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Relationships - October 2014

Dealing with the sadness of a Step Son leaving home

 

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.



Step Son Leaving Home


I have a son, a step-son technically. His father (my ex) moved almost a thousand miles away and left us to fend for ourselves. His mother is a destitute drug addict. Its been just him and me for decades and he is now 25yrs old.

Recently he reconnected with his high school girl friend and we went from multiple texts a day, several weekly calls and a couple of visits a month to hardly any contact other than a few texts. He says he is busy.

How do I tell him how sad I feel. It is as though my heart is broke. I want him to be happy of course. We went through so much as he was growing up. Once his father left us it was as though I was a single mom, but with someone else's child. I stopped my life to give him one.

He loves me as his mom but I fear I'm losing him and I don't know what to do.

 

My short answer would be to think very carefully before you write to tell him how sad you are. Given how much he has kept in contact with you to date, he does indeed love you as a parent. He has just started a relationship which is of a very different type. It will never be a replacement or be any threat to your position as parent so there is no reason to feel put out. That he has found this old girlfriend and is spending all his time with her is natural – you bet he's busy . He is moving on normally and smoothly, thanks to your care and encouragement.

Some of what you are trying to deal with is what any mother will feel when their child finally moves away from relying on home. When that sudden change in the amount of contact happens it can often be due to a new relationship. I wonder if you might be finding it so hard as this is reminding you of some of the feelings experienced when his father left you. Keep in mind that this is for a much healthier reason. It might be no comfort to hear that it is a natural and healthy life-stage, but it is, it's a sign of a further degree of maturity.

Of course what makes things so hard for you is that you are alone. You have worked so hard and devoted yourself to giving this child, now a grown man, as stable a life as possible. I congratulate you on getting him safely to his mid-20s, you must have been his most important person for almost all of his childhood. You have nursed him, played with him, comforted him, taught him, loved, fed and protected him, and you should feel really proud of that. In doing that it sounds like you gave up much of what you might have wanted to do. It is a sacrifice which has rewards and drawbacks. You have reared someone else's child as your own. Motherhood is a gift, however it comes to us, but it is the hardest thing in the world, to love a child so deeply yet be able to bravely wave them off into adulthood – at whatever age that comes, later these days it seems – with an encouraging smile. Letting go is very painful, but inevitable and vital.

You have managed to let your step-son go, to live apart from you and be delighted to see him however often or seldom he visits you. You remain interested in how he is and what he is doing, and acknowledge him as an adult individual now. All that is a tribute to your parenting and absolutely the best thing for him. He has been lost to his birth mother and deserted by his father. You have been his rock, the only stable person there for him. You have done a wonderful thing.

Sadly, being so devoted and single minded will mean this new part of his life can feel like a rejection of you. It is not. It is a sign of his growing confidence in the world, built on his relationship with you as his stepping-stone.

Perhaps the important thing for you now is to focus on regaining the parts of your own life you put on hold. To rediscover some of your own personal pleasures can help ease the sadness of the shift in your relationship with your step-son. This doesn't mean that you will no longer be there for him, it sounds as though that will always be an important part of your life.

You will always be happy to hear from him when he finds time to contact you. You will be delighted to welcome him home whenever he visits, alone or with a girlfriend. Tell him this when you write to him, or talk with him on the phone. But take care not to load any mail or call with guilt inducing comments about your sadness or feeling heart-broken, suffice to mention in passing that you miss him. He is an adult, free to live how he wants now. He will always love you and hold memories of his life with you close to his core, but our children are individuals. We don't raise children with the expectation of them being forever grateful to us for their existence, we are their 'trainers' for life. If they are pleased to have us as a parent, then that is a bonus and a gift from them, but we cannot make that happen.

We owe it to them not to be a burden as they make their way in life. This is a good time to do a few things which you enjoy. If you are out when he calls that is ok. It shows you aren't staying in waiting for a phone-call or visit, which is a guilt trip to avoid. It will also give you a sense of independence and self-esteem which might have been malnourished in the past.

To achieve both of these stages, letting go gently, dealing with the sadness of it bravely, and finding renewed pleasure in doing things as an individual, makes the next process easier too. A child who is encouraged to find their way into adulthood without too much pressure to stay, will find it much simpler to return to their family home as an adult and stay emotionally close, which is the one connection no-one wants to break.


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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