A mother anonymously went public online seeking help regarding a rebellious daughter. She and her husband were heartbroken that the daughter they had lovingly raised had entered adolescence and had turned into a foul-mouthed, rebellious young adult. The girl rejected any requirements for change by her parents and had created a living hell in the home. The distraught mother sought advice from readers of the site about what to do to “improve her relationship” with the girl. Advice ranged from “Tell her her tattoos and body piercings look nice and don’t judge!” to “Don’t argue with her at all. Let her do what she wants, so she doesn’t see you as authoritarian.” One commenter said, “Rules create rebels.” That’s the thinking out there.
As a mother who has had five teens thus far (all of the five are adults now), my husband and I have certainly seen our fair share of what it is to parent adolescents and the challenges it presents. What I want to address in this post is not run of the mill boundary pushing, attempted (emphasis on attempted) disrespect or occasional disobedience to parents. There is hardly one of us in existence that has not tried this growing up. What I’m talking about here are the extreme cases where a home is literally being destroyed by a young person who is at war with authority and is engaging in abusive conduct towards his or her parents.
When Tom and I were first married 21 years ago, friends of ours were going through this with a high school aged child. We would hear them describe what the daughter, raised in a Christian home with love, was doing (things like stealing from her own grandmother’s checking account, leaving school to have sex with her fast food manager, etc.), hear about the scenes she was creating in front of the other kids in the home, and we would wonder, how can they let this go on indefinitely? What is being accomplished here other than destroying the home for the other kids and destroying their own mental and physical health?
Getting back to the anonymous account from the devastated mother I referenced at the start of this post, she said her daughter was screaming at her husband and her, using the ugliest profanity, reserving the ugliest for her own mother, hurling f-bombs and then slamming the door (of the home they paid for), breaking things in her room, saying she hated them, and so forth and so on.
I will get to the point. Allowing any resident of your home, minor or otherwise, to behave in this fashion and keep residency, is to do the following: A) Send the message that abusive speech and behavior towards you is OK B) Train other children in the home that this is how conflict and disagreement is handled and how parents can be treated C) Demonstrate that your home can be turned into a war zone by anyone who so chooses D) Signal that you are not a full human being with boundaries that must be respected.
I have seen enough of the “unconditional love” of modern parenting, Christian or otherwise, to see that the current interpretation is a disaster. I believe in unconditional love, but not if it means that you and/or your spouse willingly serve as a doormat, punching bag, and a slum landlord who must accept anything and everything your tenant (that’s what an angry rebel becomes) dishes out. You also become an enabler of domestic abuse. Yes, abuse.
These young people are abusive. When this is a lifestyle pattern that harms others, it’s not “hormones”, “typical adolescent angst”, or anything else. It’s abuse. Nobody in my home will call me filthy names, accuse me with lies, and use profanity and anger in my presence. Nobody. My home, our home, is a haven from the rest of the world that has gone morally insane. This is our refuge of peace, and we will have peace. Tom and I are in complete agreement and always have been (spousal agreement on these things is crucial) about these issues. We did not allow any one of our kids to turn our home into a hell hole of rage and anger. When a child is at war with the parents, it’s time to seek alternative living arrangements for the rebel. There’s a time to work and pray with a child. There is also a time to acknowledge that their problems are doing gross harm to others.
Parents need to enter parenting having these thing straight in their minds. Our warped culture, as I pointed out earlier, thinks that having foul-mouthed, abusive teens who spit on the parents who have raised them, loved them and provided everything they have, is normal. It may be normal in America, but it should not be.
Some of the horrific headlines of parental abuse and even murder are an outgrowth of the kind of parenting we have today where parents try to be friends, shower kids with stuff instead of inculcating values, while kids morally rot in front of their eyes. Then these sociopaths and psychopaths turn on parents when they (in desperation) take technology away or make some 11th hour attempt to regain control they lost long ago.
There are some parents who have parented with love and discipline, however, and the spirit of the age takes hold in the heart of a child anyway. It is all the more devastating when you have invested your heart and soul into the life of a child only to see them wander away from truth and love. Having seen this as a parent, it can be devastating and inexplicable. That’s because we sometimes see parenting as a formula that, if adhered to, will provide certain results. That line of thinking, common among conservative Christians, is also incorrect. Sometimes kids reject what they are taught outright. They are not machines that you can program. Down the road, living in the rubble of their own bad decision making, sometimes they return to the light and to the truth. I have seen this. Sadly, some do not. Those things are not in our hands. It’s our job to love and teach them what is right and true. What they do with that is firmly their own choice.
So what is in our hands? That is the point of the post. We must, emphasis on must, not allow any one child to destroy our homes with their sinful warfare. Love must be tough, and sometimes that means finding a residential option that removes a minor child from the home they so despise. It can be the only hope they have of seeing that their willful rebellion and abuse of others has long-term consequences. When you have a young adult living in your home who is showing complete and ongoing disrespect, the answer is obvious. Stop enabling it. Lay down the expectations of the rules of the home for young people early on, and let them know that they have one warning, after which, they will face the consequences. Write it up as a contract so things are perfectly clear. Stick to it. Failure to do this will result in you making a mockery of your own boundaries, authority and your requirement of personal respect.
Tom and I have lived through these things through the years. When I see Christian parents in total dismay at young adult rebels wanting to sit around gaming or refusing to do the most basic chores, expecting to enjoy the fruit of their parents’ hard work while contributing nothing but mouthiness and disrespect, it’s evident where the problem lies. You get the respect you expect. It’s that simple.
I saw a teen comment on the same post online written by the dismayed mother. The teen wrote, “Parents treat us with disrespect and think we’ll respect them back.” This is the attitude I am talking about. It is the job of the parent so say, “You have clearly rejected us as parents and are most unhappy with the job we have done. We respect your right to hold an opinion. Now you can view us as landlords instead. All landlords have expectations and rules for tenants. Here are ours if you expect to stay in this home and also listed are the consequences if you decide to do things your way. Then be ready to calmly enforce it. Dispassionate, calm enforcement of the rules, and a refusal to be drawn into emotional screaming matches is essential. Letting them push your buttons puts them in control, not you.
Cause and effect. Teaching that to young people is critical. Teaching respect for others is crucial. Start early and reinforce boundaries, something that modern parents-as-friends fail to do, beginning in early childhood.
Parents are people, too. We sacrifice the best years of our lives when we have children, pouring our time, energy and resources into our kids, because we love them. Don’t send the fatal message that they can turn around and spit on you. That is the wrong message.
Addendum: To those who say this is not parenting with grace and forgiveness, understand this: Repentance is turning around. When a son or daughter is truly sorry for their behavior and treatment of parents, it will be evident by conduct, not just verbal promises. If you hastily restore fellowship with someone in your home who has been abusive as described above, you only destabilize your home and invite further chaos. We are called to forgive seventy times seven as Christians. We are not called to lightly re-expose ourselves to health-threatening stress and abusive conduct from someone who may be manipulating to re-enter the home. This is true of any abuser, whoever they are. Forgiveness is not the same as renewed fellowship. That can only come where there is ample fruit of real heart change. Remember that.
Remember something else. When dealing with a full scale rebel who has turned your home into a war zone, be prepared for ignorant and hurtful judgements from others, some even within your own family or extended family. When you decide to be proactive and find an alternative living situation for the child/young adult, you will be accused of various and sundry parenting failures. “It must be something in their home. They are too (fill in the blank with accusation here.)” To parents already in pain, this can be doubly hurtful. I urge parents in this situation to refuse to discuss the situation with anyone placing themselves in a seat of judgment. Only you as parents know what has gone on and what drove you to an extreme decision. The response to such judges should be, “That is not your call to make. We are not interested in discussing it with you for privacy reasons. ” If they persist, cutting off contact with busybodies not showing respect for your own experience and decision making is the only wise course of action. Those who judge without the facts serve to further divide and injure you emotionally, something you don’t need at a time like this.