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Ask Ellie: Too much competition can damage father-son relationship

What can I say to help heal my son from his hurtful and divisive jealousy of me?

Dear Ellie: I’m a man, 43, married with two sons (20 and 17). My problem is that I’ve started to suspect that my eldest son is jealous of me and that it’s affecting his life negatively.

I was in my early-20’s when I became a dad, and wanted to do better than my father had done with me. He worked long hours, said little to me or my sister, watched TV and went to sleep.

As soon as my boys could catch a ball or run, we were active together, kicking a soccer ball, shooting hoops, running around the school track, etc.

I’d always been a good athlete and pumped up both boys about showing me their stuff. My younger son turned to music, instead. It’s his mother’s talent, so no huge surprise.

Meanwhile, his big brother worked at his sports skills, ran in marathons just as I had, and at which I’d excelled. Soon, he ran farther, tried harder, and made putdown remarks about my swimming skills being much less than his.

Now, with his girlfriend and friends around, he’ll say he’s “way ahead” of me in every sport.

I never wanted to be the “winner” he had to beat. I worry that he’s driven to be “the best” vs. me, and that this obsession has made him resent me.

What can I say to help heal my son from his hurtful and divisive jealousy of me?

Father’s Dilemma

It’s what you say and do now that’ll hopefully bring better understanding between you two. Tell your son how proud you are of his athletic abilities, but what mattered most to you when raising sons, was the relationship of having healthy fun together with your boys.

Say that now, as he experiences the world beyond his youth, he’ll form his future through education, jobs, special friends, and finding love.

Tell this competitive son that none of those choices are yours to make for him. His adult life all depends on him … and you’ll always be cheering for him, not competing.

Dear Ellie: For years I’ve been caring for my elderly parents. I live in their home and I’m their legal guardian. My siblings live elsewhere with full-time jobs. Home-care workers assist, for limited hours. So, I cannot seek employment to meet my expenses (higher than my weekly stipend from my father’s pension).

My own physical complications and illnesses mount. Also, my siblings take advantage of me while they assist my parents. They give the home-care worker days off without advance notice to me. They leave me belittling tasks like removing discarded refuse.

Many items were stolen from me, and I did some chores for the aides. The U.S. county within the state agencies cannot assist me as a caretaker because abuse has to be physical force, not psychological or material loss.

Sadly, other family members and relatives support my siblings or are unaware of their true nature.

I’m trying to relocate away from this mess. Do you have suggestions on how to cope?

Overwhelmed Caregiver

Pursue information about what the U.S. state agencies perceive as “abuse.” When talking to these agencies, ask for “mental-health support” related to your demanding caretaking tasks.

Also, learn what rights your legal guardianship gives you with regard to finances sufficient for caregiving costs and personal salary. Your siblings should be contributing to their parents’ care with some compensation for you, not just visiting only occasionally.

Reader’s Commentary regarding the woman whose ex-husband doesn’t pay child support, wants to change their agreed custody arrangement, and has a “bully lawyer” (August 12):

Reader – “One thing I have learned during my divorce is that when lawyers start to intimidate, for me, that has meant that they no longer have valid arguments to present.

“You need to have a serious discussion with your lawyer. Plus, seek a second opinion, if you’re not satisfied with the current one.

“During my own divorce my first lawyer was prepared to cave to the other side. I did not agree. My second lawyer called their bluff.

“Get educated yourself and stand up to the bullies. Otherwise, they will not stop. They have already seen that bully tactics work.”

Ellie — Do not be intimidated by your lawyer’s instructions about what she/he thinks is the best response to a difficult opponent. You’re the one who lived with the other parent, not the lawyer.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Jealousy can destroy a parent-child relationship, especially if the adult child perceives self-interest, personal ambition and past neglect from the parent’s successes.

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