comes from my belief that my final duty as a parent is to get this child a bachelor’s degree and then I can be relatively free. No one warned me that my child would take more than 5 arduous years to graduate. I’d like her to be toddling toward independence, not moving back in with me every time life doesn’t go her way.
And at the deepest level, the soul level of who I am, I admit I am exhausted by parenting and I am bone tired. If she graduates sooner, I can do something else with my life other than be on call for her every need.
As I keep widening my own perspective, I can see that truly, my allegedly altruistic desire to pay for her course is really at least as much about my desires as it is about helping her.
I’ve found this to be true in other conflicts: when I calm down and peel back layer after layer of my own motivations, I find out I’m less the innocent victim than I thought I was. It’s tough to face my own inadequacies, but oh so helpful in preparing for the next interaction, ones that can increasingly come from a place of loving my daughter for who she is, where she is and the moment I have with her.
+ Other people have their own worldview and act accordingly
+ Seeing myself as a victim means only that I haven’t peeled back the layers to my core motivation
+ Everyone has the right to live their life as they see fit, and I have the choice to respond, avoid or engage
+ When I peel back courageously, I may discover that my motives are not as pure as once was thought
Which brings us back to Sophie and me. Having worked through my own true motivations, I have to admit (even if only to myself and you) that she’s partly right when she accused me of wanting her to be an over-achiever. And drat! Once I take that step, I realize that there were at least two sides to this conflict. I see clearly my own conscious and unconscious participation. This sets my heart free, clear and ready to engage lovingly with my daughter when I see her later. This stuff works for all types of human interactions. If we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then taking an accurate amount of responsibility for the interactions in our lives that cause us conflict is the highest form of that pursuit, because only by so doing do we attain freedom.
She woke up this morning happy as a clam, kissed me on the cheek, and left for her job waving and smiling.
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10 thoughts on “The Destructive Force of Angry Words”
For the 5th time in 14 months? I see enabling behavior here. My knee-jerk reaction is to set guidelines for living at home and stick to them. If she wants to be treated like an independent adult, I hope she is acting like an independent adult i.e. paying rent (even a small amount) and contributing to the household in some fashion. I also hope you close the revolving door and set clear guidelines on the living arrangement – i.e. the next time you move out there is no moving back in. From the limited information, it sounds like you encouraging dependence and entitlement rather than teaching independence. Of course, my oldest is only 17, so I may be eating my words in 6-18 months, but I am fairly certain this won’t be something I allow.
I can sure see how omitting some facts made you draw that conclusion. Yes, she’s paying rent and yes, she’s helping with chores. And it is only until the end of the year or so. You may or may not experience the same sort of things with your child(ren) – I’ve learned that there’s no way to predict at 10 or 15 or even 17 what you’ll have at 20 – or for that matter, 25 or 30. My child has a good head on her shoulders – we’ll see what happens. I feel like I’m baking a cake and the timer is about to ring but I keep opening the door to see if it’s done yet…and it isn’t quite!
Best wishes to you and your family,
Robin Mullis says:
I can relate to your story in many ways. My daughter is 20 years old and still does not have a diploma or a GED yet. I have just about lost all hope she ever will. I have tried all approaches but nothing works. I admit I have even tried bribery with a car so she can do something with her life. It is very hard being a single parent with no Man in her life to help back me up. Even harder to keep my mouth shut!
I know the adult brain doesn’t form fully until mid-20s, but some days, that seems a long way off! Mine is in college, so I can’t really complain, and her reason for moving back in with me this time is not about something she did “wrong” – it’s truly the effect of a third party’s decision. YES! I totally relate to hard it is to keep one’s mouth shut!
Wishing you and your daughter much peace, love and joy,
Kimberly L. says:
I too have been in your shoes more than a few times with my sons ages 25 and 22, still living at home because neither of them are really interested in working is the way I see it. My oldest graduated as a RN, couldn’t pass the state boards, so he tested for LPN an passed the boards, said he still wants to pursue the RN. So I paid for the testing #3 and two years later he still has not tested. “What does a parent do to motivate their kids to work?) I am at this point very frustrated with both of them and ready to just toss their clothes outside and say work or go somewhere else…..
Seems like there is a fine line between bashing them with a baseball bat and figuring out how in the heck to motivate them, doesn’t it!?!? My daughter says, “Mom, things are not like they were when you were a kid.” And of course, she’s right. It probably isn’t so easy to get a job or start a company, both of which I’d done before I was her age. I had a wealthy friend whose oldest son graduated from a prestigious California university while his parents were going through a divorce. My friend paid for his son’s college, and then supported him at $3000/mo until the kid was 2 years OUT of college and unemployed, living in Northern CA. My friend was complaining how expensive it was, and how now his next two were starting college, and I said, “Why not cut him back $XXX per month until he’s self-sufficient?”
To my shock, he called his son the next day. Told the young man he’d be reducing his allowance by $250 per month every month until it was $0. The kid got a job…for $80K!!!…two weeks later and hasn’t taken a penny from his dad since!
If it comes to that, I’m prepared to “help” my daughter in the same way. She is paying a nominal rent and helping with chores, working 32 hrs/week (although at a job below her level, if you ask me). If she doesn’t enroll for a full load of classes next semester, all additional support will be withdrawn and I will insist she works full time…and finds a new place to live. But so far, she intends to continue her education.
I wonder if it is fear or laziness that causes these kids to slack? I have a relative who lived on in his mother’s spare bedroom…until he fell in love and his fiancee (and HER mother) gave him a strong ultimatum about getting a “real” job and a “real” apartment…he was 32!
At some point, I am aware we have to pull away the support system. What’s your plan, Kimberly?
I pray to God every day that I will never have grown kids return home. Mine are 9 and 12 and I’m looking forward to them both being productive, self reliant adults.
I have no idea how I wound up on this site, but I feel compelled to bud in on the conversation.
The economy today is nowhere near what it was 30-40 years ago.
Real wages have stagnated for the last 30 years while the cost of living has gone up.
Youth unemployment is as high as 25% in many areas.
An undergraduate education 30 years ago was a ticket to a middle class paying job; today, that same job *requires* a Master’s degree plus 3-5 years of work experience.
The cost of tuition consistently increases faster than the rate of inflation every year.
In return for your pile of debt, you get an undergraduate degree to frame and proudly display on the wall, or to clutch to your chest and cry in fetal position for a few minutes every morning before heading out to your minimum-wage-paying, unskilled labor or service job.
While baby boomers enjoyed the greatest economic expansion in the history of humankind, whereas the economy is stagnant today for the 99%, with the growth going to the portfolios of the 1%.
Youth of today are expected to experience up to 10 years of temporary job placements before landing a permanent position. TEN YEARS!
The practice of young adults moving out of their family’s homes and living on their own is a novel concept cooked up in only recent history. Look at the other great civilizations on this planet (India, China, Europe, “Arabia”) and you will notice that for the great majority of the human race, young adults generally do not move out from home until they are married and able to afford a down-payment on a house — or they simply inherit the family home, continue to function as a family unit and take care of their parents in their old age in exchange for babysitting duty.
If this arrangement were still in practice in Europe and North America today, the presence of Grandma and Grandpa’s lifetime of relationship experience might help stem the divorce rate as well!
The Indian, Jewish and Chinese families do it best. The children are pushed to get jobs as soon as they are legally able and are taught the value of saving a piece of every paycheque from day one. They stay at home at least until they are married and sometimes thereafter. They are pushed to go to school to the graduate level specifically in subject areas that lead to high-demand, high-paying jobs (pharmacy, engineering, computing science)
In short, your daughter should not have been rude to you, but it is unreasonable to expect the youth in the job market today to have their nose to the grindstone and pound the pavement every day to go looking for jobs that do not exist — let alone “start a business”! Pah!
I have two emotionally disabled step kids. Male 20, female 17 1/2. The 20 year old is taking 2 courses a semester and working part time, helps around the house when asked, empties the garbage and recycle without being asked. His grades aren’t good so if he gets booted from school he will have to pay rent and continue to help around the house to stay. The 17 1/2 yr old, has 1 1/2 yrs left in high school, historically does nothing in the house even when asked, though it is improving for a reason that will be obvious in a moment, and has a senese of entitlement. She believes we are paying for her brothers college and must pay for hers, that we must buy her whatever she wants – she has 4 coats and insists she won’t wear them and wants another (fat chance), etc. Motivation for both of these young people has been entitlement – they deserve it because their mother left them, they deserve it because their grandparents didn’t care about them, they deserve it because they had a tough start. So all their motivation is external – get out of bed, do this, do that, the law requires, do this you get that. There is no intrinsic motivation for these two, and so many others out there. My best bargaining chip, ever, with these guys is the one of having to move out. My daughter has been put on notice, participate, be a part of our community, be respectful, or say goodbye on your birthday. Her room became clean, magically, and she has started “sucking up” – which I don’t pander to. Even her therapists have agreed the motivation has to come from within. I think some of the stories above have shown that as well. God Bless us all for being parents…
I think it’s wonderful that your daughter feels comfortable to come home when she needs help. I view it as her returning to regroup, get comforted, feel Mom’s stability and retreat to a loving environment. Why not let her live at home for free, as long as she is going to school? Kids need all the help they can get in these hard economic times and she has shown she’s in need.
You are so blessed to have her there at your home. I wouldn’t rush her out. Just cherish her and the extra time to be with her. She’ll likely land so firmly on her feet and be greatly successful and will regularly come back and visit you when you’re old and grey.
I remember when my children were babies in the 1980’s, some people used to make such a fuss about their babies sleeping in the same bed as them. Trust me people, they’re not gonna want you snuggling in bed with you as a teen. What you give out often comes back to you later in life.
How I wish my kids lived closer. When they have grandchildren one day, I’d love to be there for them with open arms, helping in every way I could. As we ourselves age, we’re going to get back from our children what we gave them, so keep on being your loving, generous, thoughtful, understanding and kind mom that you are, Wendy!
By the way, my kids were so driven and are incredibly successful, strong and wonderful adults today. They are in their 20’s, married, young professionals, and I am so proud of them! To this day, I encourage them to use our home if needed.
Can’t go wrong with love.
If people disagree with me, that’s okay, but this sure has worked for me!