What to do with a child who has rejected the family, and wants to come back

husky asks: My son is 18 years old, and first left home at 17 for 3 months. He returned and stayed for about two weeks, then left again when he was 18. He said he’s old enough and wants his freedom, but at the time he was still in high school. I’m very hurt by this. When he left the first time, I could not sleep and could hardly eat anything. Why was this child doing this? My family brought him home: and I was so happy he was back. When he left again I was heart broken, this is my first born, and I’ve done everything I could possibly do for this child. This has really hurt me and I’m awake at night sometimes crying to myself. Everybody in my family has had their say, but not one of them knows how I feel. I have not spoken to him in 6 months, but now he wants to come back home. He is my son, but he has stolen from me and he disgraced our family name when he left. He said he did not need me and that he had another mother to take care of him. It looks like the world was not the place he thought it would be so he wants to come back home. What should I do?

Hi husky –

What a sad tale this is!  It reminds me of some very old stories, from ancient legends, from myths, and even the famous tale of the Prodigal Son from The Bible.  There’s a lot I don’t know about the situation, but I think I have a suggestion.

First of all, I don’t know why your son left.  I don’t know what he was angry or dissatisfied with.  I do know, though, that at 17, many teens are so overwhelmed by their need to define and find themselves that they don’t grasp how much their actions can hurt others, especially their parents.

Second, I don’t know your culture well enough to know how seriously your family name was disgraced.  Was his leaving just an embarrassment, or is this something for which you’ll be looked down on for the rest of your life?  (Clearly, I hope it’s not that bad).

Regardless, though, I think there’s one fact that overwhelms all others:  You Are His Mother.  When he was a baby, he left messes everywhere, and you were there to clean them up.  When he got older, and broke rules and household goods, you accepted these as part of his normal development.  And why did you put up with them?  Because you were his mother.  That’s how you defined yourself, and that’s what mattered most to you.

So now he’s broken your heart, and your spirit.  His actions were selfish and thoughtless, and he needs to know that.  But you’re still his mother.  So what is it you need?  I think I know.

If you didn’t let him come home, if you said “You’re not part of this family anymore, go away,” I think that would leave a giant hole inside you forever.  And I don’t think you’d ever forgive yourself (especially if anything bad happened to him).  And I also think that, if it were easy to do that, you would never have written to me, asking about this!

So here’s my suggestion.  Let him back.  Let him into the house, and let him into your heart.  BUT…!  Don’t let him back easily!

Make very sure he understands what he’s done.  If he has brought shame onto the family, have him go to each member he’s humiliated and apologize to them, and offer to make amends.  If you need him to go to friends and neighbors of yours and explain what he’s done, and how it’s not your fault, great – make him do it.  And most importantly, make sure he really grasps how much he hurt you.

husky, teenagers aren’t bad people.  They’re among my favorites!  But they do lose sight of others (especially their parents) in the intensity of their journeys and their lives.  So I’m not saying that you need to punish or humiliate your son.  Rather, you just want to get him to see what he’s done, and to begin to feel a sense of what he’s put you through, so that he develops a heightened sense of Empathy.  That’s the goal here.

But I’m assuming he’s a good kid.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe when you say that you’ll let him back on these conditions, he’ll tell you “No way.”  Maybe he still needs to learn his lesson more, about how much you’ve taken care of him, and how much he’s taken you for granted.  And if that’s the case, then I’d suggest to tell him “No way” back!  And that you’ll be glad to welcome him back home, once he is able to express some remorse and understanding to you.

I know this isn’t easy, husky.  That’s why all those old legends and stories tell about it.  But this might be the best thing that ever happens to your relationship with your son.  It might be the moment that turns your relationship from antagonistic and manipulative to aware and supportive.

I truly hope that’s the case.  And I would love to hear how this turns out.

Thanks, and GOOD LUCK!



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