DEAR AMY: I am a single mother of a 17-year-old son in his last year of high school. He is an only child. I gave birth to him in my senior year of high school. I never got married and never brought men into our lives.
I went through a really significant rough patch for about three years during his young teenage life. I have bounced back and life is pretty great now.
He and I were so close before the tough times started and now that things are good again he seems so withdrawn from me. I try so hard and I love him more than anything in this world.
He will be headed to college soon and it’s causing me so much anxiety. I don’t know how to get him to connect with me prior to graduating and beginning his young life away from home.
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My heart is aching, and I think about it all the time.
I try to make special plans with him, but he never wants to do anything with me. He’s so great and incredibly humble. I am so proud of him and just want to be close again. Do you have any suggestions?
Mother in Tears
DEAR MOTHER: Here’s my advice: Abide with him. Be patient with him. Love him in the ways you have always loved him and work hard – not to win him over but to let him leave you.
It is a universal fact that even in “intact,” low-drama and highly functional families, children push their parents away before leaving home. Sons are especially good at this detachment (though I’ve personally dealt with it with daughters).
Although your last year in high school was much different from your son’s, perhaps you remember a version of this with your own parents.
Unless you suspect his withdrawing from you is due to some special problem, like depression or drug-taking, do not beg him for connection. This will create pressure for him. Do your best to support his efforts to complete his senior year and encourage him regarding his future.
Your extreme feelings have a diagnosis: Empty Nest Syndrome. A professional counselor could help you navigate through this challenging phase of your (and your son’s) life.
Also, read “Letting Go (Fifth Edition): A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years” by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger (2009, Harper Perennial).
DEAR AMY: I have an issue with my fiance, who enables his 39-year-old divorced daughter. I watch her manipulate him into buying her things (a house, trips, etc.), and if she doesn’t get those things, she gets physically ill and then he feels sorry for her and breaks down and buys her anything she wants.
It has interfered with our own goals and plans. If I say anything, he denies he’s in this pattern with her and blows up at me. I go back and forth between thinking it’s none of my business and wanting to speak up when it delays our financial and other plans for the future.
After the most recent incident, I wonder if I should move on. I don’t think I want to marry into this family pattern and his denial about the part he plays in it.
Your perspective on this would be helpful.
Married to his Daughter
DEAR MARRIED: Stepparents have a very tough burden regarding their partner’s children. Your fiance has an independent relationship with his daughter. He has done a very poor job of acknowledging the stake you have in this relationship, and (partly because of this) you don’t seem to have developed a feeling of closeness or fondness toward his daughter.
In order for any marriage to work, spouses need to come together as a team, making mutual decisions over expenditures to family members (even if the money comes from his funds). If he is forced to explain and justify significant expenses to you – before he makes them – he may also start to see things from your perspective.
I agree with you that you should not marry unless or until you arrive at some equilibrium and consensus. Moving on might be best for you.
DEAR AMY: I enjoyed your recent “Best Of” columns. I’m so curious about how things turn out for the people. Do they ever follow up?
DEAR CURIOUS: I am extremely curious and would like to encourage any person who has had a letter published in my column to contact me again to let us all know how things turned out.
Email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.