A Thought for Today
by Terrell Tebbetts
Don’t do it, Mamas! Don’t make your adult sons and daughters into children! I’ve seen too many mamas do just that, in two different ways.
Some mamas just encourage their kids to act adolescent. They even abet such behavior. I knew one mama who brought her eighteen-year-old son whiskey whenever he had a big party coming up. She wanted him to play Animal House! And he obliged.
Family therapists explain why some mamas behave this way. They say the family, as a unit, has as full a set of needs as an individual does. If some members are serious-minded obsessive-compulsives, for balance the family “needs” one member to be the wild child, the one whose life is out of control.
So the family finds a member to play that role, encourages him/her to play it, and enjoys vicariously the wildness of the “identified patient,” while congratulating themselves for not acting that way. The family unit balances the obsessiveness of some members with the excesses of another.
Other mamas do the opposite, yet they still work toward keeping their sons and daughters immature. These are the “helicopter mothers” who monitor every aspect of their sons’ and daughters’ lives.
Diane had a college roommate whose mama was that way. When her daughter was in high school, this mama still bought all her daughter’s clothes and laid out each day’s ensemble as if her daughter were a preschooler. When that poor girl got to college, she was socially clueless.
In college, however, she pushed Mama back and claimed her own life. She dated, fell in love, eloped to Oklahoma, and then announced her marriage. When mama found a way to annul the marriage, she just eloped again and hid the secret better.
What’s the childish part? Well, mama’s looming presence led to the elopements—secret weddings hidden from the “grown-ups” lest they disapprove, rather than public weddings with family and friends attending.
I saw yet another case this spring. A mama descended on her college-junior son just as he was finishing his term papers and studying for final exams, despite his pleading that this was not at all the right time. He’s serious about his studies, with close to a 4.0 gpa. Yet when Mama saw his resistance, she threatened him with loss his cell phone, which she was paying for.
She sent him into rage and then depression, neither reaction anything like his normal upbeat behavior, but both something like the tantrums and sulking of a five-year-old. He recovered and finished the semester beautifully. But, Mama, why did you turn him even temporarily into a child!?!
Such mamas are often compensators. They messed up their youths somehow, so they’re compensating by ensuring their kids don’t mess up.
But the surest way to mess up young adults is to insist they need Mama to keep from messing up.
Terrell Tebbetts is the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in
American Literature at Lyon College. He can be reached at email@example.com.