As our children grow into adulthood, we become increasingly helpless to stop them from making choices that could lead to serious consequences. We’re in this season with one of our children. What do you do when you realize you can no longer stop them from doing what they want?
I remember the first time my child did something that led to a serious outcome. It was the summer he was 13 years old. He was enrolled in a day camp in the neighboring town to our home. In the middle of the day, during the second week he attended, we were called to pick him up suddenly in the middle of the day. He became physically aggressive with another camper.
We later received word that the other camper’s parents had filed a report with the police. A few days later I had to drive my child to the police station where he met with a detective for about 45 minutes. It was serious. He was scared. And I thought it would make an impression. Often, children who have experienced severe trauma, have difficulty rationalizing choices and consequences and our son was no exception.
Throughout his life, his impulsivity has put him in potentially dangerous situations. A few times, the police were involved. Because we care, and love him deeply, we have spent most of his life, redirecting, explaining, setting up safeguards, and trying to control the outcomes. It was exhausting. And it was often felt defeating Now, as he’s grown we find keeping him from doing the wrong thing, even more difficult.
It can be an extremely helpless and hopeless feeling. Danger is one thing. Of course, we will do whatever it takes to keep him safe. But what about the choices that won’t put him in danger, just possibly get him in trouble?
What do you do when you find yourself in a position like this? How do you standby helplessly and watch your child make choices that could lead to consequences that are out of your control?
The Friendship Of Natural Consequences.
A few years ago we were interviewing our good friend Ruth Graham, who is a trauma-trained therapist, for a Live Q&A segment we host bi-monthly for our virtual support site Oasis Community. One of the questions that came in from a member centered around a child who was now in her late teens/early 20’s, had an FASD, and was out on her own. “What if my daughter melts down at her job, and starts to do the same things she did when she was at home?” the person asked Ruth. Her answer back surprised us.
“Our children are going to have to learn to live in a real world, with real consequences. And when that day comes, there’s little we can do to stop their choices. We can pray for them, guide them to the best of our ability, but at the end of the day, if they choose to do what they want, or say what they want to someone in authority, they are going to face the music.”
In an odd sort of way, this reality both brings peace, and releases us from ultimate responsibility when it comes to our children’s choices. Our kids will grow up and live and (hopefully) work in a real world, with real boundaries, real rules, and real consequences, that are out of our control. I don’t hope for natural consequences to happen to my son. Let me be clear. I love him and care deeply for him. But I can’t keep natural consequences from happening if he makes the wrong choice.
If you continue to reject the healthy foods and instead, eat junk when you’re not under our supervision, you’re going to gain weight, feel sick, and potentially have diabetes down the road.
If you choose to take something you didn’t pay for from a store, you are going to get caught and prosecuted.
If you choose to sleep all day during class, you’re going to fail and not move on to the next grade.
If you choose to not bathe properly, you are going to stink and other children may say something that hurts your feelings.
Natural consequences are hard but they can be our friend, teaching our children things first hand that are difficult for them to understand in the abstract.
We can’t bubble wrap them but we can be there to catch our children when they hit hard because of a natural consequence. We have an opportunity to love them and support them while they walk through the fire.
You Can Only Control What You Can Control.
A few months back, when my child was doing the opposite of what we had asked him to do, and we were feeling the urge to try and control matters, or make him do what we wanted him to do (to no avail), I suddenly had this thought…
I can only control what I can control.
I can’t physically make him do anything, but I can guide him while he makes his choices. I can’t force him but I can control myself and the environment to the best of my ability. “I can only control what I can control.”
Here’s an example…
A few weeks ago, my son was set to meet with a therapist but refused to leave home. I can’t pick him up and move him but I can remove the remote control to the television. I didn’t wave it around as a threat, just slipped it into my backpack and went to wait in the car. I can’t make him get in the car, but I can remove myself as the audience and I can remove the fun things that might tempt him to stay at home. In the end, he calmed down, got in the car and we weren’t more than 5 minutes late!
This one realization has released me from the stress of feeling like I have to control every single choice he makes all the time. Because, simply put, I can’t! Sure you feel like you’re out of control at times by only controlling what you can control, but in the end, it releases you from entering into potentially bigger battles with your child.
I know you care for your child. I know you love them. I love my children too, and I don’t want anything ill to fall upon them. But there’s a point when I have to stop and say, “I can no longer bubble wrap this kid.”
All I can do is build trust, love them, care for them, continue to show up for them, and work to connect with them on a daily basis.
Question: Are you in this season with your child? Have you struggled to control their choices? Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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