Q&A with Dr. Carletta Perry — Son trouble
Q. My son grew up with his father, because I was in the military, and now he expects me to make up for lost time by bailing him out of everything. Am I a horrible mother if I don’t want to?
A. This sounds like a cry for a mother’s love to me. However, there’s a lot going on here — with you and with him.
You evidently love your son, but it seems that you have allowed the distance and time to weaken your attachment to him. I suspect he feels that. A child will always be drawn to the mother and the father, no matter if they are in the picture or not.
Your son has missed you, and many children have an innocent expectation and a simple image of the mother and father they want. Many children long for the mother who is caring, nurturing and loving, despite the complaints about smothering them with kisses and hugs, making them do chores or having them come home before dark.
Your son has missed you, but he also seems to be harboring some resentment toward you.
The sacrifice you made to serve your country is commendable, and we thank you for your service. However, your child does not yet understand that and only sees your absence as abandonment (i.e. “You chose them over me; you left me.”). Your return is welcomed, but with anxiety and avoidance.
This means that although he loves you, he is unsure if he wants to be with you, if he can trust you and, ultimately, if you will leave again. So he keeps testing you to see if there is anything he can do that will cause you to leave him again. (Note: He doesn’t want you to leave).
I want to make three suggestions. The first is to have a discussion with him about why you chose the military, why you left, what you did to keep in touch with him and, most important, how much you missed him and love him still.
The second thing is to be a part of his life now. No matter what you missed and how he acts, be present in his life now.
Third, you have to stop being the one who bails him out. Discuss this habit with your son. Collaborate with his father. And sometimes you are going to have to just say no. A good parent knows that healthy parenting takes a balance of love and discipline.
Dr. Carletta N. Perry offers therapeutic life, relationship and career coaching. Catch her television show, “It’s Life Changing with Dr. Carletta Perry,” Sundays at 11:30 p.m. on WSKY/SKY-4 and on YouTube. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.