QUESTION: Our son is an enigma. He is a 34-year-old bachelor, has a successful career and a condo that is totally cluttered. We don’t understand because he wasn’t raised this way. His personal health is excellent and he dresses cleanly and neatly. If you saw him on the street, you’d never think his living quarters were such a mess. He can afford a housekeeper, but won’t hire one because he said he’d have to clear the clutter before the housekeeper could do anything. We’ve gone in, straightened and cleaned and a couple of months later, the clutter is back.
Perhaps this is none of our business but we are concerned. Is there something we could say to him to motivate him to have some order in his condo? His office is neat and his car is always clean.
– Neat Nut Parents
Dear Neat Nut Parents,
The age-old adage still holds true: “Once a parent, always a parent!” Parents do the best they can in helping set the course of their children’s lives. We spend many years trying to shape our children’s beliefs, values, principles, social skills and morals. By the time they are adults and leave home, it’s our desire that they have established a responsible lifestyle based on what’s important in their life.
It appears that your son has demonstrated responsibility in many areas: his career, personal health, grooming and managing his finances. But the one area he’s not meeting your expectations of him is housekeeping. Unfortunately, once our kids become independent adults, we no longer have the same level of influence in their lives. In fact, if we continue to relate to them as we did when they were children, we can even push them away from us.
Here are a couple of suggestions regarding your relationship with your son. First, you shouldn’t let his lack of responsibility in this one area reflect on your parenting ability. In fact, taken the things that you’ve praised him for I would say you’ve done a pretty good job of helping him set the course of his life. Second, focus on the positive things in his life and your relationship. Don’t allow this to drive a wedge between you and cut off any input you can have in his life today and in the future. And finally, remember that all of us are motivated in different ways. There may come a time in the future when someone comes into his life that will help him in this area. But since he hasn’t taken your suggestions or help at this point, he probably won’t in the future.
I encourage you to celebrate who he is. The scriptures say, “God has given us different gifts (or abilities) for doing certain things well.” (Romans 12:6). Focus on what he does well, the good things in his life and enjoy your relationship with him based on love, respect and appreciation. And let God take care of the rest.
Pastor Randy Foster
Christian Life Church, La Crescenta
Dear Neat Nut Parents,
Congratulations on raising a productive son! The percentage of
Americans who are single has been steadily growing, so his bachelorhood is nothing to worry about. Your son will be in the majority soon according to demographers.
I understand your distress with his cluttered condo. My family has a tendency to be collectors and I’ve done some reading on the subject. It’s human nature to accumulate things and not unusual. The self-storage industry is built on it. Your son may have an emotional attachment to the clutter and feel more comfortable seeing it. He may envision uses for things you see as trash. Extreme examples of people not being able to control a compulsion to collect things have been the subjects of articles, books and TV shows.
There are a lot of articles and books on this subject. An Internet search or visit with a librarian will give you a wealth of resources. You may find solutions in the material that help you talk with your son. The key is whether or not he wants help. If his condo can be lived in, he is happy and no one else is being harmed perhaps it’s not a problem.
One thing that doesn’t help is to go in and clean up his clutter for him. As you have learned he will just replace it.
If your son wants help with the clutter situation or his behavior escalates, there is a range of services available from mental health evaluation and care to professional organizers. If he doesn’t agree he has a problem and his job is not suffering, you may have to back off and love him the way he is.
Atheist/Agnostic/Secular Humanist/Free Thinker
QUESTION: Okay – here’s the deal. I’ve been married to an incredible woman for seven years and our relationship is solid and stable except for one problem that could become a big problem. We have two children, ages 7 and 5. The younger one just started school this past fall. Now my wife wants another child. When our youngest was born, there were complications that became very dangerous. Both my wife and our child came out of the difficult pregnancy and delivery all right. Praise God for excellent medical care and our doctor’s close attention.
I think it’s safe to say the OBGYN and I were both sweating blood. I do not want to go through this again. My imagination is running wild with “what if’s.”
How can I persuade her to give up the idea of having another baby?
– Worried Husband
Dear Worried Husband,
Alas, if it was as easy as just having to persuade your wife to make the right decision. You have a great argument outlined for you: two school age children, which means there is a bit more freedom that you and your wife could take advantage of that you couldn’t really do when they were infants and toddlers, and the really persuasive argument which is that another pregnancy could be detrimental to the health of your wife and the unborn baby. It is all so logical, so reasonable, and certainly anyone would see the rationality of the two of you not having any more children.
But we human beings often make decisions that aren’t rational or good for us. I’m going to be 50 this March and if I’ve learned anything over the years about myself it’s that I have to really look deeply and intentionally at the decisions I am making and what is motivating them. And I know from my own experience as a mom that when the second child went to school I had to really take a good long look at myself and my life. What was I going to do when these kids didn’t need me anymore? Who am I, separate and apart from my children from being a mom? Most importantly for me, what was God’s will for my life and how could I follow God’s path more intentionally?
I only have one suggestion: therapy. The two of you seeing a good therapist and perhaps your wife, if she were open and willing to go to individual counseling, might find that there is more behind her need and desire for another child than what presents itself on the surface. It’s a can of worms we open when we go within and do the real soul work of looking at ourselves. The two of you on the journey together could catapult your relationship into a whole new dimension of living and being in the world that can be extraordinary.
It’s difficult, it’s sometimes painful, but it’s always worth it.
Dear Worried Husband,
You are facing a difficult discussion or perhaps a series of discussions. I can imagine this is worrying you because of your concern for your wife’s health and well-being. I commend you for wanting to do the right thing. I conclude from your introduction that you have a relationship in which you can discuss these matters, but perhaps it is time to have a third party help you both to work through all the feelings, discussions and arguments related to this vital issue. Sometimes having a neutral third party such as a counselor or clergy person who is trained in helping couples through these times helps give you both perspective on the issue at hand. I think of it like having a coach to help you learn how to communicate more effectively and grow your relationship.
In the meantime, be sure to talk more about this, be a Sherlock Holmes, find out the motivations and the desires, get a real knowledge of your wife’s thinking behind such a decision.
I don’t know if you will ever persuade her to not have a child, but the “what ifs” do point to the realities that could really happen, and these could be discussed calmly as you think through what is fear and what is a real.
Rev. Steve Poteete-Marshall
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church
2700 Montrose Ave
Montrose, CA 91020