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Relationships - January 2016

I Fear Losing My Son


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.


I Fear Losing My Son

I appreciate the time you take to read and reply to my current personal enigma. I will attempt to summarise my situation in brief. I have been a single father for 13 years, and raised three daughters and one son. My daughters are now on their own, and doing well as contributing members of society. However, my son, at 21 years of age, is still with me, and we are extremely close.

About one year ago he met a young lady online. She lives in New York and we live in San Diego, CA. She has made two trips down to be with him, totally funded the trips herself. While I was not overly cheerful of her visits, I did allow her to stay with us. I am having a difficult time dealing with this, I have the feeling of losing him, and possibly a bit of jealously. I need some helpful words of "strategic therapy". I mean, it is very difficult for me to fully accept this and allow him to grow into the adult he is becoming.

My father was not involved with my upbringing, and I feel that a lot of my emotions are unwarranted, and maybe even unfair. I want him to be happy, and I too wish to be happy. Can you provide some words of wisdom and comfort?

In a way, this subject seems appropriate at the beginning of the New Year, the time of resolutions, assessing the past and looking to the future.
I’m struck by the image of a man who’s been a single parent for more than a decade, raising four children into adulthood…never an easy stage to be parenting…and in that time building and heading a major business enterprise. I congratulate you on coming through all that to a point where your daughters are independent and doing well and your son is about to do so too. 

That stage is one which should be seen as a sign of having ‘got things right’. You’ll note the qualified way I’ve put that. No-one, I suspect, can be the perfect parent and get everything right. We can only do our best in supporting, loving and advising the young people we’ve brought into the world. But it really sounds that you’ve done a fine job. Yet that is a painful time for any parent. You’re watching your son reach a perfectly normal and healthy life-stage full of potential for him. You know, through personal experience, what most parents know, that this potential is double-edged. You’re afraid he might be hurt by his burgeoning long distance romance. You also fear ‘losing him’.
For a father who’s parented so closely, and is so close to his son, that must be hard to contemplate. No matter how carefully you try to steer your dear son through the minefield of emotional entanglements, sooner or later he will be hurt. No-one wants a child to go through that yet we cannot but we can’t step in. He has to find his own way to conduct his life full stop If your love and support is there, sprinkled with a few shrewd words of experience-based wisdom here and there, he’ll benefit from the experience, be it good or bad.

You fear your emotions might be unwarranted and unfair. If that’s how your emotions are, you need to accept it.  It’s for you to handle those emotions and be responsible for them. After all, your son isn’t consciously causing them. They’re your natural response to the end of the style of parenting you’ve been doing so well over the years. There’s nothing unfair about having feelings, as long as we don’t load responsibility for them on someone else. They’re your own individual response to something your son is experiencing from a completely different angle. It’s a thrilling new experience for him.

But how about you? What will help you look forward rather than back? The first step is to acknowledge that for your son, and your daughters, to have reached adulthood happy and healthy is a major achievement. You’ve done your best and done it successfully. Take pleasure in that.

The next step is to find things that will, in some small way, help to fill some of the empty part of your life and challenge you again. Yes, parenting is a massive challenge! I’m sure your son knows how much you mean to him and that he will try to keep you close in new ways if he does move away. His life is opening up. Why shouldn’t yours? You have earned this just as you have earned the success of your company. How about taking a sabbatical from both your business and your parenting? It sounds like you’ve reached a stage where both concerns now can function with the lightest of touches from you.
One danger of immersing ourselves in what we see as our life’s work is to focus solely on those causes as if blinkered, and overlook opportunities to discover new interests, causes or challenges.
Might this not be the time to ‘leave home’ yourself and go travelling for pleasure, for physical or intellectual challenge, to hunt for things that stimulate your aesthetic or adventuring side? Time to focus on other things that give you pleasure could open up your self-awareness.
Without knowing your interests or abilities, I’m imagining something physically or mentally exploratory, like walking the Inca Trail, driving an RV through Europe – top to bottom - a long ski break in another country or a residential cultural course in a city full of history. There are many places where one can find language courses, art appreciation, architectural tours and cultural tours, even combining that with some sort of voluntary work to help a deprived community. That could blend what are clearly your skills in many areas, including care and compassion.
But these are just a glance at the myriad of ways in which you could reward yourself and ease the fear of losing contact with your son. You can take time to consider what might suit you better.

Some of what you are feeling might, understandably, be intensified by the memory of not having enough love from your own father and might explain too why you have become so very close to your son. It is totally natural you should want to ensure this would not be the case with your own children. That has been a success. You will never ‘lose’ your son. The love he develops for a girlfriend is very different from the love he feels for you. He is of your blood and will always be your son. You have said how extremely close you have become. How wonderful to feel that. But do be prepared from time to time to take a step back when he needs to concentrate on his own future, and know that in doing that you’re still parenting well, just differently, according to his needs. I suspect that, given modern ways of communicating, he will always be close to you even if he were on the other side of the world!

The pain is one that passes. It confirms how deeply you love him. Be proud of your pain. Think of your future and how you remain an interesting and loving man whom he is proud to call his father and will always want to be in contact when the time comes for him to move away. Let him go with happiness and confidence and he will take your wisdom with him. That will enhance your happiness too.

Have a wonderful New Year!


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


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