Sam and Tara contacted us about their 20 year old daughter, Nicole. They were broken-hearted, wounded, desperate and exhausted.
In their first coaching session they introduced their plight. “Our daughter is an adult in the eyes of society, yet she is making very poor decisions, living at home, not holding up her end of the bargain; she wants nothing to do with us unless she wants something from us.”
Then, like almost all parents in this sort of situation, they asked, “What should we do?”
For parents of “extended adolescents,” this is a particularly desperate question. It’s natural to dig for simple answers when we feel overwhelmed and hopeless. But before deciding “What to do?” we’ve found it profoundly helpful to ask another question first, “What’s going on – in me, and in my son/daughter?”
This question honors the complexity of every situation. It invites parents to be introspective and accountable for their own attitudes first. Am I afraid? Am I filled with faith? Have I prayed this through? Then, what’s going on with my child? Is she stressed? Is he ashamed? Is he discouraged? Is she proud about something I’m not paying attention to? Are there other life circumstances in play here?
Asking and answering questions like these puts a foundation of safety and trust in place. It helps establish a graceful and honoring perspective.
With this perspective as a guide, Sam and Tara left their first coaching session with a new way of viewing Nicole. Instead of a problem to fix she was now a daughter to honor with grace. They left with a primary question in mind: “What could we do to better communicate to her the truth about her from our perspective and God’s?” That truth: That Nicole is loved no matter how she behaves, and that she is safe in the care of parents who are leaning on Jesus’ grace.
Two weeks later they returned eager to tell of some “results”. A vital first step in this process was that Sam and Tara apologized to their daughter for the ways they had hurt her, and they asked for her forgiveness. Over the years they had attempted to control her emotionally and spiritually, doing all they could to “keep her in line.” They felt it was mostly effective, but were unaware that they were losing the battle for Nicole’s heart. Realizing how they had hurt her, Sam and Tara confessed their wrong, apologized, and asked for forgiveness.
After the apology, Nicole spent less time in her room and more time in the common areas of the house. She didn’t say much, but she was suddenly in the same room with them while on her computer rather than “holing up” in her room. A small thing perhaps, but evidence of the impact of repentance and forgiveness.
After the groundwork of forgiveness was laid, Sam and Tara began to focus on what they liked about Nicole. They began pointing out her gifts, even in the mess-ups, and declared their love for her at times when they had previously been critical of her. They also began to respect her “no” and “invite instead of tell.” For example, instead of telling (demanding) her to discuss a troubling behavior immediately, they invited her to do it. When she said “No!” they invited her to say when a better time would be. Not surprisingly, Nicole said “tomorrow.” But surprisingly, she showed up for the meeting and had a productive conversation.
As Sam and Tara became safer and worked toward unconditional love, Nicole began to slowly move toward them. In just a few short weeks, notable progress unfolded as husband and wife together worked to be gracefully safe and loving. There is still a long road ahead, but this family is making progress!
At this point in the story, many parents ask, “That’s all well and good, but we have to do something, right? I mean, she can’t just keep getting away with her negative behavior without a consequence, can she?” This is the sort of question that keeps situations like this mired.
Of course there ought to be more discussion about consequences. But until parents have done the hard work to lay a foundation of safety and love, those conversations do nothing more than fuel power struggles. So at this point we ask, what about you? How safe are you with your kids? Do your children perceive your love is unconditional, or tied to their behavior? The challenge for you today is to take a step back and honestly ask yourself, “Does my discipline help my child know first and foremost that they are safe in the care of parents who are the protectors of their souls? And secondly that they are loved freely and without strings attached?”
Take some time to prayerfully consider today how you can best communicate these important messages to your child, even when they misbehave.
Apply it Now:
Think of a challenge with your child.
- Do you have underlying anxiety that affects how you engage with him/her?
- Can you identify ways in which you pursued “right behavior” at the expense of alienating your child’s heart?
- How might you re-connect and communicate messages of safety, unconditional love, and confidence in their ability to grow in responsibility for themselves.