Motherhood can be among a woman’s most fulfilling roles—unless the person she finds herself mothering is her husband. That relationship, according to psychologist Dan Kiley, 41, is anything but healthy. “It is a grownup thing to mother your children,” he explains. “It is a lie to mother your husband and call it love.” Kiley believes that most women detest playing Mom to their men but fear wrecking their marriages if they try to change. The pop psychologist has given the predicament a name: the Wendy Dilemma, which is also the title of his recently published book (Arbor House, $15.95), a self-help tome in which Kiley diagnoses the problem and offers a “cure.”
Wendys (named after the character from the J.M. Barrie classic, Peter Pan) are the wives and girlfriends of the men Kiley profiled in his 1983 best-seller, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. It has sold more than 170,000 copies in the U.S. and has been translated into eight languages. Kiley’s Peter Pan is the kind of guy who ignores his mate at a party while trying to impress other women, who finds it impossible to say “I’m sorry,” and who goes out of his way to help his buddies but fails to do the things his spouse asks. According to Kiley, Wendys, because of their own fears and insecurities about being independent, allow these men to perpetuate their childish ways by making excuses for them and by putting their own needs second. For these women “it is hard not to be a mother when the guy is looking for one,” Kiley concedes. “It makes a beautiful, neurotic marriage.” How can a woman tell if she is involved in such a union? “If you get nurtured back,” says Kiley, “then it isn’t mothering.”
The first step in Wendy rehab is to admit the problem; the second is to decide what to do about it. Those Wendys who want to stick it out have to learn how “to get rid of mothering without stopping loving their man,” says Kiley. That includes giving up the inclination to be overprotective, possessive and self-denying. Those Wendys who decide to split must develop the self-confidence to follow through. Guilt, Kiley warns, is a common pitfall. “They say to me, ‘He won’t be able to make it without me,’ ” says Kiley. “I tell these women that society is responsible for the Wendy in them, but that they are responsible for right now. That’s what scares them.”
One of three children, Kiley grew up on a 160-acre farm in Cullom, III., 90 miles southwest of Chicago. His Irish Catholic family “didn’t have an indoor John until I was 12,” recalls Kiley, whose job it was to slop the pigs. He got his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1969, four years after marrying fellow student Karen Kearney. They had a son, Patrick, now 17, but the marriage lasted only seven years. Was Kiley a Peter Pan? “There is no question I was, once upon a time,” he admits. Was his wife a Wendy? “To the max,” he replies.
Although he never thought he’d remarry, Kiley changed his mind after meeting Nancy Garlock, whom he had hired as a parole officer while he was supervisor of a state juvenile institution. Married in 1977, they are now building their dream house in the affluent Chicago suburb of Wheaton with the proceeds from The Peter Pan Syndrome. Patrick lives with them.
In addition to running a weekly three-hour call-in radio show, Kiley spends 15 hours a week seeing patients. “I get very involved,” he says. “The sessions can be very painful.” But he won’t abandon his practice entirely. “My patients keep me in touch with what’s happening,” he explains.
They also provide the source material for his books. Indeed, one of them gave him the original idea for Syndrome. A woman with two teenagers suddenly blurted out, “He’s just so disruptive. He’s disrespectful and has temper tantrums.” When Kiley asked which child she was referring to, she replied, “No, no. This is my husband.”
Kiley gives great credence to all this and naturally bristles at the label pop psychologist that has been applied to him. “This is very serious stuff,” he cautions. Though he isn’t yet saying what his next book is, he jokes that he doesn’t rule out The Tinker Bell Response or The Nana Neurosis as possibilities.