"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Friday, May 8, 2009

Daily Rant - Caution - Negativity Ahead

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.


Anonymous said...

You are so right! I was always the uncool parent who didnt let my kids run wild (at least according to my kids), and I very openly told my children I am your parent not your friend get over it.

Janet said...

Is there anything you can do for the spoiled children at all? Other than hope they grow up and figure it all out?


Penny said...

Janet, sometimes intensive individual and family counseling - primarily homebased - is helpful.

The problem in these families are multiple. The respective roles of child and parent have not been developed and that is so important in teaching a child/young person trust, empathy, boundaries, self discipline, insight and respect for others. Indulging a child, too much, doesn't result in a happier one. It frequently undermines their ability to achieve happiness. Part of gaining confidence comes from facing challenges and gradually separating themselves from a parent as they mature. It is the nature of a teenager to push the boundaries. A parent who shies away from setting up consistent rules (that the child may not like) encourages the kiddos to just keep pushing the boundaries to the point of being unsafe. And once over a given line, it is hard to go back. Moreover, they have no parental role model for mature behavior.

These aren't just "bad kids." Many of the parents honestly feel like they have been fabulous parents and that the kid is just ungrateful or a bad seed. Getting them to realize that they are not acting like parents is really tough. For parents like this, it isn't about the child - it is about their own hurt and angry feelings. When the child turns on them, they treat it like a bad break up. And we've all seen how unattractive that can be.

Lots of times these kids end up in residential placements because the parents simply can't control them and they run the streets. The kids need structure to learn consequences and counseling to gain insight. When the parents and children are just screaming at each other in the home and the kids are running loose, the relationship is being really damaged. Time apart can bring things into perspective.

However, many of these parents simply won't change their parenting. It is not possible for many of them to change their mindset from buddy to parent. And if they wait too long, the child is too far down the road to be remotely interested in have that particular person suddenly start acting paternal.

A lot of times we are just trying to keep the kids safe for a couple of years until their brains mature enough to kick in.

Way back in the day, a lot of kids just left home at 16 and made their way in the world. We don't tend to allow that to happen, anymore. I think poor parenting is epidemic but it is certainly not anything new.

Janet said...

Thank you for trying to change the world, Penny. It's an uphill battle.

Have a good weekend.


Diana said...

OMG, you've nailed my husband, his ex wife, and their children to a T. The biggest fights we've had are over his kids, the way they treat him (and his ex), and me saying "You're the dad, ACT like it!".

By the way, I don't think these children are lost. My step-kids, while I don't see much of them, do NOT treat me like they treat their parents. My kids say it's because they know I'll "Flip". They all know I don't care where I am, or how many people are around. If you are disrespectful, I will be LOUD and embarrassing about correcting your behavior. It works, they don't do it around me.

Stephanie D. said...

I've heard parents say that before and always wondered what was wrong with them that they needed their child to be their "best bud". Seems to me the problem predates the arrival of children on the scene.

My daughter is almost 31, and we still aren't "best friends". She has lots of friends. But she only has one mother--and I am that fortunate one.

limpingalong said...

Oh, my, you must be peering over our family shoulder -- your description hit so close to home. I have a grandson who is so like the girl you described. (And, I was totally "uncool" as a mother. It was the next generation that seemed to have problems.)

Nancy said...

Once again Penny, your insight could help so many, think hard about writing parenting books. Diana is exactly right, they do respect authority and sometimes these kids are not completely lost. My daughter had a teammate, raised in in a divorce family where mom felt it was more important to be a friend than a parent. At about 9 she was obnoxious. My husband and I made it clear to her we wouldn't tolerate being spoken to, the way she spoke to her parents. I remember one day telling her I wouldn't let my daughters talk to me the way she just had, and I certainly wasn't taking it from her. That she could either treat me with respect or go away from me and stay away. She went away that day at the ball park, but the next time I saw her and every time after she was the model child to us. She even treated her folks better when around us, because we called her on it when she didn't. That was 10 years ago. While still on the wilder side, she's just completed her freshman year of college. Her folks managed to get their act together somewhat as she got older, and she's a happy ending. It is so sad to see this happening. Our own daughters told us on more than one occasion we were so uncool, but have seen the light and have told us repeatedly they appreciate the way we brought them up. It's not fun being told you're not cool, or they hate you, but it does pay off in the end! Nobody said this parent gig was easy! It's all about respect, and parents have to have self-respect to begin with. How in the world do you teach that to adults?