The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Hateful Son

Why does my 21 year old angry son hate me?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Rena, you’re dealing with a 21-year-old son? What’s going on there?


Rena:               Doctor, I thank you for taking my call. I have a very angry son. I can’t even talk a sentence with him. And he always, always hates me. It’s like I am his enemy.


Dr. Kenner:      Why do you think he hates you? What do you think the deepest reason is?


Rena:               I wish I knew. I have no idea. I always go back and think about it and I can’t find the reason. I don’t know.


Dr. Kenner:      Why is he living at home?


Rena:               He just lives here. I don’t know. He works, but he lives here.


Dr. Kenner:      Do you want him to live there or do you want your independence so you don’t have to live day in and day out with someone who says they hate you?


Rena:               Actually, about a week ago I asked him, “You wanted to leave this house, you said once. Are you going to do it?” After a little while he got angry and he told me, “Which mom is going to ask his son or daughter? What kind of a parent are you?” That’s what you told me, like a month ago.


Dr. Kenner:      Are you afraid of him?


Rena:               No.


Dr. Kenner:      Physically he isn’t a bully? He isn’t going to come at you physically or verbally? I guess verbally he does.


Rena:               Verbally, but not physically.


Dr. Kenner:      When have been your best times with him? If you think back.


Rena:               Hmm. Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe when he was 10 years old.


Dr. Kenner:      What went on then that was good?


Rena:               We could talk. I could go out with him, buy him things or take him out. That’s it. That’s what I remember.


Dr. Kenner:      As a parent, parents come in different styles and I think I tried on each style myself when my kids were younger. Sometimes we try to do hands-off, whatever the kids want to do, they can do. Sometimes we get lucky that way, sometimes not. Sometimes they do things that are not healthy. Sometimes we’re too hands-on. We’re authoritarian, “You need to do this, you have to do this,” and it’s always that nagging. That often can breed the “I hate you” syndrome.


Rena:               Yes, I guess I have been like that.


Dr. Kenner:      So I’m going to – he’s already 21-years-old and living at home – so if you feel like you’ve been trying to make his choices for him or guide him, I did that with my son. My son always was a neat nick, a nice kid. He’d line up his shoes when he was a little tyke and then he went away and came home from a camp and his room was a mess. And I remember, and this is a vague memory, but I remember I got really upset. I lost it. I didn’t hit him at all, I never hit my kids, but I remember I started treating him like he was a slob and guess what I got more of?


Rena:               The same thing.


Dr. Kenner:      He got sloppier and sloppier. It took me a while to figure out why did I need his room so clean? P.S. Mine wasn’t very clean. So what was going on? One day, I was standing on the staircase and I said, “Why does it get to me so deeply?” And I heard the answer in my mind, meaning you ask yourself a question and never know when you get your own answer. It was that my self-esteem relied on it. I was a good mom only if he had a clean room, which is ridiculous. I was a terrific mom in many other areas. I just had never solved the mystery of the room. When I laid off the room, guess what happened?


Rena:               It was better?


Dr. Kenner:      It didn’t initially, and that’s the hardest part to really lay back, but eventually … I went to his college room when he went off to college and it was the cleanest room I’d ever seen. He isn’t always clean. He’s like me. Sometimes I’m very organized and sometimes life gets ahead of me or I let it. One of the things you can learn is how not, in areas that are not crucial to you, you can back off a bit. I recommend a parenting book which is going to sound a little silly because he’s already a grown adult, but it’s the one that when I taught this book to adults at a hospital once and they didn’t have any kids. They were like grandparents, and they said, “Oh my God, these are the communication skills I need with my wife or sister!” The book is How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. They have one that is how to talk so teens will listen. He’s not a teen, I understand that. It’s the same theme. It’s on my website, I consider those two authors, Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber the gold standard in parenting. It saved me. I would have been a terrible mother and my kids now love being with me. I love being with them. And they also are independent. That would give you some very good communication skills in a fun, fun way.


The second is, you don’t want to put up with his abuse either. I mean, if he’s yelling at you, you want to get the skills and these are all learnable skills. I didn’t have them initially. You want to be able to say to him, “I can hear you’re really angry at me,” and it’s never a good time to try and reason with a person when they’re in the heat of an argument or when you’re feeling your pulse rise. You want to be able to take a break. “Let’s talk about this later. I can see we have some differences.” Not, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” because guess what? Now you’re locked. Your horns are locked in battle and neither of you win. And so it’s called assertiveness skills. It’s how to be true to yourself without ever attacking the other person. So if he were calling me names, I would say, let’s say his name is Joe, “Joe, I’ve heard you get this angry with me many times. I’m trying to pull back because I know I’ve done some things. I’m going to give myself some wiggle room because it takes a little bit to change, and I’d love to work with you on this. Maybe now is not a good time to talk about it because both of us are feeling pretty hot under the collar. I’m hoping we can talk with each other with a little more care.” I would use a soft word so I wouldn’t be attacking him.


What I would say is, if he’s ready to move on, that would help solve the problem. But the communication skills are lifetime skills, Rena, and I love that I learned them. Do I use them every single time? No, I goof up sometimes. Thank you so much for your call and I wish you the best with your son.


Rena:               Thank you very much Doctor.   


Dr. Kenner:      You’re welcome.


Movie clip       

Male:               I can’t deal with this.

Female:           With what? Table manners?

Male:               No baby, with you telling me what to do every second of the day. With you, rearranging my entire apartment, making the bed every morning.

Female:           You’re still mad because I misplaced your papers?

Male:               It’s not just my papers. I don’t know where anything is anymore.


Dr. Kenner:      Have you been in a situation like that, where somebody in your life – maybe it’s a parent, maybe it’s a sibling – who feels they have to go around and clean up after you or organize your things or maybe they do it contemptuously, not just helpfully, but they do it in a way to say that you’re a slob or you’re disorganized? How do you deal with that and how can you convey how important it is to you as an individual to own your own room, to own your own desk, to be able to make your own choices in your sphere? Now, that’s assuming that it’s not a health hazard to everyone else. If you’ve got rats running around because you leave your food out and it’s all going moldy and everyone is getting sick, obviously that’s different. But we all value the ability to make our own independent choices. When you’re in a romantic relationship, especially in a romantic relationship or with kids, when you’re in close quarters with people, each one of us runs our life a little bit differently and we want to make choices. We like it when the other person thinks like we do, and we don’t like it if they leave the toilet seat up or if they don’t put the milk back in the fridge or leave wet towels on the floor. We don’t like that, and how you communicate that makes the difference between a happy relationship and one that’s going down the toilet.