Q: I'll be graduating from high school next week, and even though I won't leave for college for several months, my mom is already freaking out. Sometimes I think she's going to have a panic attack. I'm afraid she won't be able to handle it when I finally leave. What should I do?
Jim: Try seeing this situation from your mom's perspective. Remember the anxiety you felt before your first date, or the jitters of standing up before an audience for the first time? Your mom is facing a similar situation right now. Her precious baby is about to leave the nest, and she's not quite sure what to expect. She wants the best for you, but she fears the potential dangers that she suspects may be lying in wait for you out in the world. This brand of protectiveness is entirely healthy and natural for any mom.
At the same time, some parents do have a tendency to overprotect their kids and engage in "helicopter parenting." Your reference to panic attacks may be cause for concern as well. Healthy anxiety is one thing -- it's designed to help us cope with the challenges of life and to perform at a higher level. But an anxiety disorder is an entirely different matter. This happens when normal anxiety grows and mutates to the point where it does the opposite of what it's intended to do. Rather than helping people cope, the anxiety actually prevents them from functioning.
If you think your mom is suffering from more than just a general sense of nervousness at your departure, then respectfully and lovingly suggest that she seek help. There are a number of treatments available for anxiety disorders. A member of Focus on the Family's counseling team will be able to speak with you about this issue and identify a qualified counselor in your area. In the meantime, shower her with lots of love and make sure that these final few months at home are memorable for both of you.
Q: Our 21-year-old son is living with us. He has struggled to find employment and become independent. How do we encourage him to take the necessary steps to find a job, a place to live and his own way in life without making him feel unloved or unwanted?
Juli: To address this issue with your son, you must begin by asking the question, "What does it mean to love him?" Although it might seem unloving to push your son out of the comfort of your home, it is actually a very loving thing to do.
Your son, like many young adults in our society, is stuck in a delayed adolescence instead of launching into adult responsibilities. It is unloving to be part of keeping him stuck.
Here's a suggested plan of action. Give your son a reasonable date by which you expect him to be out of the house. Explain to him that he is always welcome to visit, but that he is a man now and needs to become responsible for himself. Offer to help him plan financially, strategize to find a job and other necessary steps toward independence.
Be firm on the date that you set! Your natural tendency may be to show grace if the date comes and goes and your son is still stuck. You are doing him no favors by shielding him from responsibility.
One option for your son to consider is joining the military. The armed forces are wonderful for providing direction, self-confidence and maturity for young men and women who are struggling to find their way out of adolescence.
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)