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Son Blames Parents for His Problems
Q: My son starting smoking pot in college. He failed out of school after three semesters. He attempted suicide two years ago. He couldn't face telling us he flunked out. Now he's seeing a therapist and a psychologist. After last night's session he dumped a whole lot of anger and hatred on my wife and me. He says his upbringing is to blame for his problems. He's still smoking one or two times a week, depending on how much cash he has. At least he's working part time.
We're waiting to talk to his therapist about the latest blow up and aren't sure what we should do.
A: Your son and you and your wife have been through some very emotionally trying times. It's not unusual for parents to be blamed by their adult children for all that's gone wrong in the child's life. It's much easier to blame one's parents than to take any ownership of one's problems. I'm sure that you raised your son the best that you knew how. You were not the cause of your son's flunking out of college, his pot smoking or his attempted suicide. A skilled professional therapist/psychologist would never allow or encourage your son to blame you for his misfortunes and pain. He or she can build a trusting relationship with him so that he can move beyond the rage and blame and get to the core of why he lost control of his life.
You don't say whether his therapists have told you that they will also see you in counseling, as part of your son's treatment program. If they are just seeing your son and not you, they might not wish to discuss your son's outbursts toward you, considering it a violation of therapist/patient confidentiality. No therapist that I know counsels one adult family member and then talks about what went on in therapy with another family member, unless the family member in treatment has given the therapist permission to do so. If you haven't done so, I would suggest that you speak to his therapists and ask them what their treatment approach is and whether you will be asked to come in for counseling as well. Many family-centered therapists see all family members as part of their treatment approach.
Even in highly successful therapy, there can be times when it seems like the client's behavior is worse than when he began therapy. Don't expect an immediate change in your son's behavior, attitudes or beliefs. Your understanding and support are needed as he undergoes therapy. But your understanding and support do not need to include taking verbal abuse or any other kind of abuse without a response. Your role is not to be the whipping boy or to feel compelled to agree with everything your son says or does. Just because he is in therapy does not mean that you cannot attempt to have reasonable discussions with him or walk away from him if he is refusing to do anything but yell at you. It also does not mean that you are required to allow him to smoke pot in your home. Beyond the detrimental effects on his physical and mental health, it's illegal. His therapists should know your stand on this.
I wish you and your son much better times ahead. I'm sure that you will do whatever you can to help him.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.