Thirty years I worked in the business my dad left me, building it up for my son. Now I want to retire and my son wants to do something else. What the hell have I been working for? He’s also engaged to a girl I don’t like. Whatever happened to family values?
I don’t know you or your son. But I work with lots of families, and this sort of question comes up often. So I’ll answer from that context and you can decide if my answer is helpful.
I think a healthy family is one in which all members can get their needs met — not always, probably, but most of the time.
I think any family that requires a member to sacrifice himself or herself to the needs of the family is unhealthy.
I also think some families — they’re called narcissistic families — are set up unconsciously to meet the needs of the parents, even at the expense of the children. And if one comes from such a family, that arrangement seems normal. Parents simply expect kids to put aside their feelings and needs for Mom or Dad’s sake. To the parents this seems like love, or respect, or discipline, or “family values.”
Personally and professionally, I see it as something else.
So I suspect you, dad, need to decide if that’s the sort of family you came from and are trying to recreate now.
One question I like to ask parents struggling with this issue is, Do you want to raise a passenger, or a driver? If you want to raise a passenger, keep giving orders. If you want to raise a driver, at some point you have to let him or her take the wheel.
I should add that I think the parent’s job — like that of any good teacher, doctor or therapist — is to put himself out of a job. To raise a kid strong and healthy enough to separate, take care of himself, and not stay indefinitely tied to the parent.
If you stayed tied to your father until he died, you may well see it differently.
But there’s a big difference between staying connected to your parent by choice and staying connected because the parent refuses to release you.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.