Do you have a teen that stretches you? One that seems to do life the hard way, who doesn’t listen, breaks the rules, and thinks only about themselves? Who doesn’t make the best choices and isn’t completely honest with you? A kid who turns you into a control freak? I do. (I will use the pronoun “they” in order to keep things more anonymous.)
About a week ago, I went through this child’s phone. I found some things that concerned me–and I had already been worried. I went off the deep end.
I decided that they just had a bad character and I had failed as a parent. They were consistently making bad choices, being mean and breaking the rules. It was time to get serious.
I thought of throwing their phone away, of shipping them off to relatives to work on a farm, and went as far as looking up wilderness survival camps. This child isn’t a druggie, doesn’t have a record or any serious behaviors–but I was in a full-on “Mom Rage”. I was projecting into the future all the worst possible scenarios. I turned into a crazy person.
As a fan of the various Arbinger Institute books, I knew they had something to do with the Anasazi Foundation– a wilderness survival camp. So I looked up the foundation and read everything on their website. When I got to this article, it stopped me cold. My heart changed. It broke for my son and convicted me on my part in all of this.
As a fan of the Arbinger Institute, I should never have gotten to this frustrating place with my child. I forgot what they teach. And then I fell into the trap of collusion– feeding bad behavior towards my child, which in turn motivated them to have their own bad behavior.
Why Being a Control Freak Doesn’t Work
In my effort to raise a good kid, I controlled them more than I should have. Here are some gems from the article “Don’t Fix Them, Let the Goodness Come Out” from the Anasazi website by C. Terry Warner, (published by permission) that changed my heart so much:
When we are sufficiently frustrated with a child to send him or her to “experts” to be “fixed,” we are not likely to share the ANASAZI conviction that the child is a good person. “Obviously my child isn’t all right!” a parent may object. “She (or he) is rebellious, angry, defiant, calloused, promiscuous. She (or he) cares nothing at all about the values our family stands for, and keeps the family in constant turmoil. We have done everything in our power to bring about a change, including punishments and bribes, but nothing works. It’s pure folly to think she (or he) will suddenly change just because we are loving and respectful. We’ve tried all that. Rest assured it would never work with this one.”
When we have this sort of attitude toward our children, they feel accused and blamed, and they resent it. That resentment leads them to act vindictively, to treat us and others in a calloused way, and to undermine our hopes for them. We in our turn feel unappreciated and mistreated, after all we have done for our children. Over time, this cycle of blame and resistance intensifies. Thus, “troubled” children typically come from troubled families – families in which the reciprocal blaming has become a way of life.
It is this way that children by their bad behavior both reflect their family’s attitude toward them and provoke more of that attitude. Having learned to worry about defending self, all of the family members, including the children, see the world defensively; they refuse to allow themselves to feel and be touched by the needs of others. And, they carry into other relationships – with teachers, counselors, police, friends, coaches – the skills of blaming, manipulation, and control developed in their families: they show off, act up, throw tantrums, get into fights, abuse drugs, become promiscuous. They get labeled as troubled, rebellious, defiant, incorrigible – as being somehow defective. And then – and here the cycle is completed – we as parents find it difficult to believe our children are basically good: we have made a habit of misinterpreting the bad behavior we have taught our children, calling it a sign of an intrinsically bad character.
Making it personal
All of this sounded so familiar to me. Did it sound familiar to you? My child is not a bad kid- but they are a different mold than my other kids, and that made things tricky. I turned “different” into “bad”. I pride myself on trying really hard to be a good parent– so this next section really got me:
…the preponderance of ANASAZI students come from “respectable” homes where one parent or both insist on always doing things the “right” way, by scolding or otherwise emotionally punishing the child who falls short, in the misguided conviction that this will push the child to get back on track.
Such parents insist they are standing up for what’s right and that the child won’t cooperate; they can’t be blamed for this child’s waywardness. But this controlling style of parenting is just what provokes the child’s bad behavior. They mistakenly think the “correctness” of their parenting program (“for the child’s own good”) somehow justifies the rejecting attitude they carry in their hearts. Their demands that “right” be done, feeds wrong-doing.
All of this fits me to a “t”, even though I never considered that I was “emotionally punishing” my child–but once it was pointed out, I could see it. All of the ugliness of it. I definitely believe in a “right” and “wrong” way of doing things- but many things do not fall into that category. I urge you to read the entire article, found here. It is written in such a respectful, non-blaming way and I did not feel defensive at all.
I spoke to my husband about all of this and read the article with him (he is naturally much better at all of this than I am). Here is what we (but mostly me) are going to do to change:
- Re-read The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute. It talks all about how to have a heart at peace with others. Most conflicts are because our hearts are at war, and we want to blame, have our own way, or punish others. We treat people as objects, instead of loved ones. The article heavily leans on the principles taught in this book.
- Read Boundaries With Teens, by John Townsend. It’s good to have my heart right- but how do I parent and set appropriate boundaries? Being a doormat can be just as damaging to our children as being too controlling. The first chapter of this book explained exactly many of the problems in my home.
- Take the Anatomy of Peace class as taught by the Anasazi Foundation. This is a bit pricey, but I like the idea of being taught by the pros who work with kids every day, who can answer my specific questions.
- Watch the Anasazi Foundation Youtube Parents Playlist– it’s got good stuff.
The good news
I’ve started on everything but the class from the Foundation- and already things are better! I’ve set boundaries with myself about what I can worry about- their life is their’s and so are the good and bad consequences. I’m feeling much less stressed over behavior– and because of that, it’s improved! They are asking for permission BEFORE for a rule/curfew/whatever they need and not for forgiveness AFTER. They have been more responsible, more thoughtful. Things aren’t perfect, but they ARE better–and I never even talked to them about the initial concerns, Mom Rage, or my epiphany. The situation is better not because my child changed– but because I am (slowly) learning and changing.
I’m so grateful you guys– really. I love my child so much and we used to be close. I am seeing a way to get that back.
Thank you. Hit me in the feels. I have a sensitive kid who’s been manipulative, sneeky and passive aggressive lately. In reaction, the rest of us are becoming defensive and sometimes aggressive. I hate the division and I’m worried about it becoming worse.
I feel you! It’s so tricky- and such a natural reaction! These resources have really helped me a lot!
I want to read those books to get ahead of the curve, before I have teenagers! Thanks for the suggestions Jen!
Jewel Busch says
I LOVE this. I will definitely be looking for that book.