Q: My wondrous 24-year-old son has just been diagnosed with a brain cyst. We haven’t seen the neurologist yet. I’m freaking out. Cysts are usually benign, but his is causing him problems – that’s what led him to the doc in the first place – and sometimes they are associated with tumors. There’s probably brain surgery coming.
My question is on how to be with him. Do I just say, “Oh I’m sure it’ll all be OK”? I feel like I just want to hug him. I can’t figure out the right balance, I guess, between showing concern and sympathy and being brave and optimistic.
I’m his dad and we’re very close and his mom and I are divorced, so it’s not like I can or want to let his mom speak for us. Any thoughts or advice appreciated.
A: I’m so sorry you’re all going through this. You seem to have just the right frame of heart and mind, though, to provide unflagging support for your son.
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The one thing I’d advise against is the “Oh I’m sure it’ll all be OK” route. You don’t know that, and he knows you don’t know that, so you risk sounding insincere when he needs you to be his rock. Rocks don’t lie to him. Rocks don’t need to lie to themselves.
Instead, combine concern, sympathy, courage and optimism into something you actually can promise him: your presence. Tell your son he will not be alone. You will face this with him, deal with what comes, and take as much of the weight off him as you possibly can.
You can also be the person who stays in the present for him. He, no doubt, is mentally paging through worst-case scenarios – as you are too – but outwardly you can remain mindful that, to tweak your words, it’s all OK until it isn’t. Right now, just be the father of man with a cyst, which is usually benign. Change as the facts change.
With this approach in particular, but also with any approach toward someone in distress, be mindful of how it’s received. It’s not just that we’re all unique in our needs; we can react in ways that are new to us, even, when facing challenges without precedent. Watch how he responds to you. Listen carefully for what he wants. Sometimes the most reassuring thing you can give someone is the gift of being heard.
And a hug.
Q: My wife and I are taking our two grandsons on a cruise with us to Scandinavia soon. The older one is 18, and his mother just informed us that he’s gotten a nose ring. She is very upset, as are we.
I understand that we have different perspectives, based on life experiences, generations, etc. We are thinking we will be somewhat embarrassed to introduce him to fellow passengers without the “clean-cut” look we admire. We are afraid the nose ring portends somewhat worse to follow.
How should we handle this? We don’t want to alienate him. We have a good relationship with him.
A: You handle it by choosing not to treat it as something you need to “handle.” He is your grandson and you love him, and it’s possible for a pinprick-third-nostril to do nothing to change that, especially if you decide not to let it.
Besides, the chances he’s the only pierced young person these cruisers know are vanishingly slim.
If you need a little nudge toward thinking that way, then I suggest you do a mental side-by-side comparison. Which would you rather he be: “clean-cut,” or kind? Which would you rather be?
To treat one’s grandson as an embarrassment not because he is mean or rude or ignorant or lawless, but because he has hardware that merely isn’t to your taste, is unkind. It’s not a swastika in his face.
“The content of their character” is the gold standard by which to judge not only your grandson, but also yourself – and throw in your fellow passengers, too, since you seem to want their approval. Walk that walk by not flinching at superficial adornments of any kind and embracing the human within. Let that be the face you show. Bon voyage.
Q: We visit my mother-in-law for a few weeks every summer. My sister-in-law, “Sally,” lives (expense-free) * on the property but in a separate dwelling. Years ago, Sally got WiFi installed in her house, and the main house uses that same connection. Sally’s boyfriend turns off the WiFi at night because he thinks it is unhealthy. **
I stay up much later than Sally and her boyfriend, and my wife wakes up two hours earlier. So. Can we insist that while we are visiting, the WiFi stays on permanently?
A: “Insist”? Not without being dropped-jaw presumptuous, no.
You can ask nicely.
You can also bring your own hotspot for those unplugged hours.
Or a, you know, book.
* So not your business.
** So not mine.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org