So I find that my great kid and I seem to be running on parallel tracks these days, with similar dilemmas. The only difference is that my great kid has come up with his solution and I’m afraid I haven’t been brave enough to do that yet, or smart enough, or determined enough, or mostly sick-and-tired-of-the-drama enough. But I’m getting there.
My great kid has an absentee father, a man who has chosen to cut himself off from my son and his life for close to a year now for reasons too insane and inane to waste my time or yours on relating. And this is not the first time he’s done this. The first time, he absented himself from my son’s life for over 2 years, when my great kid was the ripe old age of 10. Every ramification you can possibly imagine would happen did happen. Sadness, tears, low self-esteem, school work that suffered, isolation. And anger, such anger, all directed at me. It was awful. Until I talked to his doctor, his pediatrician since birth, a smart, kind, lovely woman who said “You must know why he’s doing this to you”. And I had to reply that I didn’t. Wasn’t I the one who had picked up the pieces? Wasn’t I the one who was always there, the 24/7 mom who tried to make it better? How could all of his anger be focused on me?
“Because he’s testing you”, my great kid’s doctor said. “He needs to know that – no matter how awful he is to you – you won’t abandon him like his dad did”.
Talk about a lightbulb moment. From then on, everything changed and he began to get back on the path to being a happier kid. And, eventually, his father came back into his life – for his own reasons, which I found out much later – and some semblance of normalcy returned. If you can call him seeing his great kid once a month, maybe even less frequently than that, a normal relationship, then I guess it was. Except it wasn’t.
And then it happened again last year, right around the holidays. Things became very grim around our tiny little house. This time, my great kid was a teenager, full of raging hormones and angst and stress and all the other things that today’s teenagers have to deal with. And this time, it was worse. But a couple of miraculous things happened.
First, on the day this all happened, we were lucky enough to be in the most magical place on earth (at least the California version of same) and staying near my best friend, a wise, compassionate, common-sense guy who is a great role model for my great kid. And he sat my kid down and basically told him “This is not your fault”. Because it wasn’t and it isn’t. He spent an hour talking this through with my son, an hour when I absented myself from the scene because what he needed at that moment was not something I could give him.
And then my great kid was smart enough to realize that he needed to talk to someone professionally about this. I never understand why some people are so skeptical or dismissive of psychiatrists and psychologists or counselors. I’ve always thought that, if you broke your arm, you wouldn’t try to set it on your own. Heck, you wouldn’t even try to cut your own hair but many people recoil from the idea of getting help when you’ve got an emotional issue or problem and, God knows, insurance companies treat the mental health profession like some kind of quackery, covering doctor visits at 50% (if they cover them at all).
I’m not privy to what my great kid and his equally great doctor spoke about during his time with her, nor do I need to be. All I know is he came out the other side of the experience stronger, braver, calmer, happier and relieved. Relieved because he had made a decision, he had chosen a new path to walk on. I know way back at the beginning of this I told you he had come up with a solution. And so he did. He decided that – as someone who is now almost officially an adult (and, OMG, he will be in a month – how? why? when did that happen?) – he was capable and entitled to make his own decisions about who should be in his life. That he could decide that his relationship – if you could even call it that – with his father was so toxic and so unhealthy for him that he had every right – and in his mind, an obligation – to end it.
You know the old story – you can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends. We’re stuck, we think, with those people who are related to us by blood. But are we really? Why must we continue to be in these painful, destructive, bang-your-head-against-the-wall relationships with people who don’t enrich or expand or enhance our lives in any meaningful way?
We don’t have to. And we shouldn’t.
So my dilemma, which I’m not quite able to articulate yet, is similar to my great kid’s, yet different. And I’ll put pen to paper – or, more accurately – fingers to keyboard sooner rather than later and write what I want to say when I figure out exactly what that is. But, in the meantime, I take great comfort in knowing that – if I need advice or guidance or even someone to model my future path on – I need only look a few feet down the hall at my great kid’s bedroom. Therein lies the answer. And aren’t I the lucky one to have that?