When Adult Children with Chronic Illness Make Bad Life Choices

A mom writes in to us and shares her story about her adult daughter who has diabetes.

Adult Child with Chronic IllnessQuestion: My husband and I are struggling with our now 22-year-old daughter who has had type 1 diabetes since age six. Your book was recommended to me. I wish we'd had this information years ago. I can now see where we played right into the hostile dependent lifestyle by trying so hard to make her feel normal. I feel like a failure. I recognize that she is falling prey to "victimization," seems to think we are her biggest enemies who are only seeking to cause her unhappiness, and is overly dependent on relationships with the wrong type of young men. She is so "confused," she can't seem to separate good intentions from bad. Please direct me how to help her or what to do. Thank you so much. Your book opened my eyes to the problem, and I'm praying it's not too late. - CT

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Dear CT,

First, no sense feeling guilty. You and your hubby love your daughter and parented her the very best you knew how to do given your backgrounds and your knowledge at the time. I’ll bet that a different set of parents could have raised your daughter with more problems than you can even imagine! And you are recognizing that things could be done differently, and are looking for new ideas. So that alone puts you ahead of many parents with difficult kids.

It is never too late ... to do the right thing. However, God has, in his wisdom, created a world of free will. For free will to be a workable option, it must operate as follows: “Just because we do things right, it doesn’t mean things will work out well. And when we make mistakes, things may often work out okay in the long run.”

The “beauty” of your situation lies in the realization that you really have no choice but to come though to your daughter in a different way since you are certain that the way you have been coming through in the past has not been effective.

I would make the following suggestions:

  • With your husband, sit down and make a list of the unhealthy or self-defeating BEHAVIOR that your daughter shows. The list might include: disrespect, poor choice of friends, misuse of money, etc.
  • Then, put a check by the items that involve you DIRECTLY. For instance, you cannot be directly involved in her choice of friends, how she treats others, or how well she takes care of her diabetes. However, you are involved directly (and can control -- if you are brave) the disrespect or blame she may show you directly, or money you may be giving her to misspend, or her lack of help around the house if she is living with you.
  • Then with your husband, choose ONE item to focus upon and change your behavior that may be enabling or supporting your daughter’s unacceptable responses. In discussing this with your daughter, the two of you will need to focus on what is best for you! (This is what makes your action enforceable). For instance:
    • “We have decided it’s not good for us to spend money on ____ so we’ll be cutting back on _____.”
    • “We have decided that it’s not relaxing for us to be around you when you ______.”
    • “We have decided we don’t feel good after discussing _________ with you, so we won't be having those discussions."

All these things set the model of taking good care of yourself. /em>Your hope lies in your daughter, even at her age, beginning to internalize your example and beginning to take good care of herself, too.

When you begin to make decisions based on what is best for you, and begin to cut back on responses that may have encouraged or allowed your daughter to make poor decisions, expect great howls of protest and blame. This is metaphorically like the screeching of wheels when a train puts on its brakes or throws the driving wheels into reverse. It will make you want to cover your ears.

There will be the following comments:

“You don’t care about me.”
“You don’t love me.”
“What have I done to deserve this.”
“You’re mean!” Etc.

It is always difficult to change directions, so you need to do it thoughtfully, with a plan, and with decisions ahead of time about how you and your husband plan to react to her various responses. In essence, you need to get all your ducks in a row before charging ahead on the issue. Talk over your possible options and reactions with friends that you trust. Evaluate how your daughter may react and how you will respond. It is not infrequent that an entitled and over-protected child responds with a self-destructive act in an “I’ll show you, and "you’ll be sorry" response. So you have to decide for yourselves, ahead of time, if you are willing to take the risk of an increase in self-destructive behavior.

Take care and good luck,
Dr. Foster Cline

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Dr. Foster Cline is a child psychiatrist and co-founder of Love and Logic. He is also the co-author with Lisa Greene of the award-winning Love and Logic® book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.” For free audio, articles and other resources, visit www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com

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