Mark talked to me about how his son, Brian, 20, was becoming steadily more rebellious and irresponsible. Mark was trying to apply consequences, which included cutting off his previously liberal funding. It was obvious that he didn’t enjoy holding Brian accountable. On each such occasion, Brian vigorously expressed his disapproval and anger toward Mark.
“At some point,” I said, “if Brian keeps up this behavior, you have to be willing to escalate the consequences to whatever level it takes to get through to him. If you don’t, he’ll see your weakness. He will use it as a handle to manipulate you in whatever way he wants. You might even have to tell him to live somewhere other than in your house. Somewhere that he has little to no responsibility for anything.”
“Well,” Mark said, “I know I could never let my son live on the street.”
“Oh, but it might come to that. And if you back off at that point, he’ll have no reason to ever change his behavior.”
As loving parents, it is our job to teach our children to feel loved, to be loving, and to be responsible. Sometimes the means we use to accomplish that end might seem harsh. But if we become tentative about applying a particular consequence, that consequence becomes the stumbling block to our being the parents they need. Effectively, we choose the poison that harms our children.
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