Monday, April 27, 2009

The CHILD Trap

Bounceback Kids who end up living in your basement are more than a minor nuisance.  And yet many parents encourage this behavior.  The goal, with children, is to launch them, not keep them as pets.

I suppose after writing my diatribe about smothering parents, I should give equal time to other side of the coin - The Child Trap. For many people, enduring their childhood takes up nearly 1/3 of their life. The end up spending the next 1/3 trying to break free of it. And if they are lucky, maybe they get to live the last 1/3 as themselves.

For parents, a similar trap can occur. Raising children takes decades, and if they never leave the home, you may end up spending your whole life either as a child, or a perpetual parent, never having time to live your own life.

Many parents often find themselves financially strapped by actions of their children, who refuse to grow up and leave home, and as a result end up being a lifelong financial burden to their parents.

Granted, when you decide to have children, there is always that risk that your child may have some debilitating mental or physical illness that necessitates that you care for them for their lifetime. Autism or physical disabilities, for example, may mean that your child requires lifelong care. And while many parents approach such situations in a loving manner, it can be a difficult situation for the parent financially, and since most children outlive their parents, planning for the child's later care can be difficult.

But that is not the sort of Child Trap I am talking about. I am talking about perfectly able children who refuse to leave home or return home, and subsequently make life difficult for their parents. In some ways, this posting may be redundant with The Marijuana Trap, previously posted.

This occurs particularly in suburban, middle-class homes.  The children involved are not retarded or otherwise disadvantaged.  On the contrary, often they are brighter than average.  But often, low self-esteem issues, combined with drugs, leads them to the security of Mom and Dad's basement, instead of the risk of leading their own lives.

As a child, one of the most intimidating things to think about is how one will transition from the role of dependent to that of independence. Visualizing yourself as a money-making independent person no longer relying on your parents for food, clothing, and shelter, is a difficult and daunting task. And for some children, this transition is never made, or takes much longer than necessary.

You can do well in school, get good grades, and be President of the Student Council, but still not be able to find and keep a job. Let's face it, the skills you learn in high school and college have little or nothing to do with the skills you need to get and keep a job. School provides you with a good background, nothing more. Most of the skills we use in our jobs we learn on-the-job.

In Engineering School, for example, they told us, "We can't teach you to be an Engineer, only how to THINK like one. You'll learn how to be an Engineer on the job." Funny thing, too, because in Law School, they said the same thing, only about lawyers. And both schools were right. Designing an electrical controller for production is something you have to do day in and out to learn, as is writing a legal brief. School provides only the background, not the actual training.

So it is entirely possible that even straight-A students often lose their way from graduation to finding (and keeping) that first job. And not surprisingly, the late teenage years and early 20's are the time when most mental illnesses first manifest themselves. There are a number of theories why this is, of course. However, I think the stress of trying to figure out where you "fit in" to society is part of it.

In a way, I was lucky, in that at age 18, I became a salaried employee of General Motors. General Motors Institute, where I studied, was like the military. You were given a lot of responsibility early on, and no one questioned your capability to do the job. This was a probably the best education a young man could have - to be told early on that you can do things and there is a place you fit in. While most of my peers were smoking dope and living with their parents, I was working for a large corporation, had full medical care and a company car. It was a heady experience.

But even though I never finished the program at GMI, it was a valuable experience, as I became accustomed to the idea of having a job, a career, and moreover was already trained in the workplace long before graduation. Few young people have such opportunities, except perhaps in the military.

Most of my peers graduated from College at age 22, never having worked at a real job. Oh, sure, many had summer jobs as lifeguards or working in the mall. But few actually were able to snag internships or co-op positions in their field of study. Getting that all-important first job is a difficult task, and a daunting one at that. Delaying the process with graduate school can only make it worse, even though you might end up technically more qualified.

As alluded to earlier, drug and alcohol abuse can exacerbate the problem. In my blog The Marijuana Trap, I've illustrated how that drug tends to make one anti-social, paranoid and virtually unemployable. The rise in stay-at-home adult children and returning children is directly related to the use of that (and other) drugs. Marijuana users who "start things" with their employers tend to end up unemployed. Moreover, a collage career marked by excessive drug use and mediocre grades is not one that will land that important first job.

As a result, a large number of young people, from middle class backgrounds, who are intelligent and could otherwise be productive people, end up unemployed or underemployed and never leaving home, or returning home after one setback or another. The college graduate ends up working at "McJobs", often in retail or manual labor, and getting fired or laid off often - usually accompanied by a long-winded story about how the boss was an "asshole."

For such children, the "real world" seems a scary and hostile place. Staying at home is a way of remaining a child just a few years longer - a way to stay in a safe, warm, and fuzzy place. But safe, warm, and fuzzy can also be smothering, and staying at home with your parents is often the worst thing, mentally, a young adult can do.

Many parents end up in despair over these bounced-back children. Will they ever leave home? Will they ever amount to anything? And will they ever clean up their room?

As the old saying goes, "it takes two to tango", and as a Parent, you need to take assertive steps to make sure you "launch" your children into the world in such a way that they take flight, and don't return to the nest again and again. The following are some suggestions, based on some real-world experiences:

1. Built Your Child's Self-Esteem: I have used the example of the hapless friend more than once. He was a classic bounce-back child who ended up living at home after graduation from college. A chronic marijuana smoker, his grades in college were only so-so. And showing up stoned for job interviews certainly didn't help land that first job. How did this happen? Well the answers are numerous. Not all of us have strong personalities or can stand up for ourselves. And mental health is a frail thing. But his parents did little to help him in this regard, and in fact, damaged him severely.

His Father, in particular, took every opportunity to run my friend down. Well, he did that to all his kids, but for some reason, my friend seemed a particular target. When he was an adolescent, his Father bullied him into signing up for "Pop" Warner football. His Father was convinced that all of his sons should play football as a character-building exercise. But rather than actually spending time with his kids playing football and instilling a love of the game in us, he expected them to just take it up, and of course, excel in it.

My friend signed up, desperate for some affection from his Father. But his Dad never went to any of his games or practices, he just groused about the inconvenience of having to drive my friend back and forth to practices. My friend was miserable. He knew no one on the team, and having no skills, was constantly yelled at by the coach. He decided to quit.

This further infuriated his Dad. On the day my friend quit, his father made him go before the whole team and announce he was a "quitter". When my friend was playing, his father took little interest. But the act of quitting was an opportunity for him to teach my friend a "character lesson". For hours and even days afterwords, his father harangued my friend as "Mr. Quitter" who would "Never amount to anything."

"For the rest of your life," his Father said, "you'll be known as 'Mr. Quitter'. Wherever you go, people will say, 'hey, there's the guy who QUIT Pop Warner football! You might as well give up on getting into a good college, once they find out what a quitter you are!"

It went on and on this way. In case you haven't guessed by now, his Dad was a first class asshole. While we might laugh at such a harangement as adults (or punch someone who says things like that in the face), to a young adolescent, going through the throes of puberty, trying to determine what it means to be a Man, such a verbal and public castration was devastating.

And yet my friend's experience is not that unusual. I've seen many a parent say to their children, even young children, that "you're stupid" or "you'll never amount to anything" or "you're no good". Such degrading comments become self-fulfilling prophesies.

People have children for all the wrong reasons. They think their children will be little clones of themselves, or perhaps (as noted in The Parent Trap) an audience for their lives.  Some people even have children as status symbols.  The reality is that children often end up doing weird and spooky things that may disgust and embarrass you. They wet their beds or poop their pants. They suck their thumbs until age 10. They act inappropriately in public. They develop strange and bizarre tastes in music, clothing, and appearance.

The teenage years in particular, can be problematic, as teens exhibit bizarre behavior as they go through their hormonal stages. Many parents see this as a chance to "correct" their child's disturbing behavior by browbeating or belittling their kids. If you want them living in your basement at age 30, this is a sure way to go about it.

As I noted in The Parent Trap, every generation has its own ideas, and usually these ideas are an anathema to the generation before. But the next generation has to live in their own world, not ours. So it doesn't matter that I don't like "rap" music, or that I think tattoos are trashy and body piercings ugly and disturbing. That's the style of a younger generation, and decrying it does little more than mark me as a "geezer".

Similarly, trying to squash or belittle the hopes and dreams of your children is counter-productive. My friend wanted to get into radio or maybe become a journalist. His father belittled these goals and told him he should get into "business" - without really taking any time to explain how to do so, or get him interested in the field.

The point is, what worked for the previous generation might not work for the next. And unnecessarily belittling your children's dreams only insures that they will have none.

If you want your kids to succeed in life, you have to be supportive of them all the way. Pissing on their parade will not accomplish anything.

2. Don't Let Them Back In: When I left GMI, I moved back in with my parents - for a total of four days. My father did not want me back home, and the feeling was mutual. I found a job an apartment of my own within a few days. Other parents are more accommodating - feeling sorry for their failed children, offer them food and shelter on a long-term basis.

While it may seem compassionate to help an adult child by giving them a place to live, it also ends up being smothering. In far too many instances, this ends up being a long-term live-in arrangement.

It is possible for an adult child to support themselves and have their own place. But it does require hard work and sacrifice on their part. In many situations, I see young people living with their parents, but driving brand-new cars. The basement family room is made over into a bachelor pad, complete with wall-screen television, hi-fi system, and a waterbed. It is not that the adult child cannot support themselves, but that they cannot live as wealthy a lifestyle without the "free rent" and free meals from their parent's house.

And I have seen a number of young people do just this. And it is crippling. Instead of looking for a better job or trying to improve their careers, such young people end up working at low-paying jobs, making just enough to buy the toys and things they want in life. Having to support myself, I worked to get a better job, with more pay, so I could get a better apartment and live a better life.

Many parents will say that they "don't mind" having the adult child living at home. And in some respects, this is true. Some parents like having the child at home, as it staves off the loneliness in life and provides them with a companion - like a pet. For single parents, this is particularly true.

Other parents will argue that the adult child helps out with the chores, or helps pay a token amount of rent, thus making life easier for them. This may also be true, but in the long-term, is it what is best for the both of you?

Note also, as set forth in my blog Emotional Vampires, some parents also like having the returned child at home, as it gives them something to bitch about all the time. They like to regale their friends with stories about their failed child's inadequacies, in a perverse sort of way (See also, The Parent Trap). They like to nail themselves to the cross and elicit sympathy from others, as if to say , "Look at me, bearing this burden!" when in fact the burden was taken up freely and willingly.

Being firm and saying "no" to the returning child is often the best approach. And if your child has drug or alcohol problems, probably doubly so. If you provide free room and board to a 20-something or 30-something child who spends all day smoking dope, you are merely enabling his drug habit. Tossing him or her out of the house will force them to fend for themselves - and perhaps force them to chose between a life of drugs, and a real life.

3. How to Get Them Out - Presuming that you really want to get the kids out of the house (and don't have some sick need to keep them home) there are ways to get them to leave. And failing that, there are ways to make it so if they do stay, you are not a doormat. Here are some suggestions.

Charge Rent: It only makes sense that an adult should contribute to the cost of maintaining the household. Charging your adult children rent as a condition of them staying on the property is a good way of conditioning them to support themselves. Also, once they get used to the idea of paying rent, the idea of paying rent for an apartment of their own does not seem so onerous. There are two possible pitfalls with this scheme, however. First, once you start charging (and receiving) rent, you formalize the relationship with the child, and they may assume they have the "right" to live at home, as they are paying rent (and who knows, under the law, they might). Second, make sure your rent is onerous enough to encourage them to leave. Charging a below-market rent will insure only that they stay. Of course, if the child refuses to, or never pays the rent, what do you do then?

Never Co-Sign a Loan! - This is probably a good subject for another short article. I've seen many parents co-sign loans for cars for their live-in kids. Not only are you liable for the loan balance (in most instances, the co-signer on a loan ends up making at least some payments on it) but the debt and monthly cash flow requirement insures that the child cannot "afford" to rent their own apartment. A child does not "need" a brand-new car to "get to work" particularly when they don't have a job in the first place. Buying them a car (which in essence you are doing) first, before they get a job, is backwards. You get a job, and then earn enough to buy a car. That's how that works.

Enforce the Rules: It is your house, and you don't have to be a doormat for adult children in a game of passive-aggressiveness. One parent regaled me with a tale of how his returned son never does dishes. The son lived in the basement, avoided the parents during the day and late at night would come up to the kitchen to eat, like some Troglodyte. The next morning, the parents would be appalled to find a sink full of dirty dishes. After getting sick and tired of cleaning up the dirty dishes, they decided to just leave them in the sink. That didn't work, as the child would just eat off dirty dishes, or wash only what he needed and return it to the sink.

There are creative ways around this. The Father took all the dishes out of the sink and put them on the child's bed. That's one approach, I guess, that avoids direct confrontation. Unfortunately for him, Grandma stopped by, and having sympathy for the child, washed all the dishes for him (Once again, the Helpful Grandma raises her ugly head, See Emotional Vampires).

I suggested that he simply put away all the dishes in the attic, except for a very few plates and cups for three people. That way, at least, the number of dishes that would need to be washed at any given time would not rise to staggering heights. Keeping dishes for eight or ten around with a son like that only means that you end up with eight or ten place settings in the sink.

There really is no way to get around this without confrontation, and since most parents want to avoid confrontation with their adult children, they continually back down. But here is really no reason an unemployed adult child should not help with the basic chores around the house. Letting your adult kids live at home is bad enough, waiting on them like servants is worse.

By the way, such behavior in adult children should be screaming to you that they are probably using drugs and are also suffering from depression. Catering to depressed people by waiting on them only encourages the feelings of helplessness, dependency, and worthlessness. Even a simple task like doing dishes can help instill self-esteem. Having your adult child help around the house could help them as well. But don't be surprised if they call you a "fascist" for asking them to do the dishes, particularly if they have been smoking pot.

Stake Them: Unfortunately, it may be necessary to pay the security deposit on an apartment and give the child some money in order to get them to leave. Banks have to do this all the time with foreclosures - offering "key money" to a tenant or occupant, to leave quietly and hand in the keys. It may sound wrong, but in the long run, it can be less costly. If the kid has a job (or can find one) help them find an apartment, get them in it, hand them the keys and say "good luck".

Then change the locks on your house so they don't come back.

Avoid the "Drop-By" Child: It is tempting for an adult child living near home to "drop in" now and then and use the laundry machine, raid the refrigerator, and the like. And I hate to admit it, when I was in college, I used to do just that. But it does invade the privacy of the parents, and should be discouraged.

My father, upon remarrying, discovered that he had adopted three such "drop by" children without his knowlege. Well into their 30's and 40's, his new step-daughters were quite accustomed to stopping by to use the laundry machines and see what was in the refrigerator. My Father, not used to this arrangment, had a fit one day, when he came home for lunch, only to find his step-daughter in the kitchen, eating it.

And unfortunately, he backed down. His new wife convinced him that her children were somehow damaged goods that needed the home to come back to, for occasional raids on the pantry and laundry. Not only did my Father back down, he ended up apologizing to the step-daughter who ate his lunch. After all, it was his fault that he didn't properly mark the pork chops as his, right? And he could afford more pork chops, right?

If you want to live that way, fine. But I suggest it is a poor way to live and it instills dependency on the children.

Move: One way to get rid of a live-in child is to move. This may sound extreme, but it sometimes is practical. If you are older and retired, you may be contemplating moving to a smaller house, an apartment, a retirement community, or another State where the cost of living is less. Some parents put these plans on "hold" because of live-in adult children, which is a very bad idea.

Rather than put off your dreams because your child refuses to live theirs, just move. Tell your son or daughter that the home is too large and expensive for you to maintain and you've decided to downsize. Lie if you have to. Sell the house and move to a new place where there is no spare bedroom, and no pull-out sofa. If you are in another State, so much the better.

4. Addicted or Dangerous Children: One heartbreaking scenario is when a child becomes a drug addict or has severe mental or emotional problems. Such children can be dangerous and you should consult a professional. One friend of mine had an adult daughter who became a junky. The reasons are many - and the low self-esteem beat into her by her Father was part of the deal, of course. But as they say, you can't un-bark the dog, and being a co-dependent later on out of a feeling of guilt doesn't make up for poor parenting earlier on.

The junkie daughter moved back home and of course started stealing from her parents to support her habit. She got arrested, and her parents spent small fortunes on lawyers to keep her out of jail and in re-hab. She would return from re-hab and return to drugs. She started bringing home unsavory friends to her parent's house. The house was broken into several times, and parents suspected these friends, if in fact the breakins were not staged by their daughter.

Such a scenario is a nightmare for a parent. At a time in their lives they hoped to be retired and secure, they are living with a dangerous addict and in fear for their personal safety. They eventually were able to get rid of their drug-addicted daughter by giving her bus fare for Los Angeles and making it clear she was not welcome back. For a parent, this is no doubt a hard thing to do, and the mindless recrimination from other folks (who have never had to deal with an addicted family member) certainly doesn't help.

The daughter ended up being homeless for a while, but she learned to survive. Nearly 60 today, she is still a drug addict, now living with (and off) her own grown adult children, in a reverse scenario of the bounce-back child.

Others are less fortunate. Children with severe mental problems (schizophrenia, psychosis) can end up becoming violent and threatening or harming their parents or themselves - and the same is true with drug addicts. I wish I had some helpful advice for such situations, but those things are probably left to the professionals. My only comment is that if you have a friend or acquaintance who has such children, don't be judgmental of their actions if they seem unusually cruel in refusing to take their children back in or support them.

* * * * *

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Parent Trap

Living your life as a perpetual child is never a good idea.

Being born last in any family is a liberating experience. Not only do your older siblings take all the heat from your parents and have to deal with their unrealistic expectations, you can sit back and observe the family process from a more detached view and understand the family dynamics better.

Also, as youngest, the odds are, your parents will do the honorable thing sooner, rather than later, and take a dirt dive in the churchyard by the time you are 40. Yes, once your parents are safely in the grave you can really start living.

Now, I know what you are going to say, "That is so crass!"  But the reality is, for many people the death of their parents is accompanied by a very giddy feeling of freedom. Even people who have a good decent loving relationship with their parents have expressed to me their feelings of guilt when their parents die. "This shouldn't feel so good," they say, but the feeling is so overwhelming that the guilt doesn't stay around for long.

Simply stated, with your parents out of the way, you can start living your own life, as an adult, and not as a perpetual child. For older siblings, parents may not pass on until you are well into your 60's, meaning that you end up being a child that much longer. Your period of "freedom" may be only a decade or more, before you kick the bucket as well.

Now a very few folks out there DO have a constructive and healthy relationship with their parents. This article is not addressed to them (and yes, the rest of us hate you!). But I rarely see this types of relationships in real life. For those of you who view your Father and Mother as your best friends and co-equals (and are not living in a fool's paradise) more power to you. But for others, the parent relationship is crippling and can often affect their entire life in a very negative way.

Parents, of course, don't set out to smother their children. And yet, many engage in a slow-motion form of infanticide over the life of their child. Parents will say things like "I've always wanted my children to be more successful than me!" but actually want the reverse. Parents will say things like "I want my kids to have all the things I never had!" not realizing that deprivation can build character. Parents may SAY they want what's best for their children, but often by insisting they KNOW what is best, do great harm to children.

Many adults, well into their 30's 40's - even 50's and 60's - struggle with their relationship with their parents.  And they make this relationship the centerpiece of their lives, and remain miserable and unhappy for decades.   They refuse to grow up - and are reduced to a crying, sniveling mess, whenever they visit their parents - which is often.   They cheat themselves out of their own lives, in an attempt to satisfy parents who will never be satisfied.

As a child, the best thing you can do is to grow up, not merely physically, but mentally as well, and stop being a child in the parent/child relationship. What do I mean by this? Well consider the following scenarios:

1. Parents Give the Worst Career Advice on the Planet

Never take career advice from anyone over 30, parents in particular. Parents, often under the rubric of "I want what's best for my child" try to push their children on particular career paths.

A Korean friend of mine, for example, was told by his Father to become an Engineer, like his Dad. It was not open for discussion. Dad is an Engineer, Son shall be so, too. The problem is, he was not happy with this career and as a result lived a very unhappy life and was never very successful. His dream was to open a Korean grocery store. Perhaps not a grandiose dream, but nevertheless his. So rather than living his own life, he now lives the life his parents felt was best for him.

A decade ago, a young man telling his parents he wanted to be a web designer no doubt mystified them. "This Internet thing is a fad, son" Dad would say, "You need to get into something more stable and secure". The worst thing a kid could do is take that advice. And many would, falling into the Parent Trap - assuming their "older and wiser" parents know more and know better.

In some cultures this goes beyond mere career as well, and spills over into arranging or approving marriages and planning other details of an adult child's life. How many families do you know, where one or both parents have "disapproved" of a child's choice of spouse?

A young Indian friend of mine returned to England at age 26 after completing her Master's degree, walking away from permanent residency, a relationship and a job offer, in order to marry a young man her parents arranged her to marry when she was 7. She claimed she had to do this, and spent the rest of her life arguing about the injustice of it all. But was that really the case? Or did she really have choices? You can stand up for yourself and your own life.

My Mother insisted that getting a Liberal Arts Degree was the best career path anyone could take, because that's what she did. My siblings followed this advice and ended up unemployed. They all had to go back and get advanced degrees to pursue real careers as a result. Being the youngest and seeing all this, I decided to do what I wanted, which was to program computers and get an Engineering degree. My Mother would go on drunken tirades as a result, shouting angrily that "who will use all this computer garbage, anyway?" Great career advice, Mom!

But such things are the norm with parents, who feel that because they are a few years older, they know better than you as to what you like and what you'd like to do. The reality is, old people are the worst in forecasting the future. You will have to live in a world of your future, not theirs. Their static ideas of the past will undoubtedly be swept away, just as their generation swept away the preconceived notions of their own parents. Funny thing, too, you'd think they'd remember that. But they don't. They created their own future, and now they wanted it frozen in time and for you to live in it. Don't fall for that trap.

2. I Want My Kids to Be More Successful Than I Was!

Every generation claims they believe this, but don't fall for it. Many parents take a perverse and secret pleasure in having dependent children all their lives. Children with ruined lives give the parents something to bitch about (the Friend with the Perpetual Problem, see also, Emotional Vampires) and they secretly relish the control they still have over their kids who are well into their 30's.

You see, when you have kids, they are like possessions or chattel in legal terms. And to some extent, minor children are property (and still are in many parts of the world). Growing up is difficult for a child, but harder on the parent. Most parents cannot let go of their image of the child as property - as something smaller and dumber than they are. Perhaps the image of the child as an independent adult drives home their own eventual mortality.

To some extent I also think it is because parents want an audience for their lives, to validate their existence and experiences. Movies are full of scenes such as this, where the great patriarch of the family, on his deathbed, is surrounded by admiring children and grandchildren, who all laud "Papa", telling him how great he is and how he made everything possible. The reality is, of course, far different than that. Papa was an abusive drunk who derided his children and took every opportunity to stand in the way of their goals. Oftentimes, parents stand in the way of their children's progress, if not actively inhibiting it, which is an interesting phenomenon. Children, as a result, are inclined to turn away from their parent's lives, not wanting to be an audience to a horror movie.

The worst thing a child can do, in many instances, IS be more successful than their parents. If the parent cannot let go of that superior/inferior relationship, the success of the child appears to them as a threat. Oftentimes, you will see this manifested quite plainly, where a parent will run-down a successful child's career, the jealously plainly evident.

I ran into this with my Mother. As the youngest, I was quite successful as an Engineer, working at GM and United Technologies. Yet she would belittle my accomplishments at every turn as a "mere tradesman".   My oldest brother was pushed to go into law school and my parents even offered to pay his way (he never did. To his credit, he finally discovered his career path lay elsewhere, such as it was). Ironically, I was working my way through Law School at the same time. My Mother would go on and on about how my older brother SHOULD go, but my actual going apparently didn't register on her Richter scale.

Which was probably a good thing. I went to Law School for my own reasons, and as the youngest in the family, my career plans were hardly scrutinized. My elder siblings, on the other hand, were harassed and counseled by my parents, even when my siblings were well into their 40's. Being under the radar has its advantages - you can do what you want.

3. I Want My Kids to Have All the Things I Never Had!

I had a boss like this. He grew up in a poor neighborhood and worked his way out of the ghetto by studying hard at technical high school and getting into a good college. Kids beat him up every day on the way to school. It was a hard life. But it gave him the resolve to do better.

He told me he didn't want his kids to lack for anything, and he kept his word. As a result, his children were like kept wives. They relied on Daddy for money, well into their 30's and even 40's. He bought them cars, paid their rent, found them jobs. They were some of the most boorish and spoiled kids I ever met.

And not surprisingly, they had no careers of their own. He took a perverse pleasure in regaling me with their failures in life, as if it were some badge of honor. As if affording failed children was a luxury item. A Psychologist probably could answer why he did this. All I can do is identify the trend, as I have seen it elsewhere.

It is ironic, but being a spoiled adult child can be the ultimate trap. If your parents are well off and indulge your every need, you cannot develop a life of your own. And since they control the purse strings, you have to sacrifice your independence in order to live this "luxurious" lifestyle.

Trust fund kids know all too well what I am talking about. Grandpa set up a trust for them, but made it damn near impossible for them to access the funds in the trust. It is a left-handed gift if there ever was one. From the grave, Grandpa says, "I want you to have this staggering sum of money, but, since I think you're a total idiot, I'm going to tie it up legally so you can't have any real access to it." Gee, thanks gramps, for that vote of confidence.

Inherited wealth can thus be crippling, as the recipient may not develop the Independence and self-reliance that the donor had. I knew a number of trust fund kids when I was growing up, and for the most part (with one exception), they ended up listless and lazy, and severe emotional and substance-abuse problems. Paris Hilton is not some anomaly, but the norm.

My one exception friend went out of her way to get her own job, career, and live independently of her parents. It was not easier, but I think she is happier than her siblings as a result. But it takes a strong personality to free yourself of the parent trap, and when the trap is baited with dollar bills, even more so.

4. I'll Be Home for Christmas!

One interesting aspect of this Parent Trap is the inability of some children to shed the child role, well into their 30's and 40's - if ever. I ran into a friend of mine a few years back, and asked them how she was. "Oh, well, you know, it's almost Christmas" she said, letting out a sigh.

"Yea, I know, holidays can be depressing for a lot of people," I replied, trying to be supportive.

"Oh no, it's not that," she replied, "It's just that I have to go home to my parents house for Christmas, and I know my Mother will get drunk and call me a failure and run me down, and I hate all that."

"Well," I replied, "Don't go, then".

She gave me a blank stare as if I had just suggestion treason or told her the Earth was flat. Now bear in mind this woman was 35 years old, a successful lawyer and married. But she felt that she was obligated, no required to return home every holiday, like a small child, and spend Christmas with her abusive family.

This seems to be a recent trend with our generation, too. My parents, at that age, had their own family, and I do not recall that we spent more than one or two Christmases or other holidays with grandparents. When you grow up, you form your own family, and that becomes your primary relationship, not the parent/child relationship of your upbringing.

"Well," she said, clearly thinking, "Where would we go, then? My Husband's parents are psychotic, too!" And she was right on that point. Merely going to the in-laws was no solution, only jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

"Go to Aruba," I said, "Or some other romantic getaway, just you and your husband. Drink cocktails with little umbrellas on the beach and have great sex in some charming little bungalow hotel. It would be a lot more fun that the drunken abuse at your Parent's house, trust me." I explained to her that she was an adult now and had her own life to live, not her Parent's life and expectations.

I could see a little light bulb go on in her head. They went to the Caribbean that year and had a good time. She broke the cycle of dependency and suddenly Christmas was a time of year she looked forward to.

Of course, her Parents were none too pleased. She was expected to return home and be an audience for their more important lives! Her Mother was the classic audience parent. Successful in her own right, she trivialized the accomplishments of her children and expected them to return home to pay homage to her greatness. Suddenly, there was a new world order.

When you are an infant, you rely on your parents to change your diapers and feed you. And as a child and young adult, you rely on them for all of your physical needs. But as you become an adult, a funny thing happens. You no longer need your parents (or shouldn't, unless you have devolved into a parasite) but your parents now need YOU more than ever.

Being elderly is often not much fun. It can be lonely. And if the major accomplishment of your life was raising a family, and you are estranged from your kids, then you have to wonder what it was all about, anyway. Parents desperately need their kids as they get older - for moral and emotional support, and also for validation of their lives.

In short, they need YOU more than YOU need THEM. The power balance shifts at that point, which may be one reason so many parents try to keep the relationship balance of power the other way, not realizing that their very actions are driving their kids AWAY from them.

And that is exactly what happened to my friend. Once she established the rules and set the boundaries, the parents fell into line. No longer was she some slave, "obligated" to return home periodically and endure abuse. If she was to visit, it was to be as a peer, not as a child, and she was entitled to be treated with a modicum of respect.

And, not surprisingly, her parents got the message. Her relationship with her mother is better than ever, as it no longer is couched in terms of parent/child as a master/slave type of thing. She never had the Norman Rockwell kind of family Christmas that so many people talk about (but few have) but she is closer to that sort of thing nowadays.

I recently visited someone well into their 60's who was crying in their soup about having to "go home for Christmas" to visit her nearly 90-year-old Mother, who was abusive and manipulative.   For 60 years, this lady spent every Christmas with her parents - paying the highest possible airfares and spending countless hours stranded in snowed-in airports.  I suggested to her that maybe she should visit another time, perhaps.  Or perhaps don't even go - if the visits were so unpleasant and stressful.   Again, I was given that look like, "What freaking planet are you from?  Everyone HAS to go to their parents house for Christmas!"

Well, not really.  Did her parents go to their parents house every Christmas?  No, of course not.  For some reason, our generation seems to be the only one brainwashed in this manner.  

If visiting your parents seems like a chore, a burden, or turns out to be an ugly shouting match every time you visit, the best solution is to not visit. You are not required by law to spend time with unpleasant people. You'd be surprised how many people fail to grasp this. My friend, when I first broached the idea to her, said "Well, you HAVE to go to your parent's house for Christmas!" as if it were some sort of law.

Live your own life. Enjoy yourself. Stop being a punching bag. Don't wait for your parents to die before you can enjoy yourself and live. Pulling back from your parent/child relationship can actually result in a better relationship on a peer-to-peer basis. And if they don't come around, well why bother torturing yourself?

5. You Never Come to Visit!

I live on a retirement island, where the average age is 74. Like many retirement communities, elderly people build or buy houses with multiple guest rooms for their kids and "the grandchildren", convinced that they will come visit them often. And some do, of course. Those with healthy relationships with their children do visit and get along. But they seem to be few and far between.

(The grands! The grands! for some reason, grandparents obsess about grandchildren, perhaps looking at them as a second bite at the apple, or a chance to "do over" their first horrible attempt at parenting. In many instances I've seen, grandparents try to insert themselves into the rearing of the grandchildren, creating more friction between themselves and their children by usurping the parent's role.)

Many are estranged from their children or see then very little. Why is this? As I noted above, the problem largely exists because the parents can't let go of their parent role and treat their adult children as co-equals. As an adult, you would not want to go back to high school and have to obey all the silly rules they inflict on teenagers, would you? So why would any adult want to do the same with their parents?

Once the adult child returns to the family home to visit and sleep overnight in the guest room, they are reduced again to the level of child. Usually, after a few days of such visitations, friction starts, and the visit goes sour. Not surprisingly, the adult child doesn't want to return again anytime soon.

So, what Can you Do?

Well, it is not easy, particularly for young people. For my young Korean friend, as for many others, the college years are difficult, as you are still dependent on your parents for support, and cannot afford to go against their wishes.

However, once you turn 21 and graduate from college, you are on your own and can call your own shots. Surprisingly, few do, instead taking more and more bad advice from their parents, or believing they "had to" do as their parents said. And like the friend with perpetual problem such folks will regale you with what a lousy deal they got in life, never realizing they do indeed have choices.

Being independent and following your own course is never easy. But as I have noted before, staying in the middle of the herd only insures that the grass is matted down and pooped upon. The eating is better at the edge of the herd - but that's also where the wolves are. Rewards go to the risk-takers, not the risk-averse.

There are specific things you CAN do, to take back control of your own life and forge a better relationship with your parents:

1. Taking control of your own finances. Setting money aside and building your own estate and nest egg are important. If you are relying on your parents for money well into your 30'sand 40's, then something is wrong. Oftentimes, parents try to get around your financial planning by offering to pay for occasional big-ticket items, such as furniture, cars, or your children's college educations.

For the latter, consider one of those pre-paid tuition programs that are available in many States. Not only would you get a tax deduction out of the deal, but as it is "pre-paid", your parents no longer have the sword of Damacles hanging over your head. You see, that is the whole point of the financially helpful parent - they dangle out the bait of money, but then later use that as leverage to manipulate your behavior.

Frankly, no matter how lucrative the cash offer, many folks would prefer their independence. And the "I'll pay for your children's college" gambit is particularly odious, as for one to refuse such an offer to help the children would appear to be unseemly. But if you think back, did your grandparents pay for your college? Chances are, the answer is "No." But for some reason, in my generation, it seems to be the norm that many parents rely upon their own parents to pay for their children's college. No wonder this generation has never grown up.

2. Control the Parental Visit: The parental visit is one area where you can reduce a lot of stress in your life. If your family is dysfunctional, keep visits short. And for God's sake, don't stay in the house. Once trapped in your teenage bedroom or guestroom, you are flung back into the role of child again - a role you will chafe at as an adult. I have found it much better to stay at a local hotel and then visit for short periods of time. Old folks get tired and cranky anyway, so keeping the visits short makes it better for everyone concerned. And if Mom or Dad start going off on your career choice or spousal choice, it's "Oh, look at the time, I have to go freshen up at the hotel, BYE!" ALWAYS have your own car or vehicle at any family outing as an "escape pod". NEVER ride in the back seat of your parent's car - you are trapped if they decide to "go off" at a remote location.

And don't be afraid to turn down such visits. If a parent has misbehaved during a recent visit, be up front with them and say that there will be no more visits unless they agree to a minimum standard of behavior. Yes, they are like small children at this point - the relationship has inverted. But you'd be suprised. Many a lonely parent will "clean up" their act if threatened with a cutoff.

But for many folks, the best parental visit can be the 10 minutes you spend once a year putting flowers on a grave. Sad, but true. But a lot less hassle.

3. Don't be Afraid to Walk Away: While you may be able to take charge of your life and live it on your own terms, chances are, your siblings may not be so inclined. There are people in this world with such low self-esteem and low ambitions, that they would gladly trade their independence for the occasional help with a car payment or whatever.

For example, a friend of mine was able to reorganize his relationship with his parents along the lines set out above. He told them in no uncertain terms that he would no longer tolerate the abuse he was subjected to. And, not surprisingly, being lonely and isolated, they agreed. The relationship, redefined as a peer-to-peer relationship, became more pleasant and even enjoyable.

But, after his Mother died, his Father remarried a widow with three dependent children. By dependent, I don't mean in the tax sense, but in the sense of failed adult children who barely scrape by, constantly "borrowing" money from their Mother. Suddenly the Father found himself with a willing audience of step-children, who, in return for financial assistance (and a potential inheritance) were willing to put up with his nonsense. It is surprising, how, for a very little bit of money, you can control people.

In that situation, there was nothing to do but walk away. The Father's old abusive habits came to the forefront again, as he now saw himself as "in charge" of other people's lives - doling out money, advice, and control. He had a new audience for his life.

If your relationship with your parents causes you no end of grief, then don't be afraid to walk away from it, once you are an adult. Many people do. Unfortunately, the popular culture (Movies and Television) treat such things as an anomaly or some horrible situation that needs to be "remedied" by a Hallmark ending.

This latter phenomenon is very disturbing and damaging. Many well-meaning folks will say platitudes like, "Well, you should get along with your parents, after all, they raised you!" To a child who has spent years struggling with physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, such statements are like daggers in the heart. Their own friends are telling them that it is their fault, not the parent's. Before you offer such "helpful" advice to a friend or stranger, make sure you know the whole "back story". If your friend is struggling to recover from an abusive childhood, you should be supportive of them, and not castigate them for failing to reconcile with an abuser.

What Can a Parent Do?

If you are a parent, and are estranged from your children, or are finding their visits fewer and far between, or finding each visit devolves into a shouting match, what can you do? Well, assuming you really want to change things (and not just bitch about them, which so many elderly people prefer to do), I have the following suggestions:

1. Recognize That You Represent the Past: Every generation has its own ideas, goals, styles, music, and tastes. Recognizing that is a first start. No doubt when you were a teen, your parents hated your dress, your hair, your friends, your music, and your choice of spouse. No doubt they expressed skepticism of your career plans as well. Parents today decry rap music, tattoos, piercings. Parents of a generation ago decried rock and roll, long hair, the hippies. And so on and so on. My Grandmother took a lot of flack from her parents for bobbing her hair, wearing "flapper" dresses, going to speakeasies and (gasp!) dancing the Charleston.

How the world will be in 50 years is anyone's guess. I will be dead, and you will be likely, too. Decrying all change as "bad" because it is something you don't understand or are uncomfortable with is not constructive, and moreover is a waste of your personal energy. The kids will do OK in their world. And it is their world now, not yours. Yes, I would not want to be a kid today and live a more crowded world of (what appears to be) reduced expectations. But you know, I would not want to live in my parent's world, either (I'll take a pass on Polio, thanks). While we may think the future is cloudy and uncertain, the kids today think otherwise. Let them live in their world and let ours die with us.

2. Stop Trying to Micromanage Your Adult Children: Letting go of CONTROL over your children is probably a good first step. You can't force your children to be small clones of yourself, and you shouldn't try. They are separate living beings and have to make their own decisions - and own mistakes. Trying to enforce your antiquated notions about the world on them is likely to backfire in a big way.
Children, even adult children, do give a lot of weight to their parent's opinions (which is often their biggest problem). Realize that you have this power, use it wisely and sparingly. Trying to micromanage your children's lives will surely backfire in a big way. They will make their own way in the world, with or without your help - and in most cases go further without. Sometimes just getting out of the way and being supportive are the best things you can do. 

3. Stop using Money to Control your Kids: Stop using the promise of small (or large) sums of money or gifts to influence them or elicit visits. Gifts with strings attached are no gifts at all.

4. Never try to Pick Your Child's Spouse: As my friend's Sister's example illustrates, this never works. She married a man who, while a decent fellow, was an ill-suited match. My friend's Father opposed the marriage. Guess what? They got married anyway. His sister stayed married to her husband to spite her Father. How weird. You have to let childern make mistakes - even big mistakes.

5. Stop Trying to Raise Your Grandkids: This seems to be a problem for my generation in particular. The "Helpful Grandma" (See, Emotional Vampires) inserts herself between the parent and child, offering advice and money to the children. The children get mixed signals, as two sets of parents (parents and grandparents) are often saying opposite things. Since Grandma doesn't have to deal with the day-to-day issues of child rearing, and since grandma doles out cash and gifts like an ATM, guess who the kids like better? Your generosity and kindness serves only to underscore the "meanness" of their parents, who are charged with enforcing rules.

The other day, we were camping in our RV.  Most RV'ers are older folks, who are retired.  We met a couple who were in their late 60's, and they had a young child - their grandchild with them.   The lady gleefully reported what a "rotten mother" her daughter was - with the daughter's daughter standing right there.   It was, to say the least, appalling.   Helpful Grandma doesn't win any parenting awards, either.

Let your kids raise their kids, even if you think they are making horrible mistakes. Inserting yourself into the process and spoiling your grand-kids only makes things worse.

* * *

There probably is no way out of the Parent Trap. A very privileged few have a decent relationship with their parents, based on mutual respect. However, most people I meet have quite the opposite, with relationships ranging from mere antagonism to emotional, physical, and even sexual abuse. Many spend years struggling to break free of their childhoods.

Often, too late, they discover that while they were struggling with the parent/child relationship, their entire lives passed by, and they missed out on living their own lives as a result.

And in far too many cases, I've seen well-meaning people try into interject themselves into such situations, with blandishments such as "Well, you'll always have your family!" and the like. Such statements, to the victim of child abuse, are sharp wounds to the soul. Before you decide it is your job in life to reunite an "estranged" child with an abusive family member, be sure you understand the whole back story.

Updated December 13, 2013.

The Marijuana Trap

Is there any harm in being a "pot head"? Yes, unfortunately.

This is another post I hate to write, as I am not sure it will do any good.  One thing that is consistent about marijuana users (or any drug user) is the certainty they have that they know what they are doing, and that the drug use is not harming them in any way.   I know this as I used a lot of marijuana in my early youth, and no one could tell me anything, as I thought I knew it all.

I ran into a friend of mine the other day, and they like to smoke pot.  That's their business and all, but unfortunately, in most cases, the business of marijuana users ends up spilling out into everyone else's business in short order.  In my article "The Unwritten Social Contract" I advance the theory (or fact) that everyone has a duty to take care of themselves, to the best extent possible.  Marijuana users often end up falling off this wagon, as their actions tend to make them dependent on others. And they often end up starting trouble with others as well.

Marijuana users will bore you for hours about how safe their drug is, and how users of marijuana have been persecuted through the years and how it should be legalized, etc.  As I pointed out in my "Emotional Vampires" article, this is nothing more than a variation of the "Friend with Perpetual Problem" gambit and the "Political Junkie" gambit. How can they be expected to get a job and settle down while marijuana is still illegal!  There are, we are told, "greater issues at stake".

The nature of the drug plays into this effect, and causes other effects as well.  It is not hard to spot a marijuana user, even without a urine test.  They tend to socialize only with their own kind, have difficulty interacting with others who are not stoners, get into contretemps with neighbors and coworkers, are always "starting something", are often unemployed or underemployed, and often end up in trouble with the Police or have other long-standing legal problems.

Many stoners would argue that many of these problems are caused by the illegality of marijuana itself - that if the gange was legalized, their "hassles" would not be as many.  This argument fails on a couple of grounds.  First of all, marijuana is not likely to be legalized in our lifetime, or at least the next 10-20 years.  The political climate in the US and even the world is such that legalization is political suicide for politicians.  So it isn't going to change, and regardless of whether it is a staggering injustice, you have to get used to that fact and work with it.  Tilting at windmills does not accomplish much.  Secondly, even if marijuana was legalized, stoners would still be getting into all sorts of "hassles" as the nature of the drug causes them to do odd things.

One of the aspects of marijuana use is that when you are stoned, you tend to become more introspective and contemplative.  To some extent, this is instructive and "mind-expanding" in that one realizes what one's own motivations in life are (which can sometimes be difficult experience, but one that can be easily forgotten with another bong hit).  When you are stoned, however, being around "straight" people can be almost painful.  Straight people seem overly demonstrative and loud, and their petty motivations seem to be apparent for all to see.  It is almost embarrassingStoners are not necessarily as catatonic as they seem, just more subtle in expressing themselves sometimes, as the masks we all wear in daily life are all too apparent to them.

These masks, however, do serve a social purpose.  Yes, we all play games in life, putting on an act, trying to be "nice" to people we don't like (well, sometimes, anyway) and being sociable when we don't want to be.  We say "Hi, how's the weather" to an acquaintance, when we really want to be left alone. The stoner can't play that game.  They appear withdrawn, and thus anti-social.  People react accordingly, and it spirals into more and more withdrawal from society.

As a result, most stoners end up "starting something" with co-workers and neighbors.  The "paranoia" induced by the drug tends to cause them to conjure up petty grievances with people they meet, which fester over time, accumulate into a laundry list, and finally explode into a bad episode of "COPS".  As such, stoners are not fun to be around, nor do they make fun neighbors.

My friend's hapless brother is a good example of this, as he has been a 40 year career "chronic," mixing marijuana, cheap beer, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotic medication in a nightly cocktail.  You would not want to be his neighbor.  After college, he got a job with local radio station.  It was not long before he decided that his boss, who owned the radio station, was an asshole.  Always "harassing" him for being a few minutes (or hours) late, and then yelling at him for doing stupid things like turning the transmitter off.  I mean, can't the dude give him a break?

Needless to say, every time you went to see my friend's brother, you were treated to the "Perpetual Problem" monologue about his boss and what an asshole his boss was.  This made him very unpopular with his friends, and his isolation increased.  After many passive-aggressive incidents, which escalated into confrontations, he went on-the-air to give an editorial about how the station owner was a corrupt individual and businessman.  What a great stoner trick.

Unfortunately in the small town my friend's brother was living in, the station owner was very popular and also the brother-in-law of the police chief.  My friend's brother was fired, of course, and the police chief was happy to pull him over and find marijuana in his car.  Not smart.  Like most stoners, my friend's brother found himself in yet another incident of legal trouble. Yes, this was not his first time, of course. And of course, this just fueled more paranoia, the persecution complex, and another "chronic problem" for him to bitch about.  And to the stoner, it is everyone else's fault, of course

What causes such behavior?  Well, I think in part that marijuana, while "mind-expanding" in some senses, is also "mind numbing" in others.  I found that when I was an adolescent, I used it to forget my troubles, rather than confront them or analyze them.  As a result, the drug creates a sense of stasis, and people end up stuck in bad situations, totally incapable of action to pull themselves out.  So they sit there, like deer in the headlights, waiting to get run over.  The best the stoner can hope for is to keep a low profile and be left alone.  It rarely happens, though.

So, the stereotypical stoner is living in his Mother's basement, and can't find a job. Why? Because he's STONED, dude!  If you are stoned all the time, you aren't going to look for a job, and if you are stoned during a job interview, you aren't going to GET a job, and if you are stoned on the job, you are likely to LOSE you job.  And when Mom hollers down the basement stairs, you'll do another bong hit to bury your troubles, rather than confront them.

In my friend's brother's case, he used pot to anesthetize himself from the reality of his life (and probably still does).  Rather than see the radio job as the dead-end it was, and plan on moving on, he stayed at the job, hating it and his boss, and subconsciously sabotaged his job and career until he was forced out - in a very bad way.

A better approach would have been to do the job well, realizing all the time that the job sucked and had no future, and at the same time, send out resumes and make job inquiries to try to get a better job.  Eventually, he would have landed one, and had a good reference on his resume.  As it played out, well, he's not in radio anymore.

It's called ambition, and its one of the first things that is sacrificed to the altar of ganga.  Stoners not only do not have any ambition, they despise it in others.  The mentality is that anyone who tries to "get ahead" has "sold out to the MAN" and only those who sink to near-subsistence levels are morally pure.  This is, of course, a comforting philosophy if you have no ambition.

The "us versus them" mentality quickly manifests itself when you start using marijuana. Using marijuana is one way of volunteering to become part of a minority group.  Stoners tend to congregate together, use their own language and code words, and consider themselves apart from society and "Straights" (an odd term, also used in the Gay community).  Stoners thus tend to reinforce each other's behavior, listening to each other's long-winded stories of injustice, and nodding in agreement when bosses are characterized as "assholes" and Police as "pigs".

This blog is devoted to financial issues, so how does stonerism affect your finances?  Well, it does, big time.  First of all, pot is very expensive. Stoners will argue this is because it is illegal, but I suspect it would not be cheap even if legalized. (UPDATE:  It is not)  Despite the staggering cost and their inability to hold a job, stoners seem to be able to find the money to buy pot on a regular basis.  Often this means sponging off parents or others for basic daily needs (Food, clothing, shelter, transportation).

But not only will using marijuana affect your finances in the short term, it will sabotage your life in the long term. Very few stoners become successful in life.  Yes, it does happen, but usually such tales of stoner success are success "in spite of" the drug use, not because of it.

My story is typical. My late Sister decided that she should "turn me on" when I was 13 years old. I was a typical hyperactive kid, and she felt that pot would "mellow me out" and "expand my mind". Unfortunately, this sort of attitude is typical of stoners - the drug becomes like a religion. "If only everyone smoked pot, the world would be a better place" they argue. So to my 23-year-old sister, giving drugs to a 13-year-old seemed to her, like a favor. Thanks, Sis!

This attitude is reflected also in news reports of parents giving pot to children, or to pets, to "mellow them out". Stonerism becomes almost like a religion, and converting the masses to the cause becomes part of the lifestyle. So to my sister, getting her kid brother stoned was not an irresponsible act, but, to the stoner mind, an act of kindness.

It is hard to say scientifically how the drugs affect your life, as you cannot go back in time, and then NOT take the drugs as a controlled experiment, and then compare the two outcomes. (UPDATE: Some studies suggest pot can cause or aggravate mental health issues among young adults).  But certain patterns do emerge. While I was a successful student up until that time, once I started smoking pot, my grades dropped. It is not hard to figure out why. Trying to study while stoned is like trying to see through the fog. Going to class while high was a "bummer" (and a sure way to start a trip to the Principal's office) so I skipped classes more. I became more withdrawn and alienated from the other students at school - except the other stoners, which became my new social group, such as it was.

The adolescent years are difficult enough as it is. You have to struggle with sex and sexuality, how you are going to fit into the larger world, how to make a career and a living. It is daunting and scary stuff. It is no wonder that schizophrenia manifests itself during the late teenage years. Some kids just freak out at the prospect of no longer being a kid. Growing up is painful.

Smoking pot was a way of forgetting about all of that and remaining a child a few minutes longer. Unfortunately, as we have seen, the stasis induced by stonerism ends up causing more harm than good, as a teenage user ends up not confronting these issues - and as a result ends up unemployed or underemployed, bumming around well into the 20's or even 30's.

In spite of heavy drug use, I was able to get reasonable grades and good SAT scores. Why is this? Well, not because the marijuana did NOT affect my abilities, but only because I had some abilities to begin with, and while even impaired by marijuana, I was still able to perform at a level better than most. For other folks not as advanced on the intelligence scale, pot use tends to be more devastating, pushing them far down the economic ladder. For intelligent people, it merely pushes them into poverty, or at best, a lower-middle-class lifestyle.

And since I was socializing only with other potheads (or po-theads, as I now call them), I tended to acquire a lot of "interesting" new friends, more often than not far below my own social, class, and intelligence level. (Dave Sedaris has written at length on this effect - how a stoner suddenly finds himself hanging out with questionable people, just to get high.) While these were usually decent people (with some very notable exceptions) hanging around with them was a total loser's game. I felt constantly pulled down to their level, and perhaps at the same time, using this group to enhance my own stature in comparison. Not a very nice game to play, the big fish in the small pond.

And some in this group started to do very odious things. Marijuana users will love to tell you that marijuana is not a "gateway drug" that leads to "harder drugs". But my own experiences negate that. While I realized that some drugs were more dangerous than others (cocaine, methamphetamine) others did not make such fine distinctions. To them, drugs were good. If marijuana got you high, then cocaine would get you higher.

One friend decided that prescription drugs and alcohol were the answer. He started breaking into local pharmacies and stealing pills. He got arrested and served a short sentence. He then started stealing cars, to drive into the city to buy drugs and go to bars. On the way home one night, he passed out, hitting another car head-on, killing the driver, who was on the way home from her wedding rehearsal dinner. She died the day before her wedding. My (former, by that time) friend was largely unrepentant. He served a short prison sentence for manslaughter, and continued to hang out at the local high school, smoking pot with the kids, well into his 30's.

By the way, every town has such a loser - a guy old enough to be married, who hangs out and smokes pot with the high school kids. When your son or daughter brings someone like that home, don't wait to take action - your kid is in trouble.

Another pair of friends decided to get into cocaine. The one fellow was married and had a child, but he would "hang out" with his pals until late every night, smoking pot, and doing whatever other drugs were available. One day they called me up and said they had a "new drug to try" called "rock cocaine". This was before the crack epidemic took hold or the name "crack" had even been invented. I never liked cocaine, and the idea of setting it on fire seemed fraught with peril. I walked away at that point, both from my friends and drugs.

The list goes on and on. My drug friends who stayed with pot ended up trying other drugs down the road. Most lost jobs, careers, marriages, relationships, all because of drug use. One was living with his parents, and after 20 years, I discovered he still is. That is totally sad.

While I continued to be "functional" while using marijuana, it was not helping my life. It caused me to drop out of college, instead of recognizing that I was unhappy with my college and transferring. The net result was the same, but if I had transferred, I could have improved my academic record considerably. Again, marijuana anesthetizes the user, so he ends up staying static, rather than taking action. I passively let events happen, instead of taking control when I could. It's like letting your car go off a cliff, when you could turn the steering wheel slightly to avoid disaster. The stoner would argue that even trying is pointless.

Also, when on marijuana, it seemed like I was perpetually poor. One reason is that the drug sort of puts you in a poor mindset - that everything in life is unobtainable, other than to those who "sell out to the MAN" of course. Marijuana causes you to squander large amounts of money on stupid things as well. If you can't think straight, it is hard to manage your finances, much less balance your checkbook. I was the sort of person during that time who wrote checks until the bank sent bounce notices. Not very smart.

The breaking point came with my family. Again, many parents actually have a perverse enjoyment of this (see the Emotional Vampires article and a future article, The Parent Trap).  It is comforting for some parents to know they are more successful than their kids, perverse as it might seem, and they enjoy lording over their children's ruined lives.  They would never say this out loud, of course, but it is deeply seated, psychologically.

My parents (now safely in the grave) were alcoholics - chronic alcoholics.  My childhood memories are of my parent's violence, arguments, shouting, and drunkenness.  My brother and I even pledged never to drink ever, based on watching our parents fight.  Oddly enough, I ended up using marijuana before alcohol, and it was marijuana that lead me to a harder drug - booze.  Yes, marijuana can be a gateway drug.

Living in a dysfunctional family is never fun.  As a pothead, I found it hard to get away from my family and view my life in my own terms.  I was in stasis, playing the role of the child (as were my siblings) rather than living my own life.  Living your own life is scary and involves risks. Stoners prefer warm fuzzy insular comfort.

After one particularly nasty Thanksgiving visit, I decided something had to change.  Family visits had evolved into a pattern.  My Mother would drink to excess, and then start screaming at everyone. Instead of doing the smart thing and leaving, we'd all stand around like so many emotional punching bags (sometimes physical as well) then then blame each other for the incident.

"If only you hadn't set Mother off!" my Sister would say. My crime? I mentioned the nation of Canada in a sentence.  My Father had previously had a mistress in Canada, and mere mention of that country was enough to trigger a tirade from my Mother.  Well, that and four or five Martinis. But, according to my siblings, it was my fault, because I didn't carefully curtail my speech and let slip one of the "forbidden" topics.  In my family, there was no country to the North of the USA, just another coastline.

I was angry and frustrated.  This wasn't right and it was also depressing and unpleasant.  I decided that I wanted to change my life.  I attended some Al-Anon meetings (for children of alcholics) and read up on the subject.  The best advice I got from one of the counselors was that, while I could not change my Mother's behavior and my sibling's responses, I could change my own.  And not being stoned during these encounters was a good start.

(A note on Al-Anon and other groups: Such groups can be very helpful, but they can form an addiction of their own. The "-Anon" groups all insist that theirs is the only cure for problems in your life, and that you must perpetually attend their meetings.  The science behind this is somewhat lacking).

The other motivation was that I was tired of being poor and beaten down.  I wanted a secure future for myself - one based on my own earnings and money, and not be perpetually living on the margins of poverty and relying on parents for occasional handouts, as my siblings were doing well into adulthood.  I gave up smoking pot and also drinking beer.  This meant, of course, that I also had to give up my drug friends, and they did not take this lying down.

When I started smoking pot, my grades suffered, I became more withdrawn, listless, wasted money, became anti-social, etc.  When I stopped, it was as though I had been dragging a cinder block behind me all my life and I suddenly realized it and let go. I had been making some progress on my Engineering Degree before, but it was slow progress.  Suddenly, I shot ahead.

My grades went up.  I made the Dean's list and won an academic scholarship.  Suddenly, things started seeming possible, instead of pipe dreams.  I asked my employer for a leave of absence to finish college - something I never would have dreamed of as a stoner.  To my surprise, they granted it. The Engineering degree I had been toying with for nearly a decade, I completed in 18 months.

I sold my house in a run-down neighborhood and left Central New York, which was an economically depressed area.  I found a job with the Patent Office and started law school.  Success wasn't that hard, I discovered, once you got rid of that cinder block called marijuana use.

And my relationship with my family improved, at least from my perspective.  I realized finally that you have to grow up and live your own life and not remain someone's child forever.  I kept my visits with my parents short and sweet and let them know on no uncertain terms, that our relationship was on a peer-to-peer level, not that of parent and child.  If they wanted to start drunken brawls, that was their business.  But I would leave. Surprisingly, they had little trouble with this new order, and I had many happy hours with them during short visits before they died.

My siblings, still using drugs, still got sucked into arguments and drunken disagreements with my parents, and still viewed themselves through the prism of the parent/child relationship.  Up until her death, my Sister still "struggled to understand her relationship with her Mother" - reading volumes and volumes of books on the matter, such as "My Mother, Myself".  She never did figure it out, and to some extent, never lived her own life.  She confessed to me before she died that she remained married to an alcoholic husband, ten years longer than she wanted to, only to "prove my Father wrong" about him.  How sad.  She never grew up and lived her own life on her own terms.

Once you stop smoking pot, the desire to restart is not that great.  From the outside in, you see all the difficulties it caused you.  And unfortunately, you can only see these from the outside in.  That's why, to some extent, this blog entry is totally ineffective.  A pot smoker reading this (presuming they could get this far before switching over to funny cat videos on YouTube) would not be convinced to stop smoking pot.  Nothing can convince a pot smoker that their troubles in life might be related to their drug use.

As for my friend I ran into the other day, her story is typical.  She got caught up in a "controversy" with her neighbors, and instead of moving somewhere else or merely ignoring it, she found herself stoking the controversy with small, passive-aggressive actions.

Passive-aggressiveness is one of the most annoying things about pot smokers. They do little shitty things that they think are Soooooo subtle.  When you call them out on them, they act all innocent and persecuted.  "Who, me?" they say.  Yes, you.

Anyway, the end result was her neighbor was evicted, and it looks like she'll need a new place to live, too, as the landlord is not too enamored of her tendency to "start things" with the other neighbors. As the conversation progressed, she related her past legal problems related to pot (felony conviction, which really limits your employment opportunities), relationship problems, pet problems (See, The Pet Trap), and the like.  She also treated me to the 15-minute political junkie diatribe on "legalize it" which as I noted before, ain't about to happen.

Not smoking pot would solve her relationship, employment, and other problems fairly easily.  But as I noted before, trying to convert the pothead is a waste of time.  You just have to hope they figure it out before too long. And in the meantime, stay out of their way and avoid them.  Trust me, having potheads as friends is problematic - they will always be "starting something" and will be the biggest emotional vampires in your life.

I should note that quitting marijuana doesn't mean that you will return to "normal" in short order. Marijuana proponents claim that the drug has no long-term effects, and some reading this blog might argue that my experience proves this.  After all, when I quit marijuana, I was able to get my life back on course, right?

Not exactly.  To begin with, I didn't get the 10 plus years back I wasted (figuratively and literally) on pot.  And also, I think the drug tends to induce long-term effects such as paranoia and difficulty in personal relationships.  The drug negatively affects the ability to socialize and interact with others, and even after quitting the drug, the effects seem to linger on - for a lifetime.

So the idea that you can "just try" pot for a few years and then quit and "go back" to the way you were, is fraught with hazard.  Once you start smoking pot, your life is affected, and there is no way to go back to the way you were before.

Is marijuana negatively affecting your life? Consider the following indicia:
  • Are you having trouble in relationships with your family members?
  • Are you having trouble in your own marriage or relationship?
  • Do you tend to get drawn into controversies at work or in your neighborhood?
  • Are you always "starting something" with a co-worker or neighbor?
  • Do you have trouble holding a job?
  • Is your boss always an "asshole"?
  • Are you chronically late for work?
  • Are you always out of money and/or have no real money management program?
  • Are you always looking for more pot?
  • Are you hanging out with people far below your social status and intellectual level, because they smoke pot?
  • Do you spend huge sums of money on tattoos, piercings, drugs, and paraphernalia, but can't pay the rent this month?
  • Have you dropped out of, or been thrown out of school? More than once?
  • Have you had one or more problems with Police and/or legal issues?
If you are a pothead, chances are, you can answer "YES" to several of these questions. The question you have to ask yourself is, do you really want to live this way for the rest of your life? Does the mild relaxation of marijuana outweigh the negative effects it has on your life?

You have to find the answer yourself. No one can "convince" a pothead to give it up. And sadly, unless you have a strong personality, like mine, chances are, once you start on pot, you'll stay on it a good long time - perhaps for life.

Party on, dude!

UPDATE:  January 2017.   Since I wrote this blog entry, pot has been legalized in a few States.   For how long, is anyone's guess.   You see, the stoners all forgot to vote, or voted for Jill Stein in "protest" or attended Bernie rallies and attacked Hillary.   Some even voted for Trump.   With Sessions as Attorney General, I suspect the DEA will be let loose pretty shortly and legalized pot will go away.   When will stoners learn?   They won't.