I want you to know how thankful I am for all of you. Your community and caring for one another continues to bless me. I know at times there can be different opinions or different approaches on how to handle various situations, but that only illustrates the messiness of real life and the value of real relationships and real community.
I’m thankful that I hear those differences and disagreements expressed with humility and grace, staying in CORE as you are seeking to learn and understand one another. One of the most important values of this community is that we don’t squash our differences, however when we ask one another hard questions or speak up about something we do it with grace and truth.
I’m out of town again this week and will be speaking at Calvary Chapel in Philadelphia on Saturday morning, December 1 from 9-12. The event is free for women to attend and I would love to see you there if you’re close by. Here is the link, check it out.
Also, I’m doing a brand new free webinar next Tuesday, December 4th on Three Strategies to Move Beyond Victim Mindset into Owner Mindset. You will not want to miss that. To register, click here
This Week’s Question: Three years ago I got divorced from my emotionally abusive husband. He was emotionally and physically abusive to our boys but not our girls. I am having trouble with my kids bullying me. I think they got permission for this behavior from watching him.
I am setting boundaries and taking care of myself and I find my kids having a kind of disdainful attitude toward me at times. The words they use toward me can be disrespectful and sometimes they push me physically out of the way.
This is not all the time but it is still unacceptable. I find myself paralyzed not knowing how to respond to some of their behavior. I have talked with them and taken privileges away. The youngest age 15 goes to counseling and I do too. Please give me any pointers on where to start. Thanks so much.
Answer: You didn’t say how old your other children are or whether or not they are living with you at home.
Adolescents tend to be more disrespectful towards their parents these days. It’s not a new phenomenon, but I do see it getting worse. For example, I hear kids dropping the F-bomb towards their parents, screaming in their face, blatantly disobeying their requests, and sadly this is usually directed more towards their mother than their father, even in homes where they haven’t witnessed abuse going on.
One of a parent’s main responsibilities in rearing children is teaching their children how to manage their own negative emotions in acceptable ways. When a kid throws a temper tantrum at two and starts hitting a parent, ideally a parent firmly but lovingly lets their little one know that his behavior is unacceptable. Yes, he may feel angry but he may not hit, or kick, or bite someone when he’s mad. Period. No exceptions. And there are firm consequences if he continues to behave in those ways.
Now at 15 or 17, it is much harder to enforce consequences that might have been easier to do when he or she was two.
So one question I want you to think through is have your children had trouble, in general, managing their own negative emotions and expressing them appropriately? Do they also have this problem in school, on sports teams, with their peers, when driving, etc.? If so, you may have to backtrack a bit and own your part in not teaching them these skills appropriately. One woman I worked with said to her kids, “I thought it was the right thing to let you express your feelings freely because my parents always made me pretend everything was fine and to stuff my emotions. I didn’t want to do that to you. But in that, I also failed to teach you how to manage your negative emotions in appropriate and acceptable ways. It’s not okay to push me or yell at me or be disrespectful when you are upset. That is an immature way of handling your feelings and it will cost you big time in the real world. I love you and don’t want to see you ruin your relationships with people because you don’t know how to handle your own emotions. I’m just learning the same things now too because although I don’t explode, I implode and it’s just as damaging to me and my relationships to keep everything inside but to get resentful and bitter.”
This mother’s vulnerability and humility in a heart to heart talk with her children helped them think through a little bit more their actions and invited them to take responsibility for managing their own negative emotions in a more mature way.
However, from what you indicate, you fear their behavior is more due to experiencing your husband’s abuse. You fear they got permission to act that way by watching their dad. But I’m wondering if they also got permission by watching how you handled or didn’t handle being treated that way? Did they learn “men act that way and women let them?” Or “husbands act that way and wives just submit?”
It’s true that kids learn how to treat people by watching how their parents interact with one another and with them. You indicate that your husband was physically and emotionally abusive with your boys when he got upset.
Sadly that’s what your boys learned about how a man handles his anger, frustration, fear, or hurt. They may not have liked seeing it as a boy, but as they are now becoming men they are emboldened to have the power that dad had. They learned that men have every right to bully someone or verbally abuse him or her because it’s “the other person’s fault and they made me mad.”
If your girls are also being disdainful and bullying towards you, they may have learned by watching you and thinking, “I don’t want to be passive like mom. Dad had all the power in the family and I’m not going to let myself be powerless like mom was.”
You say that even now you feel “paralyzed” on how to handle it, yet you are setting boundaries and implementing consequences. So when do you feel paralyzed and when do you not?
You say your kids don’t act this way all the time. So when is it not happening?
When do they treat you kindly? Respectfully? Lovingly? Or even just politely? Is it usually when they want something from you? Or is it when they want you to give up one of your boundaries?
Can you think of times when you interact like a normal family does and you observe positive behavior that isn’t just to manipulate you? Do they ever show concern for your well-being? Are they doing extra chores when you’re tired? Or do they offer to help you around the house? If so that’s a good sign and shows that they are capable of healthy interactions and care about you as a person.
However, if their more positive or charming qualities are primarily used in the service of their own selfish agenda, I’d be concerned about that. Yes some of them are still teenagers which is an age of selfishness, but from what you said, most of them are older than 15 and therefore should be showing some signs of growing through that phase.
So your question is where do you start? You’re doing great by having boundaries and consequences around their abusive and disrespectful behavior but apparently, there aren’t severe enough consequences to motivate changes in their own behaviors.
I’d also go back and try to figure out more about the times they don’t act like that? Identify what’s different about those times and try to maximize those family experiences (unless they are simply nicer because it works to manipulate you).
Third, I would be very firm and consistent in the consequences of their behavior. Do you turn off their cell phone for the day? Do you refuse to drive them to where they want to go when they treat you that way? Not just for the moment, but for the day?
Last, this is one of my own boundaries, and it may not be yours. But I said to both my children and my husband, “I was abused in my childhood and I decided that I would NEVER again live with another person who abused me.” They knew I meant it. If your other children are over 18 years old, you may consider that boundary for yourself. Or if they are under 18, require them to go live with their father if they continue to treat you this way.
There is no reason you should allow yourself to be victimized or bullied and pushed around by your own children. It is not good for you, but it is also not good for them for you to allow them to do that without serious consequences. Click To Tweet
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