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Unsocial behaviour may mean deep-rooted issues

Unsocial behaviour may mean deep-rooted issues
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First Published: Fri, May 13 2011. 09 13 PM IST

Locked up: Recluses need counselling. Photo Thinkstock
Locked up: Recluses need counselling. Photo Thinkstock
Updated: Fri, May 13 2011. 09 13 PM IST
I am a widower with a son and daughter in their early 20s. The children were in school when my wife died in an accident. My son was very attached to his mother but managed to overcome the setback—he was sent to a school abroad. My daughter refused to leave the city even for a day. She completed her studies and began to work but has now taken to working only at animal shelters. She has become unsociable, has let her weight balloon, doesn’t stick to fixed schedules, completely ignores her loving maternal aunts and uncles. She does not communicate much with me either.
Her home life is spent in bed with her two puppies. She takes no interest in tidiness, housework, etc. She is unhappy with life or some boyfriend. She has strong negative feelings about all women, especially those who work in office with me. I wish to remarry a divorcee with a daughter who is living elsewhere (we can’t live together since our careers cannot be aborted). I wish my daughter to be well adjusted and happy with life. Will my friend be able to draw her out of her hostile and negative shell? How should I handle her? She is hostile to the idea of meeting a counsellor (particularly a lady).
Locked up: Recluses need counselling. Photo Thinkstock
From what you describe, your daughter is having a hard time processing not just what happened, but also current developments. She has taken refuge in becoming reclusive and inaccessible, bordering on the dysfunctional. There seems to be a big disconnect with all human interactions, and this cannot but lead to more maladjustment and unhappiness, possibly a breakdown. I would venture to say she is almost in breakdown mode already. You will have to gently but firmly insist that she sees a counsellor. You must find a counsellor who will work empathetically with your daughter and help you rebuild a rapport with her; you could find a male counsellor or psychiatrist since she seems resistant to dealing with women.
As for the relationship between your future wife and your daughter, I would strongly advise you not to put the task of counselling your daughter on to your future wife. It would be unfair to both. It will only make your daughter more hostile towards her and the situation. And for your future wife, it would mean stepping into territory she is not familiar or comfortable with. She can continue trying to make warm and friendly overtures towards the girl, and will hopefully handle rebuffs or rudeness with maturity and understanding.
You do need professional help. Involve a counsellor or family elder or even one of her more balanced friends to intervene and get her out of her shell. You mention boyfriends. Could you perhaps contact one of them, someone who has been a friend, and involve him and some of her other friends (possibly from the shelter) in getting her to deal with her issues, or to at least see that things cannot continue as they are?
Another device you could use is to tell her you need to see a counsellor as you are contemplating a second marriage, and then ask her if she will come along for a future session as she is part of your life and the emerging situation. It may do you good to go meet a counsellor to help you balance the demands of your new life as well as the insecurities and issues that your daughter is currently experiencing.
Our elder son (11) is adopted, while our girl (7) is our biological child. Our son has recently started making negative references to being adopted. He has always known it, and till now has had no real, deep-rooted issues with us. However, nowadays he ascribes many of our disciplinary restrictions—they are the normal ones—to his being adopted. He recently said it out loud even in front of guests, which makes things awkward all round. Our daughter alleges we are partial to him because he is adopted. How do we get both to see there is no basis for what they accuse us of?
It seems like there are two issues or tracks in here. One is that your son is entering an age—going towards adolescence—where his earlier ease or innocence about the fact that he is adopted is being replaced with some kind of anxiety and doubts about his “place” in the scheme of life. While he was still your little boy, his being adopted was only a vague concept, and his sense of well-being was not challenged because he related to you as a nurturer-parent.
Now, and this is natural with all children his age, as his emotions and experiences are opening out and he is forming an identity for himself, separate from you, the uncertainty and questions begin to arise. This happens with all children. With adopted children, the inevitable question, with sadness and anger, about why they were given up for adoption by their biological parents is bound to come up—and you’re going to have to deal with it sensitively.
When you have this talk, you can also work in the information that you very much wanted him, and if you wanted to mistreat a child, you wouldn’t have gone in for an adoption in the first place—you can reiterate this by saying you brought him and also had his sister because you need someone to love, and not someone to be mean to.
However, the other issue here is the plain and simple “using” of a fact by a child, like a cane, to keep parents on the back foot. In your case it is the fact of being adopted; other children find something else to hold over their parents’ heads. It’s all part of the “ammo” in a budding adolescent’s armoury.
In your case, he has obviously touched a raw nerve, and this kind of allegation neatly derails the issue at hand—your attempt to discipline him. Suddenly the topic becomes whether he is loved or not, whether your motives are to do with what’s good for him or the fact that he’s adopted— and there you have it, a neat little sidestep tool used to great effect. As you say, your biological daughter too is “using” the word adopted to voice her own complaints about perceived injustices.
Perhaps it is time to stop taking these allegations so seriously. In fact, you could sit them down when there isn’t a slanging match going on, and tell them this “because I am adopted”, “because he is adopted” phrase is going to be put into cold storage for a while. Tell them it has no bearing on anything, and if it is trotted out, you will not engage in the conversation any more.
Let me reiterate that you need to continue to sensitively help your son with the emotional issues and questions about his adoption. It is just when you feel that there is almost a glib and convenient use of this fact by both your children, that you should firmly refuse to get drawn into the subject.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, May 13 2011. 09 13 PM IST