DEAR CAROLYN: I hope you can help me accept that my adult son doesn’t like me – and stop feeling so worn down and questioning myself from his disdainful comments.
Overall, he’s a great person – just out of college, landed a good job and is kind to other people. He and his girlfriend are staying with me for a few months as they get settled and look for an apartment.
I talked to him last winter about being rude and judgmental, so he’s more polite, but cold. He is warmer when we go out to breakfast every few weeks and sometimes when the whole family is together. But as a rule, seems I’m the thorn in his life.
I did things as a mom that must have hurt and made him wary of me – control, anger and power struggles. We’ve talked about that, he’s accepted my apology, and I’ve done significant therapy.
One more piece is that his dad died when he was a teen, but he was pretty pulled-back well before that, from both of us. The family has been active in the grieving process, so that’s not a concern.
I understand I can’t expect to be liked by everyone, but still … It’s a familiar sensation, since I grew up expecting to be judged.
DEAR S.: Your difficult upbringing, the anger you carried over to child-rearing, your husband’s death, your son’s anger – a therapist could spend weeks on any of these pieces, and apparently one has. If friction with your son continues, though, then I suggest returning to therapy, as discouraging as that might feel.
In the meantime, please consider that this isn’t nearly as complicated or fraught as you fear. Maybe your son doesn’t dislike you so much as he resents having to live with you again. He’s a grown man, he’s educated and employed, he has a partner. He could be mad at himself for landing back “home” under those conditions, which can feel suffocating.
Feeling suffocated would fit, I think, with his being nicer to you off-site (out to breakfast) and among other family, and with his having drifted from both parents as a teen: The guy needs his space.
On top of that, the natural response to wanting someone to like you is hovering. Grade-schoolers follow around the popular kids. Eager employees circle the boss and laugh at meh jokes. And parents aching to hold on to children leaving the nest will watch them too closely for signs it’ll all be OK.
How does the cool kid/boss/young adult feel? Crowded and sucked-up-to and chronically annoyed, all of which might describe your son.
Of course I could be wrong, and his whole attitude could indeed trace to his not liking you. But even if it’s the worst case, the best argument you can make in your favor is to respect his space.
Instead of trying to fix everything now, instead be patient. Be kind, be supportive, be sympathetic and be busy with your own life. Give time a chance to make repairs for you.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.