QUESTION: Ever since our grandson was 5 years old, he has wanted to be an astronaut. He’s a self-studied astronomer, and keeps up on any new information that’s about outer space. He’s now 17 and about to graduate from high school. In addition to being an A-plus student, he is respectful and helpful. Can you tell we just love this young man?
His problem is his parents who don’t want him to be an astronaut. He’s received no encouragement from them, but we encourage him as often as we can, but not in the presence of his parents who want him to be a doctor. This makes us feel deceitful, and we’ve never fully discussed this with his parents. What could we say to them that wouldn’t alienate them, and perhaps help them to encourage their son’s ambition?
~ Proud Grandparents
Dear Proud Grandparents,
I love that you want to have this talk with the parents. Sometimes important conversations never take place in our families. Asking for advice indicates wisdom on your part since Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” You might want to also ask advice from other people you trust – especially people who know you and/or the parents personally. Those who know us best can frequently anticipate keys to success as well as potential pitfalls in a talk like this.
I think Proverbs 25:15 will be helpful in having this conversation: “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” The parents have a God-given responsibility for their son and you should appreciate that. They obviously have also been wonderful parents in many respects. Your approach should be gentle with a hope to persuade. I would begin by asking them sincerely how they feel and why they seem to want him to be a doctor but not an astronaut. After you have listened first, then you can respond appropriately with your perspective. Your suggestions should not be forceful, but humbly presented as something you hope they will consider. This will help unnecessary tension in your relationship with them.
It also might be good if you could share about a situation from the past in your parenting of your son (or daughter) where you encouraged them to follow a dream they had. If they appreciated your approach, it might help them see how they could do the same thing for their son now.
In my experience, dreams are powerful and the young man may end up pursuing his passion whether his parents support him or not. I will pray for the conversation to go well and for the best for your grandson.
Reese Neyland, minister
Lifeway Church in Glendale
Dear Proud Grandparents,
First of all, there are two very important lessons for all of us here: One, individuals can choose to be and do whatever they feel called to in life! This can be very difficult for more controlling parents to accept, but that changes nothing. Your grandson is less than a year from being an adult and I applaud you for supporting him.
Second, controlling people does not have power over others. They may think they do, and we can allow them to, but that would be our choice.
What stands out to me in your inquiry for assistance with his parents is the amount of control people think they have over others by stonewalling ideas and choices. The fact that you are even somewhat walking on eggshells shows a level of dysfunction in the parents – not their son nor his grandparents.
The best way to deal with this personality type is in a matter of fact way with boundaries. There is no room for nervousness or timidity here. I would say something assertive, calm and unambiguous such as, “We are so proud of John and will do whatever we can to support his endeavors to be an astronaut.”
Now, how would you respond to any counter they may have? Try something like, “Oh, we are sorry you feel that way. But after all, John will be 18 soon. And we all know that adults make their own paths even when we may not agree.” End of story.
If the parents continue to pressure you, calmly stand firm in your choice: “Well we all have choices and we choose to support John. We will always respect you as his parents. But it is his choice once he is an adult.”
And do not worry! Your grandson will be able to become anything he wants. Individuals can always get their own loans, pay their own way, and strive to be the person they dreamed of. I received no help with my education and went from the entertainment industry to studying for the ministry and later becoming a psychotherapist. Anyone can attain their dreams.
And the general rule when encountering resistance from others is always this: Keep your responses simple.
Kimberlie Zakarian, LMFT
Thrive Therapy Center
QUESTION: I’ve seldom been a complainer, but now I’d like to have a different perspective about how I’m thinking about this situation. I’m the mother of two adult children. My daughter lives out of state, and my son lives locally. I seldom hear from my daughter, and when I call, it doesn’t seem like my call is welcome, as though I’m imposing on her time. My son, on the other hand, stays in touch. He and his family share valuable, enjoyable time with me. At this stage of my life, gifts are unimportant, but at least the acknowledgment of special occasions is important to me. My daughter doesn’t send a birthday card or a Mother’s Day card. I keep examining my thoughts, as in, “Was I that bad of a mother?”
Am I expecting too much from her?
~ Sad Mom
Dear Sad Mom,
While I feel your pain, I also have to say that children are strange sometimes! I am assuming that you treated both of your children the same, and yet your son seems more appreciative than your daughter. I don’t have an answer.
Have you talked to your son about this situation? But don’t let him complain to your daughter; that’s your job, not his. Still, he may have some insight. It is interesting that your daughter’s apparent lack of appreciation comes to me now, because this very day one of my friends in my church and I were talking about how some children are good at “honoring their father and their mother” (Exodus 20:12) and how some are not, and sometimes the children come from the same parents!
I am reminded of a song in the off-Broadway musical of 50 years ago; it was called, “The Fantasticks.” There is a great song in that musical sung by the two fathers, and one of the lines is, “Plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a Brussels sprout. That’s why I like vegetables: you know what you’re about…” The point is, kids can be strange – even your own kids.
I just had a terrible thought: Is it possible your daughter was abused in some way growing up, and maybe now she resents you for not coming to her defense?
What I would do is talk to your son, and then sit down and write your daughter a thoughtful letter, and tell her pretty much what you have said in this column. You are an adult and so, too, is your daughter. Try to have an adult conversation with her, and try not to play, “Poor me!” But lay the facts out as you see them, and say that it would be nice to get a card on certain special occasions. I am assuming that you continue to send your daughter cards on her special days.
And finally, it just may be possible that you did everything you could for your child and were a model mother – but instead of getting a sensitive, warm human being, through no fault of your own, your daughter became a self-centered, uncaring wench. I hope not, but these days anything is possible.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Sad Mom,
We are bombarded with images of perfect mother-child relationships around Mother’s Day. Remember card makers, florists, candy shops, restaurants and gift shops are using emotion to make a profit. In real life, there is a wide range of parent-child relationships. Many are far worse than you describe.
Considering the cause of your daughter’s distance, you don’t mention any event in the past leading to a rift so I’m assuming there isn’t an obvious reason for estrangement. It seems you haven’t discussed it with her so that may be a first step. I’m not suggesting asking, “Why didn’t you send me a Mother’s Day card?” But gently asking if there’s a better time to call or if she’d prefer email, or some other electronic communication that might allow her to explain her lack of enthusiasm for your calls. She may be going through a crisis situation or experiencing depression and not able to see how her neglect appears to you.
How is her relationship with her brother and other relatives? Do they celebrate birthdays or other holidays together? If your daughter isn’t participating in any family activities, perhaps her life is centered in her new city now and she is busy with work and a new group of friends.
If she doesn’t indicate any interest in making it easier for the two of you to communicate you may just have to accept a fairly distant relationship. Take comfort in knowing you did the best you could raising her and let go of expectations. Relationships change over time and you may be surprised at some point in the future by her reaching out to you.
Meanwhile you can cultivate your own interests and be thankful for your good relationship with your son and his family.
Hope you had an enjoyable Mother’s Day.