When I was 17, I headed off to Toronto to live away from my parents, at university. A few months later, my mother died, my father retreated into his own grief to some extent, I was kicked out of school, and I was left to figure out how to live my life as an adult.
I made mistakes. I made plenty of them – some that haunted me for years after. I knew that moving home to my Dad was always an option, were I willing to give up on the life I had begun to create, but I wasn’t ready to return to living in the middle of nowhere with no job or car and no friends nearby. Visiting home on weekends meant being sucked into my Dad’s grief and simultaneously filling in for my mother (grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry..) Instead, I muddled along and made mistakes and solved them on my own or with the help of my friends. I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to live my life.
I am always somewhat grateful for the hardships I went through earlier in life – at times I have a tendency to romanticize it all. Being independent has its benefits. I made my choices, no one told me I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do, and in the end, well, here I am. That’s the simple story. I’m a self-made woman, right?
But I also remember that being independent was really hard work – and scary as hell at times. I didn’t want to admit the things that I had fucked up so, yeah, I continued to struggle through it. My mental health was incredibly precarious at times – depression, in particular – and I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do about it. Looking at myself now, there are parts that are very withdrawn from the potential support of other people because, eesh, the idea makes me uncomfortable.
And so I am sitting with a problem.
The oldest kid still living at home is 18 and, legally and in his own head, he’s an adult. He is determined to be independent, to not rely on his parents, and he is muddling along. Part of me is very proud of him for this – for his determination to take control of his life, figure out what matters to him, and to live based on his own priorities. He is doing well at some parts of life and I am proud of him for many things he has overcome.
But, at the same time, things are not going well on some fronts. There are some concerns about him, about his mental health and general well-being. The school is worried. There are issues with work and with friends. There are issues within his biological family. All of which is adding up to a not-great picture.
I have always wanted my kids to be well-equipped for the world – to be independent. I have also wanted them to have a solid start to their adulthood – to be prepared for the (many, and unexpected) things that pop up in life. To know how to solve problems, yes, but also to know how to find and ask for help. To be reasonably good at self-care in the sense of getting good sleep at night, eating well, balancing life/school/work, handling stress.
I have wanted to spare them some of the struggles I went through while also letting them handle their own problems as much as I can. It’s a delicate balance. There are normal growing pains associated with become an adult and there’s no way to spare anyone from experiencing them – but there are some pains that can be avoided, I think, if you know to keep your eyes open for them.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what I’m doing here. He won’t ask for help, and is ducking the offers, but I can see things slipping for him. He isn’t capable of full independence but he’s essentially insisting on attempting it as much as possible.
I don’t know how much of this is normal because I have no frame of reference – my own early adult years were independent mostly out of necessity and not choice. I have to work hard, now, to ask for help from anyone other than those closest to me and I have a tendency to believe that I need to solve all of life’s problems on my own. In other words, I understand some of his perspective – but I don’t quite know how to proceed in the face of his outward unhappiness.
WTF, parenting. This was supposed to get easier, not harder, wasn’t it?