Adult Son Distancing Himself from Mother

Dear Vicki: I’m writing about my son Jacob. He graduated from law school four years ago and moved to New York from our small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up, Jacob was a quiet, studious child. He was something of a loner, but always seemed to appreciate the love and attention my husband and I showered on him. We supported him through college and grad school, were always so proud of him, and felt his continued gratitude. But since he started work as a corporate attorney, he has changed. He often won’t return our calls, interrupts or loses his temper when we do talk, is pretty critical, and has generally turned into a not so nice guy. Children change as they grow, I know, but this seems very dramatic. He has put a lot of pressure on himself to advance in his career, but why is he so different? It feels like we’ve lost him. Did we do something wrong? Signed: Puzzled in PA

 

Dear Puzzled: You are correct: Children do change as they grow. They learn about the world and their place in it. They make new friends and grow from these new relationships. They take continuous steps to become more independent. But they usually don’t change so dramatically over the course of just four years, so I think there has to be something else going on with Jacob. Let’s see if we can figure it out.

You don’t mention what primary element you think he is, but the fact that he was a quiet, studious child means he would likely be a Water or a Metal. His choice to practice law, however, would require the structure necessary to withstand the rigors of law school. That structure would be seen in both Metal and Wood. The overlap here is Metal, which also fits with the fact that the attention to detail necessary to practice corporate law usually sits in Metal. And this is just a guess, but your worry and concern about your son, and the fact that you so easily assume you might have done something wrong in raising him, suggest that you are probably a primary Earth element. This means that you and Jacob relate on the Nurturing Cycle of the Five Elements model with your Earth feeding his Metal.

On the surface, this should be good news for both of you. Earths love family, children, and helping people. Metals often expect attention and support, especially from Earths. Your relationship of parent to child also supports this natural flow of energy from Earth to Metal in the model. So what isn’t working? Why has he changed seemingly out of the blue?

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Helping Wood Son Burned By Family of Fires

Dear Vicki: I am new to the study of the Five Elements and find it fascinating. In looking at our family, it seems that my husband, myself, and our two daughters are all Fires. Our son, Mike, is definitely a Wood, which helps me understand why he feels uncomfortable when we are all together. When Mike was younger, he would take a pillow and curl up somewhere quiet to nap because we seemed to exhaust him. Now that there have been additions to the family – two sons-in-law (one Water, one Metal) and a grandson (Wood) – Mike seems to handle family gatherings a little better. But with the holiday season coming up, how can we help Mike be even more comfortable for the numerous times we are all together?  Are there colors or things to add to the environment that would be helpful? We love him dearly. Signed: Mom

Dear Mom: As a Wood myself, I feel for your son growing up in a family full of Fires. Wow! Life would never have been boring! And even though Wood and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle, it’s Mike’s Wood that had to feed all four of your Fires. That’s a lot to ask of one Wood and totally explains why he not only appeared slightly uncomfortable, but also snuck away for naps. Feeding four Fires would exhaust any Wood.

Even Fires will admit that too much Fire energy can become chaotic, and chaos takes a Wood down quicker than almost anything else. That’s why Woods are often perceived as control freaks. But in truth, they don’t want control, they just want to prevent things from getting out of control. Living with four Fires, Mike was not only exhausted from trying to feed your Fire (in relationships, this means being the audience for the Fire), he was also likely trying to manage what he perceived as chaos. When younger, withdrawing from the drama was probably the best way for him to retain his own balance. And as you may have discovered, it works for adults, too.

It’s not surprising that maturity and additions to the family have made things a bit better for Mike. The good news is that Woods have great boundaries and, as an adult, it’s probably easier for Mike to draw a line now than it was when he was young. If things get too chaotic now, he can easily excuse himself (having work to catch up on is a great Wood excuse) and seek out a quiet area. There are different elements in the mix now, too, which also takes some of the pressure off of Mike, although it will be important to understand the specific relationships he’ll have with each of the new additions to your family.

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Lying Son: Is He an Out of Control Fire?

Dear Vicki: My 12 year old son has always been funny and outgoing, but lately I’ve caught him lying to me. It’s not really big stuff, but it’s concerning. For example, when Todd spent the weekend at his fathers (we had an amicable divorce five years ago), Todd reported that he and his dad had lunch with the mayor. When I checked, it turns out that the assistant mayor is an old high school friend of my ex-husband and that’s who they lunched with. When I challenge Todd, he laughed and said it’s a better story to have lunch with a mayor. Another time Todd complained that his history teacher assigned 100 pages to read over the weekend. It turned out that the assignment was 50 pages, but they could do more for extra credit. His response when I asked was to cop a dramatic attitude and laugh. I’m beginning to wonder if Todd’s a Fire who’s out of control and that’s why he’s lying. Regardless, I’m very upset, my Metal will not tolerate it, so how do I get him to stop? Signed: Disturbed Outside Denver

Dear Disturbed: Teaching children that honesty matters is an important part of parenting. It will be especially important to you as a Metal because following rules and maintaining high ethical standards matter greatly to Metals. The norm for our culture has been that lying is wrong, and Metals are our guides for determining right from wrong, so you are probably upset that your son isn’t getting with the program. In truth, your son’s lying strikes at the core of your values as a Metal. We’ll address his lying first, but I suspect there’s another issue at play that’s part of what’s upsetting you, and we’ll cover that later. But first, the lying.

It’s interesting you suspect that Fire would be the element to lie. That’s possible, yet all of the elements will lie. But the reasons they lie will be different.

  • When Fires lie, it’s usually for a sense of drama. Todd’s correct, it’s a more dramatic story to say one has lunched with the mayor than the assistant mayor. Fires exaggerate a story for the effect, too. Fires enjoy being the entertainer and garnering the attention.

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Wood and Metal Brothers at Odds

Dear Five Faces: I have two teenage sons who used to get along quite well, but now they always seem to be at each other’s throats. Jack, age 17, can come off like a know-it-all at times, but in his defense, he is very smart. Timmy doesn’t like Jack correcting him or telling him what to do, especially in front of us, but he’s still young enough (15) to make poor choices at times and I think Jack is just trying to help. It isn’t working, though, because the two of them are fighting more and more. Any suggestions on how to help them  get along? I suspect Jack is a Metal and Timmy is a Wood. Signed, Battle Weary Mom

Dear Battle Weary: To paraphrase Shakespeare, the course of sibling love never did run smooth. Siblings can be each other’s first friends, and sometimes first enemies. In the case of your sons, I’m sure you know that some fighting and competition is natural, especially in two boys so close in age. But if it gets out of hand, it can hurt both boys, and we don’t want that. Let’s look at what’s going on between the two and see what we can do to help.

There are two primary dynamics at play between Jack and Timmy, and neither works to Timmy’s advantage. First, Timmy is the youngest, so from that perspective, Jack will always have the “upper hand” as the older brother. The second issue is that, at an elemental level, your sons relate to each other via the Control Cycle, which can create conflict. Here again, Timmy is at a disadvantage because Jack’s Metal will control his Wood, and that won’t feel very good to Timmy. In fact, these two dynamics can leave Timmy feeling stuck and “less than” much of the time. Remember, Woods prize movement, so stuck is never good for a Wood. They also value individual success, so feeling less than isn’t going to go over well with Timmy, either.

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Structured Stepfather Needs to Lean In to Stepson’s Water

Dear Five Faces: I’m a widow and about a year ago I married a divorced man we’ll call Ted. My son Sam and I moved in with Ted, who shares joint custody of his two very active teenagers. The blended family thing is working out pretty well except for one big problem: Sam is miserable. I’m an Earth, I’m pretty sure Ted is a Wood, and Sam is a ten year old Water. In an effort to bond, Ted wants to play ball with Sam and take him to sporting events or war movies, but Sam just isn’t into those things. He likes his time alone to read and draw. I’ve tried to explain to Ted about the elements, but he just rolls his eyes and questions whether we’re going to raise a wimp. How can I help Ted and Sam get along? I love them both. Signed, Worried in Washington

Dear Worried: Well, this is interesting. Wood and Water relate to each other on the Flow Cycle, so you’d think their relationship would be naturally nurturing. And it often is. However, because this particular Wood/Water relationship is a parent/child connection (or at least step-parent) where the child feeds the adult on the Flow Cycle, it’s a subtler affect. It’s important, though, and we’ll come back to it in a minute. But first, we’re going to talk about the most dramatic dynamic between Wood and Water, and that’s the concept of structure.

Woods and Waters usually differ radically in their approach and appreciate of structure. Woods are very structured and quite focused on productivity. Waters are very “go with the flow” and don’t need or necessarily like structure of any kind. In fact, if they’re really balanced, Waters usually don’t plan and are willing to trust the outcome of anything. Woods, on the other hand, love plans. For most Woods, plans propel them forward, define their expectations, and provide the needed assurance that they’re never out of control. Going with the flow not only lacks control, but can seem undirected or even lazy to Woods.

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