Don’t read today’s post unless you are in the mood for a sour rant. I don’t even have pretty puppy pictures because the days and days of rain have turned the yard and the girls into mud and mud carriers. Perhaps that has contributed to my attitude this morning.
Probably the toughest cases I get as a Guardian ad litem are the ones where the child, frequently a daughter, has no respect for her parents. She won’t follow their rules. She calls them the coarsest names. She stays out for days at a time when she feels like it. She gets physically abusive towards them. Substance abuse and promiscuity tend to be part of the landscape. She has utter and complete disdain for her parents and flips them off if they try to reason with her. She isn’t fair. She lacks any real insight or maturity, even taking into consideration her age. She won’t go to school and blames the school for not being interesting. If a parent lifts a hand to her, she calls Child Protective Services and gloats at them behind the back of the investigator or the police officer. If a parent tries to ground her, she leaves. If a parent tries to pull rank on her, she laughs in their face.
In my experience there is one common denominator that results in a child like this. Abuse? Hell no. Abused children are much more apt to constantly be on edge, forgive their parents, repeatedly, and work like the dickens for their approval hoping that parent will love them. Bless their broken hearts.
The common denominator that I hear in most cases with a disrespectful child can be summed up in this typical comment by the parent: “I don’t understand what happened to her. We used to could talk about anything. She and I used to be best friends until she hit puberty.”
Here is the bad news. Absent a lot of work by the family, these children are never going to be able to have a long-term healthy relationship with anyone. She will bounce through life with a sense of entitlement and no insight into why other people aren’t at her beck and call. She’ll emotionally abuse everyone that gets close to her. Of course, by virtue of the strength of personality, she will be able to surround herself with people willing to put up with her abuse – for a time. She will tend to be selfish and insensitive. If she gets into a jam – and she will - she’d never dream of going to her parents for advice. However, she’ll have her hand out and demand money or other assistance without a moment of angst. She will frequently decide she is a victim and that her parents owe her happiness. And she will insist that they pay and pay and pay.
It is wonderful to have an open relationship with your child as long as she understands that you won’t tolerate everything for fear of shutting off communication. When a parent abdicates their role as parent in favor of being a buddy, they’ve denied their child their birthright. It is no wonder the child is enraged. I hear parents, constantly, whose 12 or 13 year old child tells them they are sexually active. The parents take a big gulp, nod and discuss birth control. They don’t tell the child to cut it out because they fear that will cut off communication. Same with pot. Same with alcohol. These parents will put up with anything and not put their foot down until the child turns on them. Then, it’s personal. That is when it hits the fan. They can tolerate a young teen that drinks, smokes, snorts, skips school and is promiscuous but when their child looks them in the eye and tells them they hate their guts – and they mean it – the parent feels betrayed. After all, haven’t they always been there for the child? Haven’t they always given them what they wanted?
You betcha. You were their very best friend. Unfortunately, you denied them a mother (or father).
Most of us managed to survive having a mom or dad that was uncool in the extreme. Avoiding the wrath of Mom is a rite of passage. It gave us an excuse to not jump off a cliff when the rest of our friends did until we grew enough maturity to decide on our own that jumping off cliffs is insane. Oh sure, we lied to mom/dad when we did something stupid but only when we were pretty sure we could get away with it – which usually meant it wasn’t too far outside the bounds of correctness. To be a sneak was simply a question of immaturity – not bad training or ignorance. And we sure didn’t have a parent that celebrated our stupidity (Woo hoo! Do you kids want some Everclear to go with the orgy?) in the name of being our buddy. Immaturity passes. Bad training tends to stay with us. So does good training.
Young children don’t need a parent who is their buddy. They need a mom and/or dad. The parents who are more worried about whether their child “likes” them than setting rules, boundaries and appropriate consequences has no busy having children. Harsh, yes. Very. But parenting is not just a family affair and it isn’t just about a parent’s emotional need to be liked. When you bring a child into this world, you have a responsibility to her and to the community. And the parent betrays the child when they don’t pony up.
They used to call it “spoiling” a child when you gave in to him all the time (usually to make life easier for yourself, short-term). Think rotten fruit. Think sour milk. Think putrid meat. Parents who spoil a child do the human equivalent to another human being when they send them out into the world without bothering to be their parent.
Here is the good news: No wait, there really isn’t any. If it gets to court, we usually give these parents parenting classes and home based counseling. Sometimes, if things have not progressed too far, it helps. Usually, it is just a band aid, candidly. The damage is done. Parents who suddenly expect Susie Q to cease being sexually active, go to school and come home by curfew are usually laughed at. The child has never been taught to respect his parent’s judgment or authority isn’t about to start, now. And these parents don't understand the need to be consistent. They are like a spurned lover begging their ex to come back.
If these kids end up in trouble with the courts and placed on probation, these parents are so twisted up in their notions of good parenting that they frequently cover for their child breaking the rules in their never ending quest to try to suck up to their child. So they frequently lie to the probation officer in hopes that by creating a common enemy, their child will love them, again.
Suckers. Just ask the kids. Who will simply despise them more for their weakness and dishonesty.
Alternatively, when the child turns on her parent, it is the equivalent of a messy divorce. The parent feels enraged that their ungrateful child doesn’t appreciate how good to them they always were. The parent becomes mean, nasty, bitter and a big-time martyr. They want to wash their hands of the obnoxious child much the way clueless dog owners with a 90 pound life support for teeth and a bladder want to drop it off at the pound.
So there you have it. The cheery post of the day.
Young parents, put your foot down and hug your kid. They need both.
Off to shampoo carpets.