Janet prided herself on being a sensitive, caring, mother, and wife. But life these days has been very complicated for her! She's been pulled into intense conflicts between her husband Russ and their son John. 

The current situation with John, age 24, is that he has been living at home since he failed out of college four years earlier. John has managed to get some jobs over the years but holding on to them has been the challenge. John's job struggles that come from his belief that, "I hate people telling me what to do."

John's friends have fallen by the wayside and he spends most of his time in his room playing video games. He tells Janet and Russ that one day he will go back to college and then become a videogame designer. Russ is fed up with John's "pipe dreams". 

Janet feels guilty because John has ADHD and struggles with distractibility and lack of motivation. Medications have only provided marginal improvement. John prefers smoking weed to "chill out" and, while he acknowledges it demotivates him, he claims that "weed makes me far more creative."

Russ describes himself as "old school" and insists that John should start paying rent to him and Janet. Russ is also infuriated by "John's lack of respect for us, who pay the bills!"  

Russ has become increasingly vocal, complaining to Janet that John SHOULD be washing the dishes. John tells Janet that if he is reminded to wash HIS dishes he is happy to do so. But John also makes it clear to Janet that he SHOULD not have to wash dishes that are not his own. 

Changing The Dynamic

When I saw Janet for counseling (John and Russ both refused to come to counseling, saying it was a waste of time) she was distraught. She reported that she was losing sleep, was constantly stressed out, and that her blood pressure was elevated. 

Through counseling, Janet learned to stop the madness of being in the middle. She sat John and Russ down together and shared HER need for a calmer, less emotionally reactive home life. Truly seeing Janet's angst, Russ agreed to soften his delivery and John acknowledged that "Deliberately trying to piss Russ off" was not a good long-term plan for anyone.

Other positive changes put in place included:

  • Russ catching John making better choices (e.g., organizing the shoes in the mudroom).

  • John agreeing to hold a job of at least 20 hours a week.

  • John enrolling in a graphic design class at a community college.

  • Russ verbalizing and "owning his anxiety" about John's future so that John could be reminded that Russ was coming from a place of caring versus criticism.

  • John agreeing to taper his use of weed from almost daily to once or twice per week.

  • Russ and John planning a father-son camping trip to further reboot their relationship with more positive feelings.

  • Janet agreeing to keep the momentum moving forward by calling out either John or Russ at any utterance of complaints about one another going forward.

When it comes to managing dependent adult children it is common for one parent to feel stuck in the middle. To break free:

  • Be aware of this unhealthy family triangle of conflict.
  • Talk about it, and try new strategies to break the pattern, such as those described above, and...
  • Stay mindful that stopping the madness of being stuck in the middle will help you start getting to better places.

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