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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Who is the Parent Here?

Written by  Marc Garson MSW, ACSW, ACP

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I am 15, and my parents are not the greatest couple; they pretty much hate each other.

My mom wanted to divorce my dad but she is too nice and didn't want to throw him out 'cause he wouldn't have anywhere else to go.

My mom is really hard-working and brings almost all the money in this house. My dad is an architect (so is my mom) but he is the most stubborn person I know.

He is not open-minded, and all he cares about is himself. He and my mom had bad fights, and I have always cut into the fights and then it has gotten physical between my dad and me.

We both have hurt each other, but since he is stronger than I am, I usually get hurt ten times worse than him.

My mom is really lonely and she has nobody. Since we moved here from somewhere else three years ago and moved to different cities two times, my mom and dad have no friends or any one.

I know that my mom is lonely and she has told me herself that my brother and I are her only friends (my brother has moved to another city, he goes to a university there).

I am very close to my mom and we do lots of things together, but I still want to do things with my friends. On the other hand though, I don't want to leave my mom alone at home, 'cause she and my dad might get into a fight.

Just the idea of her being miserable and alone at home, while I'm having fun with my friends is really uncomfortable.

I don't know what to do, every time I'm with my friends I think of my mom and if she is all right, and now I hardly do stuff with my friends and I don't know what to do.

It is really confusing, because my mom is only happy when I am with her and I can't let her go because of myself!

Please write back, if you know what I can do.

- 15-Year-Old Taking Care Of Mom


Dear 15-Year-Old Taking Care Of Mom,

You are fifteen years old, and yet you sound like you are the parent in your family instead of the child. That must be really tough for you.

Someone has wrongly convinced you that are somehow responsible for how your Mom is feeling. You are not responsible for how anyone else feels!!!!

Giving-in to these feelings often results in at least two unfortunate consequences:

  1. You give yourself the message that this other person's needs, wants, and feelings are more valuable than your own; and

  2. You reinforce this other person's dependency upon you for "rescuing them"; and further enable them to avoid finding their own inner resources to take care of themselves.

Your Mom's continued tolerance of your father at home may be another example of this same sort of behavior- but this time with her in the role of savior: "She's too nice...he wouldn't have anywhere to go".

Being "too nice" implies that while she knows it's the "wrong thing for her to do" for herself, that she nevertheless continues to tolerate your father's behavior, so that he won't feel bad (the honest consequences of his actions) - in other words, she continues to "rescue him."

Likewise, your not "feeling right" about going out with your friends, because you know "how alone and terrible your Mom feels at home", and your wishing to spare her "the pain" sounds like you "rescuing" her.

Here you presume to know how your Mom will feel, and try to spare her having to deal with these undesirable feelings, at the expense of your own needs.

It is not your responsibility to save or rescue her from her feelings or pain. That's her job. I'm not saying not to be sympathetic or understanding, just that it simply is not appropriate for you to bear her burdens.

While it is certainly noble and decent of you to care about your Mom so wholeheartedly, you are actually doing a disservice to both your Mom and yourself by doing so, at the expense of your own normal teenage needs.

By lessening your Mom's discomfort with your Dad, or with her new home, or her lack of friends, you in fact enable her to continue to avoid feeling "bad enough" to motivate her to do something to seriously change the situation.

You are also hurting yourself by sacrificing an important part of your own social / emotional development by "parent-sitting" (which isn't too normal) instead of going out with your friends (which is very "normal" teen behavior).

You are also further programming into yourself the message that emotional pain must be avoided, and that one of your' "jobs" in life will be to rescue people that you care about from their pain, by sacrificing yourself!

It is a very unhealthy myth that you are subscribing to - that your Mom " is only happy when I am with her".

If this is really so, then you must ask yourself the question, when will it be enough, or when do I get some time for myself? Will you have to stay with your Mom for the rest of her life in order to ensure her happiness?

If you persist on this path, you will probably actually come to resent your Mom because she has inadvertently deprived you of living your own life, by having you "take care" of hers.

Two things that I would strongly encourage you to convince yourself of:

  1. That she will be okay without you; and

  2. You are not responsible for taking care of her, or your Dad - they're the adults, and you're the kid - keep it straight.

It might sound like I'm advocating selfishness, but that is not so. What I would hope to emphasize to you is that your life, needs, wants, etc. are also important.

The best way to get out of this pattern is usually with the help or advice of someone who is outside the situation, who can help you to put your "helpfulness" and "selfishness" into some sort of "normal / healthy" context.

Counselors or therapists are useful in such situations. It would be great if your family would all go in for therapy together, but at the very least, your seeking out some professional help would be a good start.

Also, if you feel that the "getting physical" with your Dad ever gets out of hand to the point where you feel threatened, please report this immediately to a guidance counselor at school, or directly to the authorities. You should not sit idly by in a dangerous situation.

See Crisis Center / Abuse , Crisis Center/ Divorce and Relationships - Parents and Family.

I hope that this begins to steer you in the right direction - good luck.


Marc H. Garson

Last modified on Thursday, 16 June 2011 11:41
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Marc Garson MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson has a BA in psychology from the University of Texas in Austin, a MasterSs of Social Work (MSW) from Yeshiva University in New York City, and a Master of Science in Business Management from Boston University. He has been a practicing clinical psychotherapist since 1986. He is a licensed clinical social worker and advanced clinical practitioner in the State of Texas, and a longstanding member of the National Association of Social Workers. His clinical specialties include marriage and family, adolescence, parenting, and family therapies. He also has an extensive background in chemical dependency and codependence treatment. Marc is married and the father of three beautiful little girls: Daniella age 7, Ariella age 6, & Miera age 3. Marc's special interests and hobbies include football, rock and jazz music, boating, weightlifting, chess, philosophy, and business. He loves to travel, and is something of a gourmet chef.

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