Your daughter probably takes to Twitter to express her anger because she feels that when she goes directly to you, she isn’t being heard. Similarly, your perception that you “say nothing of consequence” when you see your son yet “have a pleasant-enough time” might indicate that you aren’t aware of how he’s truly feeling either. With so much anger (on his part) and anxiety (on yours and your husband’s) roiling beneath the surface, these interactions sound at best hollow and superficial, and at worst emotionally torturous. Is time spent together really “pleasant enough” when he knows that you’re disappointed with his career, his partner, and his weight, and find his life to be sad?
If you don’t start having conversations of consequence, you’ll indeed maintain the status quo, which sounds unhealthy for everyone. But if you can approach these conversations like a detective trying to understand another person’s perspective and motives, you might learn a lot about your kids—not just about their anger, but also about how you can build a closeness between you, which will help them feel more supported in their lives. And when they feel more supported, they might start to feel less angry.
In fact, there may very well be a connection between your kids’ life decisions and their anger. Many people who carry around unresolved anger tend to let that anger drive their decisions, without even realizing it: Sometimes anger leads people to make choices that will upset the person at whom they’re angry. Other times, they turn the anger inward by engaging in self-sabotage. In other words, your children’s anger might be part of the reason your academically successful son and daughter have both chosen not to pursue higher-paying jobs for which they’re qualified.
If you do start to ask these important questions, remember that what you learn might not be easy to hear. Like many well-meaning parents who were very thoughtful about how they raised their kids, you might feel that given all you did well as parents, your children should be grateful and have no right to be so angry.
This is why I suggest that if you’re going to invest money in your children, you use it to pay for family therapy. Family therapy will provide an environment where you can get to know your children better, and they in turn can hear you better. It will help clear the air and repair lingering issues from the past and teach the whole family more productive ways of interacting. And finally, you’ll all have the opportunity to understand not only one another, but yourselves individually, with less projection, distortion, and faulty assumptions.
If you frame the invitation to family therapy as an opportunity for you to understand your children better, they might be inclined to accept. You can also ask that they try just a few sessions to see how it goes. Sessions can be done virtually, so location shouldn’t hold you back. And even if neither child takes you up on it, you and your husband can see the therapist so that you can learn how to better communicate with them, and also get support working through the very real grief that many parents have when the story they had in mind not just for their adult children but for themselves doesn’t come to pass. This will be a far better investment in the family’s overall health than a car or a condo.
Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.