Finding Solace Over the Rainbow

Photo by Michael Carson

Photo by Michael Carson

I can’t imagine anything more painful than the death of a child.

I recently attended the funeral of a 30-year young man. I cried for Jason, for his Mom and Dad and for the possible loss I too could experience.

I know, even as time goes on, the grief that Jason’s parents feel will always be with them.  And although I don’t know them very well—Jason’s Dad worked with my husband– and I never met Jason, in some small way, their grief has become mine and it will always be with me too.

Perhaps that’s what funerals do. They bind you to those who are grieving and in making room for them, your heart grows bigger.

It would have been hard not to let in the pain of Jason’s parents.  They told stories about Jason that made everyone laugh and even, in this saddest of moments, their joy and amazement that they could have had such a son as Jason shone through. Thus we felt their loss.

We chuckled when we learned Jason jumped out of the school window to escape class.  And again, when Jason’s Dad told us about the time he locked himself in the school principal’s office, while simultaneously locking her out. It was only after 15 minutes of coaxing from his mother that Jason deigned to open the door.  I am still wondering what consequences he endured. He must have been a handful! Read More

Former NHL Player Patrick O’Sullivan suffered from his abusive father

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The most heart-rending interview showing how badly parenting can go wrong when parents live vicariously through their children was aired on CBC’s “The Current” yesterday.

Former NHL hockey player Patrick O’Sullivan was emotionally and physically abused at the hands of his father, a would-be hockey player who never fulfilled his dreams.  Patrick O’Sullivan told how his father John would return home late at night after a few drinks, wake up the sleeping boy and force him to exercise for hours to improve his hockey.  He made the young Patrick run home in his hockey gear after practice, no matter what the time or weather. He beat him, kicked him and called him names. Read More

How I coped with my accident-prone young drivers

photo by Michael Carson

photo by Michael Carson

Show me a young adult driver who hasn’t had a car accident and I’ll show a young adult who doesn’t drive.

While this may not be totally true, it is the rare parent who has not had to deal with at least one accident their child has had while driving the family car. I have had literally an embarrassment of riches in this department. Among them, my three children have had eight, count ’em, eight accidents.

The first time my daughter had a car accident, I was at a loss as to what to do.  She had received her license a few weeks before and she wanted to meet a friend so she could study for her final high school exams. A few hours later, we received a call from her telling us she had an accident.  I found out she and her friend were going out for ice cream (which was not part of the agreed upon route) , when she turned a corner quickly and slid off the road, wet from rain, into a yard. She narrowly missed hitting a tree which the police officer told me could have killed her or her friend.

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Should governments and parents of hostages pay ransom to terrorist groups?

New YorkerWhile most of us sat numbly in our living rooms watching the news about the beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, their parents and parents of three other adult children taken hostage by terrorist groups in Syria had been working behind the scenes to ensure the release of their children. They had limited support from the American government.

Only one, Theo Padnos, was saved. The other four, including James and Steven and Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller were killed.

The July issue of the New Yorker reports on this sad story.  The parents were brought together by media mogul David Bradley, who was committed to helping free the hostages, after he helped free one of his freelance writers who had been taken hostage in the middle east.  The American government had little involvement in solving that case and Bradley realized that the parents of these other five hostages would need help to obtain the freedom of their children. Bradley provided financial resources, contacts and skills.

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Coping with an estranged child

The light at the door Michael Carson photo

The light at the door
Michael Carson photo

“Sometimes all we can do is leave the porch light on with a key under the mat.”

That is one of the most heart-rending pieces of advice I read in a recent Huffington Post article for parents who are unwillingly estranged from their adult children.  The article includes advice from five experts on family relationships and all of them encourage parents to never stop reaching out to their child.

The article reminded me of my own experience with my parents as a young adult.  Although we were never estranged there was a period when I pulled away because I felt the disapproval  of my parents.   My youthful experiments were beyond their comprehension.  I don’t know whether they were more aghast when they learned I occasionally smoked marijuana or when my mother found my birth control pills in my purse.  I was no young teenager–I was 22 at the time and had a steady boyfriend.  Read More

Is helping with your kids’ mortgage really helping your kids?

Even a small house can cost a fortune

Even a small house can cost a fortune

My general rule of thumb for parenting is to let children, be they five or 35, do as much as possible for themselves. It makes them feel strong and competent and that goes a long way to making them feel happy.

While many parents are quick to help their adult children buy a house, my husband and I have not helped finance our children’s mortgages.  I am happy with our arrangement as it leaves us with much less complicated relationships.

Our children don’t feel financially beholden to us and because we have no propriety interest in their property, we’re more likely to refrain from giving unwanted advice.  In addition, our children have no sense of entitlement to our other assets.  I have seen this happen when parents help with mortgages and understandably, the parents are resentful. Read More

Actions speak louder than words

Life is a puzzle

Life is a puzzle

My friend Mary has been in despair about her 29 year old son Jeff for some time. He often treats her with contempt.

Jeff has been living in Vancouver for the past five years where he works as a manager for a large department store. He stays with Mary when he returns to Ottawa to visit family and friends.

When she asks him how his day went, he might reply that it is none of her business, or he gives a one word answer. He leaves dishes in the sink after making himself some food and ignores Mary’s request that he clean up after himself.  When Mary planned a pot luck birthday party for his sister, Jeff told Mary she just wanted to get out of work.  (And what’s wrong with that, I might ask!)

Jeff also fails to return his mother’s telephone calls or e-mails.  Mary is always the one to initiate contact and then she waits, hoping she will hear from him.

The most recent of Jeff’s transgressions is that he failed to answer a previously arranged telephone call with Mary. There was no e-mail advising Mary that he wouldn’t be available and no follow-up e-mail apologizing for not answering the call.

Mary decided that it was time to act. She sent him this e-mail: Read More

I and thou–Martin Buber and the in-laws

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For those of you who studied philosophy, you may be wondering how German philosopher Martin Buber could possibly relate to in-laws, and for those of you didn’t, stick with me.  It’s more interesting than you might think. But first I want to tell you three little stories. The names are changed but the stories are real.

Story One.  My friend Barbara revealed during a recent conversation that she prefers to keep her son-in-law emotionally at arm’s length.

“While I love my son-in-law, I never want to put my daughter in a position where she feels she could not leave her husband because of my husband’s and my attachment to him. I wouldn’t want her to feel that she is breaking up the entire family, ” she said.

Story Two.  My friend Jeff told me that he wanted to speak to his daughter about his son and his daughter’s brother, Jared.  Jeff is worried  because Jared is becoming attached to a religious sect that he (Jeff) doesn’t approve of. When I suggested that his daughter’s husband might have some insight into the situation, he responded that he was not comfortable with his son-in-law,  the situation did not involve him and that this was “a family matter.”

Story Three.  My friend Marie told me that she and her husband don’t want to get too close to their daughter’s new partner. They loved her former husband and were very hurt when the young couple broke up.  They don’t want to go through the pain of loosing another son-in-law.

While all these positions are understandable, in each case, the daughter or son-in-law is not equally valued and loved as those born into the family. The implication is that they are not fully part of the family and as a result have second class status. Read More