Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Carolyn Hax: Mom of 30-year-old wants a do-over on his health habits

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am the mother of an extremely capable 30-plus-year-old man, BUT his eating is terrible and I worry about his health and ultimate longevity. Many of the men in our extended family have had serious heart problems, and I fear he’s going that route. He also does not exercise and rarely even goes outside.

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I blame myself for not being a disciplinarian in his childhood and not thinking forward. When I see him, I feel sad and anxious, and I would just like to be able to enjoy his wonderful presence.

I am aware that it is ridiculous to imagine anything I could say that wouldn’t feel like an invasion and criticism to him, but what do I do with this overwhelming feeling that I must find the right words or tone or intervention that would make THE DIFFERENCE?

I can’t believe my shot at parenting is over. I worked on my own health with exercise and nutrition for the last two years to distract myself and to show him what’s possible. I kept my mouth shut. But the love feels like pain. How do I let it go?

Parent: So — you got serious about “exercise and nutrition for the last two years.” But he has to do it Right Now?

You changed course only when you were good and ready. That applies to him, too, even if it takes him 28-plus more years. And he’s just as entitled and equipped to figure it out for himself as you were.

Meanwhile, you are — you say it yourself — not enjoying his “wonderful presence” because you’re so worried he won’t be around as long as you want him to be. What good will your extra time with him be if you’re anxious throughout?

We have two options, all of us: Trust loved ones to live a rewarding life on their terms and enjoy every minute with them, even if their terms mean it’s not for as long as we’d like — or fret our way through whatever time we have left.

Every one of us will reach an end point that is Decidedly and Permanently Not Fine, so I suggest this, straight-faced, as a mantra: He’s fine. He’ll be fine. Whatever happens.

If it helps: Your best parenting days with respect to his eating habits were over when he first sat down to eat food you didn’t provide, and they ended for good when he could buy food with his own money. That part of parenthood falls early.

· Al-Anon could be useful to you, or maybe Adult Children of Alcoholics. Granted, your son is not drinking, but they teach how to be “okay” regardless of what your son does. It taught me to enjoy the company of my loved one again, instead of worrying about them or wanting to strangle them for not making the changes I was confident they should be making.

· Your son’s weight and exercise are no more yours to control or opine about than your body is his to control or opine about.

· Jaysus, I wish people understood the damage they do when they think they need to comment on someone’s weight or diet. Not: You gained so much, you lost so much, you eat too much, you eat too little, you eat the wrong thing, you only eat the right things. Just, “I genuinely like you as a person and I have exactly zero right to comment on your body under any tactic, ruse, form, ‘tactful’ comment, worry (‘worry’), innuendo, law (ahem!) or other means.”

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