I remember the event vividly. One of my sons did something that that had me questioning whether I could trust him. He had done something that was against our family rules; it was something that could have negative consequences to him and we had been explicit in explaining the reason for our decree.
But he did it anyway.
And someone else saw him do it and told us.
Definitely an act that had us questioning his integrity.
Ugh! I hate those parenting situations.
So what do you do when your teen disobeys you?
- Confront in love. For us, we sat with our son and once again explained the reason for our family rule. Thankfully he admitted that he was wrong and seemed repentant for his actions.
- Determine consequence if any. Based on our particular situation we didn’t actually issue a consequence. As our son had legally just become an adult, we chose to put a boundary in place instead. It went something like this, “We understand that because you are an adult you want to push our limits and make your own choices. What you did was not a good choice and it impacted what others now think about you. You have to decide if you are a good kid or want to be seen as a rebel. The rule remains in effect for each of you kids and it is there because we love you and want the best for you. Right now we don’t trust you. Your job is to rebuild trust with us. Do you understand? It means obeying the rules especially when it comes to this one.”
- Love but be on alert. We went back to the way things had always been. We assumed the best yet kept our eyes open for signs that our son wasn’t living up to the family expectations.
And about a month later, he was caught again.
Really? Did he not learn his lesson?
I had one of those mom hunches but really didn’t believe he would do it again. After all, he is typically a responsible kid.
But, yes, he was caught.
And he got angry when confronted.
“I’m 18. I’m an adult. I have a right.”
“Yes, honey, those things are all true. However, you are still living under our roof. We pay the bills. And as long as you stay here and we feed you, clothe you, and provide transportation for you, you need to submit to our rules.” I’ll admit I was upset, but I tried to say this in the most calm, controlled voice I could muster.
With that the accusations started. You know the ones. The anger, the blame, the “you can’t do that”, and whatever else he could think of came tumbling out of his mouth.
It was hard, but I chose to stand firm. The scripture verse kept rambling around in my head, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’.”
Once again I challenged him on his disobedience, the cover-up of his actions, and the lie. I told him that he was supposed to be rebuilding trust yet it was fractured more than ever. And I told him he had a decision to make. He could either choose to obey or choose to be an adult on his own.
And he walked off with continued anger.
We tried to talk with him, but his anger continued to spew every time we were with him.
And then the silent treatment came. He refused to talk with us even when spoken to. Dinner was eaten in silence. An encounter in the hall was met with a glare.
We tried to talk about the situation, but his emotion still remained out of control. It went on for an entire day and I was emotionally drained. How could this kid act this way? I wanted to get angry back. I wanted to tell him all the reasons he was wrong.
And then I remembered some things about anger and emotions that a wise counselor once told me.
- We all have to work through our emotions.
- Working through our emotions takes time.
- When we lose something that we think is important to us we need time to grieve the loss.
- The best thing a parent can do is give our kid space when they are angry at us.
So I silently waited. I would communicate “here’s what we’re doing tonight” kind of information to him and continued to love him, but I didn’t demand he respond. I didn’t tell him he was being rude and disrespectful. I–silently–waited.
Not one day, not two days, but three and a half days later in the kitchen I noticed that he spoke to me. It was a random question about dinner.
He carried on a conversation at dinner with the family.
And then two days after that, when it seemed that he had worked through his emotions, we talked. He let me know how he was feeling. He shared why he responded as he did. And I apologized for making him angry.
Notice I didn’t apologize for my actions. I apologized for how I made him feel.
And then we moved on.
He knew he needed to rebuild trust. We talked about our need for him to tell the truth and not cover up his disobedience. We had already talked about the consequences of his second offense and talked about our expectations of his future behavior.
And we diligently watched.
Parenting can be a difficult, heartbreaking road to travel when our kids do the unexpected. It can send us into the emotional abyss if we can’t pull our own emotions into perspective. Time and vigilance are needed to get to the other side of the event so that the relationship can be rebuilt.
Dare you to look at your own trying times with your kids and allow time and space to put out the flames that ignited the anger.
“Let go…and Let God”,
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