I sent a text to my daughter Alison one morning last week. I use the Swype feature on my phone to make texting quicker and I often get a kick out of the way it—with help from Autocorrect—changes my intended meaning.
My text was meant to begin with “Good morning!” But instead, the message that appeared on the screen said, “Good meddling!”
It made me laugh because the reason I was texting her was to make sure she was awake and getting ready for work. I was, indeed, “meddling.”
My daughter spent roughly half of her life in a struggle with a wide range of illnesses (apparently brought on by Lyme disease that went undiagnosed for at least 12 years). Although she is now healthier than she’s been in a very long time, one of her lingering problems is a sleep disorder. She works a physically demanding job and is usually very tired at bedtime, yet often finds herself staring at the ceiling when she needs to be sleeping. Consequently, she has a hard time waking up the next morning.
Alison texted back to let me know she was up—and that she thought the “meddling” thing was pretty funny. If she hadn’t replied to my text, I’d have called her. If she hadn’t answered, I might have walked three blocks to the house she and her sister share, to wake her in person. On the way, I’d have been asking myself, “Am I doing too much? Am I babying her? Am I too involved in her life?”
I think a lot of parents of young adults who’ve been delayed by health problems (physical or emotional) are in the situation I find myself in. We’ve had to do so much more for our kids than we normally would have, that when they finally begin taking on grownup responsibilities, we have trouble finding balance. What do they still need from us? When is it time to let go? And let go of what?
Jo Ann McKarus, mother of Jillian Michaels (a personal trainer you might remember from TV’s The Biggest Loser), had to ask herself these questions. Jillian suffered from severe emotional problems beginning in early childhood. As a young woman she was deeply depressed and dealing with big anger issues. As she struggled to find her way into adulthood, her mother had to make important decisions as to what she should or shouldn’t do for her daughter. (Jo Ann is a psychotherapist, so she likely had an advantage in perspective over most parents.) The first thing she decided was that because Jillian’s anger issues were causing upset at home, she should move out and learn to live on her own. Other decisions were about money—how much she should provide for her daughter. Her decision was to pay Jillian’s rent for a year and for her health insurance and therapy as long as she went to school and got a job. Jillian says, “She gave me enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing.”
I love that quote. Because as good parents, we never want to put an adult child in a sink or swim situation, but we don’t want to enable them to remain dependent on us forever, either.
It’s all about balance.
Most of us don’t have the financial resources Jillian’s mother has—which ironically, makes some decisions easier—but, while we might not be able to pay for rent or health insurance or even counseling, we do have to make decisions about the things we are able to do.
I’m by no means an expert, but as I’ve made an effort to help my own daughter move toward independence, I’ve found a few steps that are helping.
- Keep listening. I didn’t live through what she’s living through, so if I’m to be of help to her I need to know what she’s feeling. I’ve made an effort to establish myself as a safe sounding board by asking easygoing questions and keeping my responses calm and relaxed.
- Be respectful. When I’m helping her define goals—and the steps needed to reach them—I try to interact with her as I would with a friend or coworker. Even if she still acts childish at times (as we all do!), I try to consistently relate to her as an adult.
- Be patient and compassionate. I try to keep in mind that my daughter missed out on thousands of teachable moments during the years of her illness, and that it’s sometimes embarrassing to admit that she doesn’t know how to handle a seemingly simple situation. So I ask questions like, “Do you want my help with this or do you want to figure it out on your own?”
- Mark the milestones. When my daughter is feeling discouraged, I remind her of how far she’s come—how much progress she’s made from where she was just a few years ago.
- Identify gifts and talents. Although my daughter is still catching up in some areas, she also has areas of profound maturity. For example: she has an uncanny ability to reason with me when I’m upset. I acknowledge this ability by going to her when I need to talk things out; she makes me feel understood and helps me find a healthier perspective on what’s bothering me. Seeing her operate in this gift makes me feel hopeful for her future; it seems to make her feel hopeful too.
- Provide resources. Finding the right counselor for my daughter has been invaluable. From helping her process her grief for the years that she lost, to helping her establish pathways toward independence, the cost of counseling is proving to be an excellent investment into my daughter’s life, health and future.
And a few final thoughts . . .
Even as you endeavor to be that safe sounding board for your own daughter or son, finding one for yourself is extremely important, too. Consider enlisting the help of a wise, trusted friend or a family counselor to help you find balance in your efforts to prepare your child to step fully into adulthood.
And remember—good meddling (the best meddling!) is always done with plenty of love.
Janes, Beth. “The Biggest Winner.” Good Housekeeping. January 2015: 84. Print