Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist/band organizer and manager/event producer/writer

Parents Creating A Man-Child

When our adult kids act like our sleeping dogs
When our Adult Child acts like our sleeping dog Stock Photo

Lately, I have encountered my share of men that I consider Man-Children.  I looked up the definition online but found it to be quite different than what I have experienced.  As a youth counselor dealing with all sorts of behavioral issues, my main work is with the families, actually with parents. Lately I have been receiving requests to help parents of typical Man-Children. How do I define a Man-Child? A man who turns to his parents for support financially over the age of, let’s say, 30. Mom still brings him food, Dad pays for his car and expenses, parents buy them their furniture, mom and dad bail them out when they experience troubles, in short parents are there at their beck and call. Mom, Dad I need money. Can you pay for my rent, food, and expenses, whatever?  Some actually live at home into their 50s or more.

Ok, so how does this happen in my opinion?  We say Yes! Sure, honey, I will send you money today. Oh, your car is so old, we will get you a new one. Don’t bother cooking for yourself, just come over and take home all the great food I have cooked for you.  Sure I’ll cover your credit card bill since you promise to pay it back when you can, both knowing that will never happen. Sure you can come home for a while just until you get yourself sorted out.

As classic Jewish parents, we want to give our kids everything. It’s our job, isn’t it? Actually at a certain point, the more we give the less they grow. The term “Enabling” comes to mind. Don’t do anything for someone else consistently that they can do for themselves. Of course, occasional acts of kindness are nice but when our kids begin to expect us to do for them what they should certainly be doing for themselves the problem worsens.

The expression “don’t worry honey, I got this” reinforces in our kids the feeling that they don’t “got” this. At this point it’s not about expressing love, it’s about control, or keeping our kids young or needing to feel needed, etc. None of this is for the benefit of our kids. It’s about making us feel good.

I love the story of the three little pigs. Mom is not nasty by kicking the kids out of the house, she is tough loving them and showing them that she believes in them. When we say “No honey, you got this!” we reinforce in our kids that we believe in them. If they need direction sure, but direction means showing them the way that “They” must travel without us. We are not doing them any favors by keeping them dependent on us.

I have a family who approached me about their boy. He is 54 years old and very smart but illogical. He is great at convincing the world that he knows what he is doing and keeping himself from finding a real job that he can actually do.  For years Mom and Dad, fearing that he simply cannot make it on his own, have bailed him out. So guess what? He constantly puts himself in a position where he needs bailing out!  One of the first things I tell parents that I work with is when our kids jump from the proverbial first floor, do not catch them. When we do they will undoubtedly keep going up another floor, jumping off expecting us to catch them. By the 8th floor, there is no net strong enough. Believe me, when they hit the floor the first time they usually learn, “I guess I shouldn’t jump”.

The problem gets worse over the years, not better. Our kids become dependent upon us to solve their problems and bail them out of trouble and guess what? After a while, they feel like it’s our job, so when we threaten to stop we become the bad guys. And do you think they appreciate our efforts? I highly doubt it. It becomes assumed!

I learned years ago when my children were first born that there are two things that keep a family healthy- consistency and being on the same page as our partner. If we don’t agree, never show that in front of our kids. Show that you are on the same side and work it out later. Wedging between parents is a favorite for all kids, particularly our man-child. My best advice to avoid this with challenging kids who don’t want to grow up is to form a group chat with the three of you and agree that all communication goes through that group chat so no wedging can occur.  Contracts are great. Establish ground rules and commitments that will allow your kids to grow. Falling is a part of growth! And of course, stick to the contract. I recently heard a saying “Stormy waters makes a great captain”.  Challenges can be our best friend and the best friend of our kids. As we may have heard, the oak tree gets stronger as the wind blows harder. Resistance to challenges creates a strong trunk. And as many of us know, when a baby bird attempts to push its way out of its shell, should we help them along they will never fly. Why? Because the strength it takes to break out of the shell is evidence that its wings are strong enough to allow them to fly.

It’s our job to let our kids fall, pick themselves up and move on. It’s our job to reinforce our kids’ belief in themselves. It’s our job to pull back and watch only intervening if it’s a life-or-death

Adult children living in our homes doing nothing and driving us crazy. It’s our job to let go and let them grow. It may be painful to watch, but the rewards will be many. If you need help with your own Man-Child or with any other issue feel free to call for a free phone consultation.

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Methadone Clinic, Established a program for Ethiopian Teens educating them about their culture and opened the Jerusalem School of Rock program which helps to create teen rock bands and established monthly teen music events at downtown venues where teens perform for their friends in a teen friendly exciting atmosphere. In addtion to her projects Tracey was the English Speaking Volunteer Coordinator for Emunah Jerusalem succeeding in bringing in more funds and volunteers than ever before. Tracey organizes monthly Rock Festivals and manages rock bands young and old. Tracey also writes for Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post.
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