I don't like to use "psycho-babble" but I do want to try to capture a thought I've had as we transition to being the parents of an adult. I've long thought that, in the way all of us have a dark side, mine is so-called "co-dependence". I'm very sensitive to other people's suffering, I have a habit of trying to "help", and I get frustrated when the target of my "help" doesn't respond as I hope they will. I put other people's needs first, downplay my own, and allow myself to get overextended until I'm at the point of illness and/or resentment. Not pretty, and not unusual. You probably know the type. I suffer an excess of objectivity in my awareness of my faults. :)
As a foster/adoptive parent, I sometimes worried that my desire to parent in this way could be reduced to a grand act of co-dependence. Perhaps from a certain perspective, it can. But I prefer to think that being T's parent has been the single greatest opportunity in my life to become fully aware of my unappealing tendencies, and my gifts, in equal measure. My natural, totally genuine--and largely unexpected--love for T is a force beyond myself, and helped me overcome some of the limitations in the way that I love.
If you tend to want to "help" and "advise" others, being the parent of a teenager is pretty great. They need a lot of help and advice! Up until I was a parent, my desire to "help" and "advise" generally found unsuitable targets. But I learned with T to ask "would you like my advice?" and "would you like my help?". To my delight, the answer was often yes! But sometimes it was no, and learning to ask and accept the answer was good practice.
I think T and I came together so we could both work at and learn through things unique to us: in his case, he needed to learn attachment, and I was a good choice for him in that way--I'd venture to say that my more dysfunctional personality traits actually helped a bit in terms of attachment, because some of his anti-attachment behaviors are so extreme, being slightly off-balance myself probably caused me to hang in there beyond reason.
I know I needed to learn to give up control, being a classic type A control-freak prone to trying to fix the world, and he has been and continues to be a brilliant lesson to me in that regard. In the abstract, I would have thought that my control-freakiness and my love for him would coincide, causing me to be EXTRA controlling when it came to him. In fact, what I found is that the thing that most trumps my desire for control is parental love. It causes me to be gentle. It causes me to empathize with the struggles he's having, in such a way that I am forced to recognize that they are not "fixable". I am on his side, not my side. It causes me to accept him as he is at his moment, simply for the pleasure of his personality, without asserting an ego-driven need to "improve" him. I truly treasure who he is, regardless of behavior.
My relationship with him is also unusually honest, which is an antidote to the narcissism of co-dependence. I think perhaps this stems from the fairly radical confrontation with truth required for a child of his age to find adoptive parents. There are things we can do, and be, for each other, and things we cannot, and we've spoken about that boundary many times. Both parties went into it with our eyes pretty wide open.
And of course, the irresolute nature of his substance abuse problem means that I've had to accept that things simply are what they are. I cannot change it, I cannot fix it, and I cannot live with it in my house. That probably sounds like a simple realization to some people, but I had resisted reaching it in other relationships in my life, and it took parenting him to bring me to greater clarity.
Perhaps I was unwittingly drawn to parent him because of my darker side, and perhaps he was driven to bond with me because he recognized a co-dependent that he could "hook". But I found the experience of parent/child attachment to be perhaps the one thing I have experienced in life strong enough to force both the clarity to recognize the weakness in that dynamic, and the commitment to try to allow both people to grow toward something freer and more genuinely loving. In the way that all parent/child relationships evolve, ours has evolved toward greater day-to-day distance and, paradoxically, greater recognition. Both counter my darker side, and, I hope, serve his true needs.
Today Is A Gift
4 days ago