(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Bob, your daughter ran away from home?
Bob: Well, she came home one week after she turned age 17, which has been approximately two weeks ago, and said she was moving out, out of the blue. I’ve been a single parent for 17 years. I’m on social security. We have a nice home. I’ve tried to be a good parent, but obviously I’ve failed somehow. I think I’ve been overprotective and she just hasn’t come to me and said to me that we have a problem and we need to talk. I’ve tried to keep communication open. I mention it almost daily at meals. But I’ve done something wrong. She’s a wonderful, wonderful person. She’s a good student. Her and I did martial arts together. I’m very proud of her. But out of the clear blue, she walked in after school, grabbed a bag and said, “I’m leaving. I’m moving out.” And I’ve tried to remain, cool, calm and collected. Talked with the counselor at school. My daughter has agreed to meet with me for a few minutes next week. But I want to do everything I can do from here on out to make sure I do the right decisions that will help her make the right decisions. Because it’s more about her life than mine, really. I have devoted my life to her, which I think is part of the problem. I haven’t really developed outside relationships. I’ve just been taking care of her. Other than be a good listener and not try and come down on her hard for hurting me and stuff, I don’t know what else I can do.
Dr. Kenner: Sounds like you’re incredibly open. Even if we make mistakes as parents, assuming – it doesn’t sound like you were abusive of her at all – it sounds like you were overprotective. Too much wrapped around her life and guess what kids want when they’re especially in their later teens? Independence.
Bob: Independence and freedom.
Dr. Kenner: Independence from whom?
Bob: The parent.
Dr. Kenner: The parents. I remember my kids and I can remember my daughter shared with me, “Mom, when I first learned how to drive, even though I loved you dearly, I just wanted to be with my friends.” She was a good kid, the way you’re describing. So the pain that we feel as parents is so poignant. And I think it’s a tribute to you to be able to reflect back and say, “I know I did some things right. I’ve been with her. I’ve devoted my life to her, and I know that there’s something to learn here.” If you take what’s called a learning stance, Bob, instead of an “I failed” stance, are you hearing the difference there?
Bob: Yes I am, ma’am. Listening intently, thank you.
Dr. Kenner: Then you’ll be much easier on yourself. It’ll be more like, “I’m curious. I sense I’ve done something wrong, honey, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I sense I’ve been too overinvolved in your life. I know I have been. And I never formed outside friendships. I think being a single parent was a bit of a shock to me and I just never found those friendships and I probably relied too much on you as being my best buddy.”
Bob: Pardon me, but you hit it exactly on the head. I let her choose the house we purchased and we go to the store together and the movies together and shopping together and you’re exactly right. I did get a car for her, but she hasn’t learned how to drive yet. It’s home in the garage. I hope I’m not interrupting? You’re the important speaker here. Some people, and I’m asking everybody, I have to admit I’ve been very stressed out. Some people say to take a hard-nosed attitude. You either do this or else. Or other people say no, keep doing what you’re doing, sit back and you know you love her and she loves you and she’ll make the right decisions at least eventually. That’s what I’m trying to do, the second choice.
Dr. Kenner: What I’m saying is, don’t beat up on yourself. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from your missteps. Don’t say failure. Because I tried to get my son to clean his room. He lets me talk about this on radio, by the way, because they’re older and they get a kick out of it because here I am this psychologist teaching people how to communicate with their kids and very good at it and I just couldn’t figure out why I wanted my son to have a clean room when mine wasn’t even clean. One day I was standing on the stairs and I said, “Why does it bother me so much? I know I should let go, but it’s so hard to. Because it means I’m not a good mom if his room is messy.” Talk about hitting the nail on the head – I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve made his room into my self esteem issue.” And you don’t want to do that. Instead I took a learning stance from that point on and I thought, “I have been too intrusive in trying to get him to clean his room. I’m going to back off completely and however he cleans his room, he cleans it.” Guess what happened over time? Not right away. Guess what happened? I just let him do whatever he wanted with his room. Want to take a stab at it?
Bob: I do. If I can convince my daughter to come back home and I’ll put forth a lot of effort to have more of a social life of my own and help her have more outside activities on her own, I think it would be beneficial to both of us because she’s very bright. She’s a wonderful person. But I think at the age of 17, she’s not ready to be out on her own.
Dr. Kenner: She may differ with you. And you need to listen very carefully because your need for her may be much greater than her need for parenting at this point. And she may so thirst for – kids go to college, right – for a feeling of being independent. Or they get jobs. You may get closer to her even if she moves out. But here’s a little sidebar here. I would not use guilt with her. And it sounds like you’re not. The one thing I would look for is any evidence that she’s holding secrets that shouldn’t be held. It sounds like you know her so well that it wouldn’t be like she’s doing drugs on the side or anything crazy like that?
Bob: I really don’t believe so. She’s a non-smoker, non-drinker, at least that I’ve ever known about. Up until about six months ago, she did start slacking off on taking care of her little Yorkie and she didn’t quite come home from school like she used to, so I can see some changes. Wasn’t quite as interested in what we’re going to have for dinner, but I didn’t sense anything other than she’s just a young person yearning to grow up and be herself.
Dr. Kenner: Listen, I’m going to recommend a book. I know we’re nearing the end of time here, so How to Talk so Teens Will Listen, by Faber and Mazlish. It might be on my website, DrKenner.com, yes, it is. And you know, I recommend that. I recommend just having an attitude that you have. Listening to her. If she wants to go on her own and if she’s willing to share things with you, I think that’s important. You need to emphasize to her that not to keep secrets that could be hurtful to you, to keep some open communication. I think that’s what you could accomplish at the counselor’s office. Listen, thank you so much for the call, Bob.
Bob: Thank you very much. You’ve helped me immensely.