Saturday, February 18, 2017

A letter to another parent


I didn’t get back to you yesterday, both because I wasn’t feeling well and because frankly I was pretty upset at your yelling at me and demanding that I do something to fix your issue. And make no mistake, it was YOUR issue you were trying to fix: your need to control directly what your child does and doesn’t do, and your anger that they weren't doing what you wanted.

I don’t deserve to be attacked by you in your uncontrolled feelings. I have done nothing wrong towards you or your family, and the only reason I didn’t hang up on you was that we had somewhat of a relationship, however tenuous, and I will always try to salvage that if possible. Further, my child is not your child, and you have zero say in how we are working with them to bring them to full adulthood, much less a place to stand to demand that I tell them to do something. I am always willing to ask, but I don’t demand, just as I don’t demand from any other adult of any age.

Take this away: your child was never in any danger. They were doing something you disagreed with and were angry about and you attacked the person you wanted help from. I think that getting help beyond AlAnon for you would be more helpful to them than almost anything else you could do, because based on yesterday’s events, you have stuff that you need to work on as well, and it is far more often our changes that drive changes in the family dynamic than we get from demanding other people’s changes.

You say that the kids are dependent on us, and therefore we should be in control of their every action? That's kind of disgusting, isn't it? To use the dependency that we created as a lever to force behavior we desire? How infantilizing for a child to be treated as if they were completely incompetent because they wish to make different choices from us! I don’t control my child the way your IOP and many others wish; I am far more interested in forming a life-long relationship than getting momentary compliance or winning a power struggle. I do set boundaries (a task that I do not enjoy and have struggled with for years), and enforce the consequences, but I have learned to be very very clear with myself that they are MY boundaries that I set for MY reasons, and I don’t demand that they approve of them. But I treat them as an adult, with adult consequences: tailored to their age and maturity, to be sure, but as an adult.

(I also don’t try to hide behind a screen of “It’s for your own good”, “You’ll thank me when you’re older” and (my least favorite), “ I rescued you and you should be grateful!” / “I gave birth to you and now this is how you treat me!” It is true that I have all those feelings, but they are mine, not theirs, and I don’t demand that they acknowledge them as valid reasons to do my bidding.)

I have told my child the terms of your child's program, but it is they who needs to ask my child to respect the terms, not me, and for your child to enforce it, not my child or me. If you or I do their work, they learn nothing, and this is maybe the hardest lesson that any of us parents learn. It is their diagnosis and treatment, not ours, and their road to walk with our help, not our road to drag them along. The harsh truth is that your child will do what your child decides to do, and you will have only a limited say in that, and less if you alienate them. You can throw them out (although I doubt that you would actually do this: it sounds more like the program coaching you in "taking control of your family"), but it only serves to put a period on the relationship: "I'm done with YOU, you're not worth trying any more" is what the child hears and responds to. Most parents cannot do this, and threatening and not following through damages what little credibility we have in their eyes. In my experience, in general they won't come back crying pitifully, but decide that now that they're not living with you, they can do whatever they want. 

If I sound harsh, it is because I'm still a bit raw from being raged at, and also because I want to cut off the idea that I am ever going to try to force my child to do something when the situation isn't a dire emergency, the kind where people die. Visiting a friend who is off-limits doesn't qualify and I don't want to support the idea in any way that I agree with why you called, let alone with how you spoke.

I'd love to stay in touch, but please don't call me to dump on me again. I'm happy to help where I can, but I won't be a punching bag. OK?

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