As fall approaches, many teenagers will be leaving home for the first time, headed to college. Families face many challenges in navigating this transition.
Casey, 18, an only child, is struggling with his parents. He is a good kid, bright, funny, well-liked. Diagnosed with ADHD, he has been an “underachiever” with a common but paradoxical blend of high intellect, pseudo-maturity, and limited life skills.
Since high school ended, Casey, who is close with his parents, has become conspicuously angry, especially with his mom. In family therapy, he is irritable and disinterested, often picking up a book to read. At home, he has been yelling at or ignoring his mom. Privately, however, Casey feels bad and guilty. He told the family therapist he didn’t know what was wrong with him — why he was being mean to his parents for apparently no reason and acting as if he didn’t care.
Casey has good parents. His mom understands him, is nonjudgmental, and an excellent advocate. Recently, though, she has become impatient and angry with Casey. She expressed resentment that Casey didn’t want to keep her company when she did chores or errands, complaining she felt taken for granted. Even when Casey did help, she insisted he should not just help, but want to help if he loved her.
As she tries to get Casey ready for college, she feels frustrated by his limitations — taking it personally and wondering where she failed as a mom. Though wanting Casey to be independent, she continues to do things for him that she knows he might not succeed at — rescuing him from facing his limitations. She responds to his distance and attitude with anger and distance of her own.
Exasperated, she recently exclaimed that she “just can’t take it anymore” — responding to years of tireless effort helping Casey learn basic routines. She sounded curiously oblivious to the fact that he would be leaving home imminently.
Casey’s dad responds to his son’s distance by becoming more involved in his own work. Though generally engaged with Casey, his dad took Casey’s apparent lack of interest in him at face value, insisting this meant it did not matter to Casey whether he was around or available.