Updated: Dec 4, 2019
“Please, move out of my house!” is not something you picture yourself telling your children. But if the relationship is going full speed to a bad place, perhaps it’s the only exit left. That’s what Beth James learnt with her 18 year old son.
“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
A few years ago, I received a frantic call from my son telling me he had run out of gas on one of Auckland’s major freeways. He explained that his car began to sputter during the onset of rush hour and he attempted to get across three lanes of traffic to get off the road but didn’t quite make it. Instead, half of the car was on the shoulder, and the other half jutted part of the way into the first lane which caused traffic to build up behind him.
He was THAT motorist.
This story actually began back when my son turned eighteen and informed me that his emancipation from parental rule was official. I no longer possessed the legal ability to enforce a curfew or basic hygiene and my comments on the state of his finances were unwelcomed. Ten months later, his first tentative steps into adulthood had cemented into the insufferable certainty that his mother was terminally old fashioned and couldn’t possibly relate to the realities of being a student in this day and age. My son, had it all figured out, which brings me back to his recent petrol problem.
He had run out of gas because his fuel gauge was broken. His fuel gauge was broken because he didn’t have the bucks to get it fixed and he didn’t have the money because the concepts of having a job (but I’m in school!) and saving for a rainy day (but I don’t have a job!) were as foreign to him as his toothbrush.
Under normal circumstances, in a moment of need such as being stranded on the freeway, I would have been a kind mother, an understanding mother, but for the last year, my son has unfortunately, been like the business end of a horse so, as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t control my laughter when he wailed into the phone, “They’re throwing produce at me!!”
As it turned out, a police officer drove up behind him and was kind enough to use her squad car to push him up the nearest exit ramp and down the road a short distance to a petrol station. That left his bumper a little worse for the wear but in the end, she let him go without a citation. He neglected to thank her and as she drove off, he hit me up for fuel money. This child shared my DNA. Where had I gone wrong? Suddenly, the solution hit me like a lightning bolt. I filled up his tank, gave him a hug and a kiss and told him he had until August 1 to find himself a new place to live.
And then, I practically skipped home.
After my announcement, our relationship became somewhat frosty but I kept telling him that in every young person’s life, there comes a time when living with their parents is no longer fit for purpose. Our rules are silly, our advice is intrusive and we go to bed before midnight. I explained that living with me was limiting his personal growth and that he would find it enormously satisfying to clean his own toilets and cook his own meals. I have to admit that he was dubious at first but a mere two months later, he announced that he’d found a flat and would be moving out on his birthday.
As he shut the hatch of his car with the last load of his things inside, he turned and handed me the keys to my house. He bent down, hugged me tightly and told me he’d ring me in a few days to make sure I was okay. I scoffed, assured him that he was destined for great things and that there would always be a place for him at Sunday dinner. As he drove off, I was surprised to find myself sobbing.
He’s been on his own for a month and it turns out that for once, I might have made a solid parenting decision. He has really come into his own and is thrilled with his new life. He showed up to dinner this weekend on time, in clean clothes and well-groomed. Upon reflection, I realised that my son was never the problem in our relationship. I was.
In my business life, I am at my worst if I micromanage, if I don’t trust others to be competent or if I give in to the urge to control every little detail. Nobody likes working with a know-it-all. I often wondered why my son wouldn’t listen and now I understand it is because I deafened him.