J. Peirano: My 24-year-old son is still behaving during puberty

In fact, Teresa’s son has long since reached puberty. But when he visits his mother, everything is the same as before. How can the two get together?

Dear Mrs Peirano,

I, 52, have two grown children, Lukas, 24, and Mia, 20. Mia still lives with me and my new husband, Lukas moved out early and is studying in Munich. When Lukas comes to visit, I always look forward to seeing him, but after a maximum of two days, I am so exhausted, upset and annoyed with him that I can not wait for him to leave again.

He has a very strange social behavior that annoys us all. In general, he shows extremely little interest in us and our lives, and he also tells very little about himself. It’s about him being calm, keeping his habits up. The most important thing is that he can go to the gym. He sleeps for dinner and then first plunders my supplies to make a giant breakfast. Six cans of tuna and four eggs can easily do that. His body is extremely important to him and he does a lot of sports and makes sure he eats a lot of protein.

I adapt to his preferences and cook for all of us so we can eat together once a day. To help is non-existent. Even if you ask him to, he does significantly less than his share and complains. During the last visit, he called me furious because I asked him to carry a water box down into the basement, and after asking five times, he placed it in the hallway. I just said briefly that I am disappointed that I now have to carry the box myself … It was too much to “sprinkle around” for him.

My new husband and I are doing quite well and have a comfortable, beautiful house with a large garden. There is always a lot to do and it is important to us that everything is tidy. Luke destroys the order within a few hours. Collects tools and does not put them back, adjusts my bike saddle and keeps it at the same height, does not undress the bed when he walks, does not buy supplies even though I have asked him to (and gives him money for his extra food).

I’m very sorry that his visits are not pleasant and close, but that I constantly bite my tongue so as not to scold and tell him the meaning in his face. I’m afraid he’s not coming at all.

Apparently, his life in Munich is very “cool”. When I visited him there, I noticed that he lives very simply. In an uncomfortable room in a shared apartment, he has rather loose contacts (except with his girlfriend), he eats a lot, but simply and with terrible table manners. In fact, he wolves the food down. A little lonely wolf.

I put a lot of effort into enabling him to have a happy childhood. His father did not help in the house and behaved in a similarly selfish and passive-aggressive manner (except for the food issue). I used to be constantly overwhelmed and angry (internally; I do not show my anger like that) and ended up doing everything on my own because there was no point in asking him for anything. And now I see the same behavior in Luke again, and it drives me crazy.

I divorced his father when Luke was nine and after that I took care of the kids, offered them a nice home and all the hobbies they wanted, made money and had a career and was extremely exhausting. The father of the children then lived his own single life, had various boyfriends and toured the area on his motorcycle. Agreements with the children often suffer as a result.

Lukas and I used to have really good contact with each other and could talk openly. We also went on two trips as a couple (Thailand and Mexico) and had a lot of fun together. But sometimes it all just blows away when he is at home with us. He does not move an inch towards us and after a few days his sister cries, my husband is extremely annoyed and I just want to crawl away and cry my heart out.

What do you advise me to do? And does it make sense to talk to Luke and ask him to reconsider his behavior?

Many greetings

Teresa T

Dear Teresa T,

I can feel how you feel. You mix a lot of emotions when your son comes to visit.

  • A lot of disappointment that the closeness you used to have with him is not felt at all at the moment.
  • Bitterness over the years as a single mother, where you struggled every day to give your children a beautiful and happy childhood despite the separation.
  • Anger: It sounds like you were very much alone at the time and the children’s father did not help. And no one thanked you …
  • Anger and rage that someone is messing with your order and structure and letting go of everything and not cleaning up after them.
  • Helplessness because it apparently does not help much to ask Luke for something. He also seems to have inherited some of his father’s passive-aggressive attitude (whether inherited or through observation) and just lets you and everyone else strut.

I can imagine you actually want your son to acknowledge your remarkable achievement and be grateful for what you have done for him. And that he likes your home – and his former home – and feels comfortable there. And that he shows interest in being with you, your husband and his sister. It would all be desirable and appropriate. Instead, he signals to you that he does not care about your life. It is hard!

I offer you an interpretation that can help you see the situation from a different angle.

As a child, Luke experienced – consciously and unconsciously – how much energy it takes to want a lot out of life. You have created a beautiful house and a beautiful garden for yourself, you have managed a career and you have raised two children on the side without much help. They have experienced permanent exaggerated demands, they were certainly often exhausted and burdened.

Luke drew his own conclusion from your life plan. He said to himself: All material desires and all tasks in life create stress. I want it to be very “chill”. So I give up possessions, structure, caring for others, responsibilities. I have a small room, an education that gives me a lot of free time and I take everything else very lightly and as I please. And my body and I are the most important. So that’s kind of his personal philosophy.

Possibly the comparison between his own father (avoiding work and seemingly free to pursue his interests and needs; also at the expense of others) and his mother (working from morning to night to get everything done and being constantly overwhelmed) has partly contributed to the fact that he identified more with the role of his father.

It’s a bitter pill for you, because you’ve already suffered from the danger to the children – and now it seems like it’s all happening again. However, it only seems to repeat itself, because there are significant differences between then and now.

While the children’s father was your partner and left you, Lukas is your son and can choose his own path and tasks in life. It is his right and he will bear the consequences of it.

You have now achieved a lot and live with a man who shares and supports your life model. And: you have raised the children behind you and can now take care of yourself. Focus on that! There is just inner and outer turmoil every time Luke comes into your orderly life and stirs things up. Then you come into contact with past bad feelings (overwhelmed in the role of single mother AND angry at the father of the children). It all comes up and you feel helpless, used and bitter again.

My suggestion would be that you and Lukas spare yourself and Lukas the fight over whose life model is the right one (housing versus nice house; hedonism versus family life). He obviously does not want to come to you as he feels free with his student life in Munich. Without possession, without obligation, without formality. He can eat there whenever and however he wants. He can come and go as he pleases. And he keeps people at a distance for not having any responsibility. Just let him keep at it.

You write that you had good trips with him. There was a common denominator for meetings, and that would also be my advice: meet him on neutral ground, a place where there is little structure and you are not responsible for the general conditions. Book a room in Munich for a few days and then make something together by appointment. Or travel together again, ideally “cooled” and “unstructured”, ie. more in line with his lifestyle model rather than luxurious and orderly as your lifestyle would dictate.

This will save you a lot of fights.

Luke wants to stand out and be free as he defines it. One can endlessly argue that one should grow up, behave oneself and take responsibility. It will not do any good.

Just take care of yourself and meet him outside the house, if possible, to avoid having to engage in subtle fights. Then you’ll probably get close to him again soon. And maybe it’s also good for you to go on a “cool” unplanned vacation.

Yours sincerely

Juliet Peirano

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