Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson
QUESTION: I am a single mom who is struggling to survive. Of all the things that frustrate me, I am bothered most by having to send my kids to visit their dad for three weeks in the summer. That will happen next month and I’m already uptight about putting them on the plane. Can you help me accept what I’m about to go through?
DR. DOBSON: Maybe it will help to know that many other single parents have similar feelings. One of these mothers expressed her frustration this way: “I stand in the terminal and I watch the kids’ airplane disappear into the clouds. I feel an incredible sense of loss. The loneliness immediately starts to set in. I worry constantly about their safety, but I resist the urge to call every hour to see how they’re doing. And when they do call me to tell me how much fun they’re having, I grieve over the fact that they’re living a life completely separate from my own. My only consolation is knowing that they’re returning soon. But I’m haunted by the fear that they won’t want to come home with me.”
If the anxieties of that mother represent your own feelings, let me offer some suggestions for how you might make the most of your days alone. Instead of seeing the next three weeks as a period of isolation, view them as an opportunity to recharge your batteries and reinvigorate the spirit. Single parenting is an exhausting responsibility that can cause burnout if it knows no relief.
Take this time to enjoy some relaxed evenings with your friends. Read an inspirational book, or return to a hobby that you’ve set aside. Fill your day with things that are impossible amidst the pressures of childcare, recognizing that your children will benefit from your rehabilitation. They’ll return to a re-energized parent, instead of one coming off three weeks of depression.
QUESTION: Our 21-year-old daughter came home from college and moved back into her old bedroom. Now, three years later, she’s still there. She doesn’t work, she has no ambition or direction, and she seems perfectly content to freeload on her dad and me. I know she ought to get on with her life, but what can I do? I can’t just force her out, can I?
DR. DOBSON: Your daughter is not alone. Millions of young adults are living at home and loving it. They have no intention of growing up — and why should they? The nest is just too comfortable there. Food is prepared. Clothes are laundered, and the bills are paid. There’s no incentive to face the cold world of reality, and they are determined not to budge. Some, like your daughter, even refuse to work. I know it’s difficult to dislodge a homebound son or daughter. They’re like furry little puppies who hang around the back door waiting for a saucer of warm milk. But to let them stay year after year, especially if they’re not pursuing career goals, is to cultivate irresponsibility and dependency. That’s not love, even though it may feel like it. There comes the time when you must gently but forthrightly hand the reins over to your adult daughter and force her to stand on her own. I think it’s time to help her pack.
Giving a shove to a 24-year-old woman may seem cruel at the time, but I encourage you to consider emancipating her. The parental gravy train probably should go around the bend. If that never happens, lasting characteristics of dependency and immaturity may ensue.
I suggest you sit down and talk to your daughter, explaining why the time has come for her to make a life of her own. Set a deadline, perhaps two or three weeks ahead, and begin preparing for it. Then give her a big hug, a promise of prayers, and send her on her way.
Dr. Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.family.org).