Since our children moved away years ago, my husband and I have gotten into a healthy lifestyle. My husband’s blood pressure used to be a bit high and I was putting on the pounds of the mid-life/mid-drift, so we decided to do something. First we got into eating organic food and watching our diets, and then we got into biking and yoga. We cut back on drinking alcohol until eventually we cut it out altogether, and we both feel great. Now, the problem is that our grown kids and their spouses are on a different wavelength. They like to party when they come home to visit (they are all hard-working professionals otherwise), and they fill our kitchen with fatty, unhealthy foods and alcohol and then stay up late watching TV until all hours. Of course, we want to spend as much time as we can with them and let them know that they are always welcome home, but after their visits we are in need of recovery, and it takes awhile for us to get back on track. Any advice on how to set boundaries without making our kids feel that they have entered a restricted zone?
Dear Healthy Old-Fogeys,
First, I have to comment on the irony of this: the older parents into yoga and health foods and the kids into the booze and TV. How times have changed since I was a young hippie. But to your question: live your authentic life when your kids come home and let them live however they want as well. Eat the healthy foods of your usual diet even if it means you cook separately, abstain from drinking, go to bed early if that is your habit, do your yoga and biking. One can only model behavior, not impose it. There is no need for your children to feel unwelcome just because your health habits are different. And it may be an inspiration for them to directly see how you now live and why you are so much healthier than before. But even if they continue in their own ways (and with the benefit of youth, they can get away with a lot, at least for awhile), see if you can find other things to do together that don’t involve a health compromise for yourselves. The main reason for the visit is for the family to share time and love with one another, which is not dependent on everyone sharing the same lifestyle.
I grew up with pets (dogs and cats) and was always fond of animals as far back as I can remember. But as an adult, I have become so sensitive to the plight of animals and the way humans treat them that it is almost unbearable for me to hear news about what is done to them, especially in the cases of medical and product experimentation. I frequently burst into tears over it and cannot sleep at night for thinking about it. I even disapprove of the way people treat their pets. The thought of all the dogs locked away alone in city apartments all day while their owners are at work makes me sick. And the neglected ones might be the lucky ones. Some are being deliberately tormented. My friends and family are concerned for me and think I have a psychological problem, but I am so ashamed of humans and their treatment of animals that I sometimes don’t even want to live in this world.
Historically, it is people of high sensitivity and empathy such as yourself who have inched us evolutionarily forward in kindness as a species. And while it is true that we have a long way to go, it is also good to reflect on how far we have come. The concept of animal rights is recent in history. The understanding that animals have emotions and, in many cases, cognition is now accepted in civilized societies. As people in those societies are made aware of what is being done to animals, they demand humane treatment. When you find yourself becoming sick of what we humans are doing, it is a signal to turn your attention to the many acts of compassion of which we are also capable and which occur in countless ways each day around the world. Your empathy is beautiful but it is important to balance it with the acknowledgement that hearts can be touched and minds changed when the awareness of a horrendous situation penetrates deeply enough. Until then, try to “forgive, for they know not what they do.”
I have two boys from two marriages. One is 15 and the other is six. They live with me and my second husband. The issue I face every single day is that the interests and activities of my fifteen-year old son are not appropriate for my six year old. In today’s world of cable TV, Internet, and cyber games, it is almost impossible to monitor what my six year old is exposed to since he is fascinated by all the things that his older brother is into. I also feel hesitant to come down too much on my older boy as he is growing up without his own father, and his relationship with his stepfather is difficult. I guess I give him a lot of slack because I feel he is already at a disadvantage, so I don’t want to make his life with us any more uncomfortable. I don’t know if this is your field or if it is appropriate, but I usually find your answers very practical.
Perhaps your family needs more avenues of communication, and I would recommend family therapy in this case. In addition to the communication work that seems essential regarding your husband and his stepson, I would begin to enlist your older son as a mentor to his young brother and a partner to you in helping to fill the younger one’s childhood with interests that are age appropriate. If the older one is instead functioning as a buddy who is exposing the child to things that will confuse or even harm him, it is important to intervene, despite your concern about your older child’s disadvantage regarding a father figure. Sometimes a young adult can handle more responsibility than we assume, and that responsibility may have an ennobling effect.