WHAT DID I DO WRONG? by Lynn Caine


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Troubles with teenagers? Try ""tough love""--and less guilt. This is the latest installment of the personal history-cum-counseling that began, in Widow, with the death of Caine's husband Martin and proceeded, in Lifelines, to the family in crisis: son Jon a hostile, aimless junkie and adopted daughter Buffy hostile and withdrawn. In the opener, Caine reports that all is well and sounds the anti-guilt theme: ""emotional well-being does not depend on mothers alone""; through mutual support groups, ""mothers are beginning to let go of fear and are developing more self-esteem."" The story is not so clear-cut--but in exorcising her own guilt, Caine does not conceal the reasons for it. She had been the oldest child of a demanding, violent father and a conciliatory mother--both of whom she recognizes in her hold-back, blow-up upbringing of Jon and Buffy. She had resented displacement by a younger sister and brother, and had been a difficult child. ""My wild and passionate nature would have been all right in a boy. . . but for a girl it was unseemly."" She'd given birth to Jon after years of working and assuming she couldn't have children: ""all I knew how to do was cuddle."" And she'd only wanted a boy. She also identified with Jon as the oldest, and saw her nature in his; she expected pretty, gregarious Buffy, the little girl she hadn't been, to be docile. Insecure as a parent, subject to conflicting advice, she didn't structure the children's lives, didn't set limits: favored Jon defied her, Buffy found surrogate mothers. . . and both preyed on her guilt. Caine notes rightly that outcomes are unpredictable: experts come and go, ideal circumstances can give rise to misfits and vice versa. Jon was saved, Caine thinks, by a tough-love Maine school (life is difficult nowadays, there's nothing wrong with needing help); Jon thinks, interestingly, that he would have come out of it somehow or another. In connection with Buffy, Caine talks about ""the undermining of the adoptive family,"" the sense of ""diminuition,"" from the search for birth parents. Overall, she proffers the tough-love message of acting, not just feeling. Readers may have their reservations--but some may also be spurred by Caine's self-exposure to put their own guilt into perspective.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1985
Publisher: Arbor House