A letter to a distraught Mom with a “kicking and screaming” daughter
My reply to a desperate Mom who wrote on a blog response to Hurt 2.0:
“Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 19 – 8:33am:
What is in your book is all very true, however, what happens when our best isn’t good enough? Do I drag her out of the house kicking & screaming? She’s been asked time & time again & knows it’s an open invitation to talk, but she won’t talk! Where am I failing her? I don’t want her to be like me! I love her, but I don’t know how to get through to her.”
“…drag her out kicking and screaming…”
Thanks for writing your comment. I just received this, but I do want to take this opportunity to respond to you.
I’m sure that life right now feels desperate and frustrating. As a parent I can so easily identify with how you are feeling. Once those kids are born, and even before that, they never stop making your heart sink as well as soar!
But, if it’s okay, let me invite you to consider how your daughter is feeling.
Anytime we hit a crossroads with our kids, about anything, it is vital to remember that there is always a deeper issue and/or reason beneath the struggle, and often even the child or adolescent doesn’t understand it himself or herself. In the book that my wife (a marriage and family therapist) wrote on parenting, Disconnected: Parenting Teens in a MySpace World (I know, I know), we talk about how to think of parenting as a marathon not a sprint. In light of that, as parents it is our role to work hard to work at two things: first, seek to understand what is the underlying issue (or issues) that is driving our kid’s struggles or issues; and secondly, to make sure – regardless of fault or seriousness of the issue at hand – we respond rather than react as a default with compassion (from the Latin words, cum pati, which mean to suffer with another).
Our encouragement to you in this circumstance – and I am sure that there is much more history and nuance to this situation than I know – is to concentrate on being a student of your child. This means as much as is in your control to make sure that you do not lose your cool, say things that will come back to hurt one or both of you, and to maintain your place as the stable and secure adult in the relationship. You are there for her, and the more you can in your affect – your words, your countenance, and even your attitude – let her know that as frustrated or out of control she may get she can count on you not to lose it.
This means, above all, seek to be a good listener she can ultimately rely on once the emotions are settled down.
That is your first and most important role as a parent. A more long term strategy, but almost as important, is to bring lots of people alongside of you as a family and that includes her. Anyway you can, it is a key parental role to find and invite other adults to come alongside of our children (and, obviously, to come alongside of others’ kids) not for the purpose of “speaking into” her life (every adolescent has known nothing else than adults speaking at her) but to connect with her with sincere, authentic, and regular kindness and friendship. Finally, as you as the adult set and adjust necessary boundaries for how she makes decisions and lives her life, the more you can include her in the process of choosing for herself, along with you, you will give her the skills and support she needs to learn how to do that on her own. Although many parents are uncomfortable at first with this, your daughter must learn how to negotiate what she wants and is willing to own for herself. The more you force her to look or be or do what you want her to, the less she will be able to grow into a person that is capable of that for herself (colleges are loaded with freshmen who never learned how to live life without their parents telling them what to believe, how to act, how to navigate relationships, or even what to wear!
Parenting is rarely easy, or even not all that fun at certain points and seasons, but in the long run because of your respect for her, your belief that she actually has a voice and mind that deserves empowering over time, she will eventually – and it may take years – welcome you into her journey of self-discovery and self-agency. Hopefully, through modeling of you and others, and in seeing the love of God in people around her, she and the Holy Spirit will make peace, and she will find herself living as a beloved and powerful daughter of Jesus Christ, her hope and her friend (John 15).
I hope this helps!
CHAP CLARK, PhD, is professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Seminary and president of ParenTeen, Inc. Chap has authored or coauthored several books, including the award-winning HURT 2.0: INSIDE THE WORLD OF TODAY’S TEENAGERS, STICKY FAITH, and ADOPTIVE YOUTH MINISTRY: INTEGRATING EMERGING GENERATIONS INTO THE FAMILY OF FAITH. Chap and Dee live in Washington and have three grown children.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.