Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Mother’s Instinct

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 8, 2013

Marley, fifty-three year old, mother of three adult children, is in constant battle with her husband, Kirk, over how to help her children launch into adulthood. In particular, Marley is struggling with how to help her oldest, Nan, thirty-two, become more independent. Marley’s instincts tell her that Nan needs the School of Hard Knocks,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Hard_Knocks‎, whereas Kirk believes that he and Marley should pay for her health insurance, help her out with her rent, and pay for her car insurance. Marley and Kirk cannot seem to come together on this issue, so by Marley’s report their marriage is in deep trouble. “I just don’t know what to do,” Marley says. “I really trust my instincts about what will help Nan. I know the kind of kid she is, and I know that if we help her out, we will take away her incentive to become independent. Kirk thinks I am being too hard on her, but I think she needs the tough approach, since when we supported her, it seemed like her development was stunted. I am not being mean, although Kirk says I am and that is hard on me.” Marley explains how she does not want to compromise and further, she is hurt that what she sees as good intention,s is perceived by her husband of thirty-five years, as “mean”. “Does Kirk think you are a mean person, in general, or only now, with respect to Nan?” I ask, wondering if Kirk is using this conflict as a way to express deeper feelings towards Marley. “No, that’s not it,” Marley says emphatically. “It is just that he does not like conflict, so he wants everyone to get along, and I think that conflict is necessary to grow, especially now that we really need  to help Nan grow. Sure, we could give Nan money, and sure, there would be less tension, but I can’t stand the fact that Kirk cannot see the bigger picture. This tension is hard, but it is necessary. I feel that in my bones.” Marley explains how she is so clear, in her mind, about how to proceed. Now, Marley sees two problems. One, is how to help Nan grow up, and two, how to cope with Kirk, who from her point of view, is conflict-avoidant. “It must be hard when you are so sure of yourself, and yet, you are living with someone who approaches life so differently,” I say, stating how this conflict is bringing up the larger conflict in their long-standing marriage. “You and Kirk are very different kinds of people.” I repeat. “Yes, and when we are not fighting about our kids, that difference is OK, but when it comes to hard decisions, that difference rises to the surface and creates a lot of tension. Maybe Nan will grow up and our marriage will survive, but maybe not.” Marley says, hinting that divorce is on her mind. “Will marital therapy help?” I ask, wondering if they need professional assistance. “Yep, I think so.” Marley says with a bit of hope in her voice.

5 Responses to “Mother’s Instinct”

  1. Shelly said

    Why does Nan think, at age 32, that her parents should pay for her health and car insurance, and rent? Is she unable to work? Is she disabled? What has she been doing for the last 10-12 years so that she has no savings? There comes a time in every adult’s life that they need to step into adulthood. Conflict avoidance is not a good enough reason to continue to bail out an adult child month who hasn’t learned to save month after month. This is indeed Kirk’s problem. While Marley feels the most guilt over the situation, being split between wanting to be both a good mother by “launching” Nan into adulthood and keeping the peace with Kirk, perhaps it is Kirk who should be your patient in your office, not Marley.

    • As usual, you bring up very important points. It is not that Nan thinks her parents should pay, but it is that she is in a tough spot and her parents could help her out. The question is whether “helping” is “helping” or whether Nan should weather the storm brought on by not saving money for a rainy day. Yes, Kirk’s need to avoid conflict is an issue which Kirk might want to address. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    At 32, Nan is probably already well on the way to becoming whoever she is going to be, whether or not her parents bail her out of this situation. Maybe it would help to understand that her parents are no longer the most important forces shaping her development or her future, and that it may not matter that much one way or another what they do in this situation. If Nan wants independence, she will get there regardless of whether her parents keep bailing her out. If she doesn’t, cutting off the flow of funds won’t get her there in any case. She will just find someone else to become dependent on, if dependence is the goal for her. Part of letting your children grow up is realizing you are not responsible for their development any longer, and it is now up to them to make whatever sense of the world that they choose–including their parents’ part in that world. It’s time both of her parents let her grow up. Both of them are still acting like she’s a little girl.

    • I am not so clear. I think parents can help their adult children grow up, but as with all tough parenting situations, it is painful on all ends. I don’t think Nan’s personality is “complete,” and as such, parenting can influence her development. Thanks.

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