Editor’s Note: Forever Parenting
When ruminating about the joys and challenges of parenting, it’s easy to collapse into sentimentality. Kids do the darndest things, but in the end, we love them all. Of course, as any social worker can tell you, it’s far more complicated than that. Life takes unforeseen twists and turns. For example, my mom’s neighbor “Jean” had a tumultuous relationship with her adult daughter, “Beth,” with whom she shared the twin house connected to my mom’s. Jean, who died recently, was in her 80s while Beth was somewhere in her late 50s, which was hard to believe considering her appearance. Years of drug use had taken a toll on her body.
My mom was often witness (the walls between twin houses in Philadelphia are not known for their ability to deflect sound) to their violent arguments. One time, a stoned Beth did not see her mother in the driveway and ran her over, sending her to the hospital for stitches and severe bruising.
On occasion, Beth would go off to rehab, but trouble inevitably returned after a period of tranquility. My mom urged Jean to take harsher steps, including throwing her daughter out of the house. Social services would come periodically to look into the situation but Jean always shrugged them off, and the ups and downs continued for years until Jean’s death this winter.
As this month’s Self-Care department (page 6) details, this dynamic between a parent and difficult adult children can take a heavy toll on the parent. There are no models for transforming mothering in later life with difficult grown children but, as the article explains, there are steps to make the situation more workable.
When Jean and Beth were at their most heated, the police would show up to de-escalate the conflict. During these times, my mom said they developed a rapport with her to become aware of warning signs and to ensure her they were taking the matter seriously. It was a prime example of how communication can help prevent disaster. Such strategies are the focus of the feature article “Building Community and Police Relationships” (page 12), which makes no bones about how difficult it is to establish trust between these two groups.