Has Your Child “Boomeranged”?

Most of us think adolescence ends at the age 18, but the American Medical Association has defined adolescence as going all the way to age 23.  What used to be a period of seven years is now fourteen years!  And for many parents reading this article, this means that your kids may come back home to live with you after college.

We set our kids in motion to live as independent adults, and like a boomerang they just come right back to where they started.  Sometimes it happens for good reasons because of issues outside their control.  But when a child wants to disengage from a normal growth opportunity and fails to establish their own independence, it’s a sign that emotional problems are in play.

It’s been great for Jan and me to be empty nesters.  We love it.  Oh, sure, I like it when the grandkids pop in with their parents, but it’s good when they leave, too.  Gratefully both our son and daughter have established independent lives of their own.

But maybe you’re in a different place.  Maybe you’re dealing with the boomerang effect.  So let me offer some helpful perspective and a couple suggestions.

Welcome Home?

Some kids come home after college until they get a job.  That’s one thing.  And in this economy, finding a job takes much longer than ever before.  So it’s understandable when they need a place to stay while aggressively pursue the next phase in their life.  But when kids get too comfortable in your home and can’t launch from that spot, they’re in trouble.  They can’t get to the next place, and they show their inability to function at a higher level.

Mom and dad, when you take these kids back in, you aren’t doing them a favor.  Parents want to be helpful, but they’re just postponing the inevitable.  I’m talking about when a child wants to avoid growth.  Moving back home becomes a way to avoid the challenge of becoming independent.  A child can try to live like they’re in high school, or have everything provided, or take an “extended vacation.”  We all have a plan for our lives.  When your child comes back home, it’s kind of outside of the plan.

When Coming Home is Healthy

Sometimes, it is healthy for kids to come home.  But just because the reason they come is appropriate doesn’t mean that your transition will be easy.  To help, you need to line out your expectations for your son or daughter and set up some new rules.

To help you get along with your adult children, spend necessary time with them.  But not out of obligation.  Your child doesn’t want to spend time with you if they think it’s a burden.  Love your child in a way they can receive it.  Sit down and talk.  Be a servant to them.  I want to be a servant to anyone who walks in my door.  But being a servant doesn’t mean being a doormat.

You need to build an understanding of how you’re going to live together.  Your child is the new person to the house, even if they’ve lived there before.  So he should fit into your household’s current agenda.  Parents, you need to openly say to your children, “You’re welcome here, but you’ve gotta follow the current game plan.”  Talk to your child before he comes home.  Determine whether they will pay rent or not, whether or not they will be required to work.  There are a lot of times in my life that I haven’t liked what I was doing for work, but I did it because I knew it would strengthen my work habits and would help me financially.

If your child is not following the plan you talked about, and it’s becoming disruptive to the house, you may need to kick your child out.  Sounds harsh, but if you don’t take action, if you allow your child to keep the same attitude, they will find it easy to stay like a child longer.  Not to mention that they may influence the habits and attitudes of your other children.

Adults are adults.  You need to treat them that way.  And if your child isn’t acting like an adult, you may need to push them out.  Every adult’s goal is to live an independent life.  This means moving on to another place.  You need to respect this goal in your child’s life.  If your child doesn’t see the need for this movement, and you don’t act, you are enabling your child’s foolishness.

Parents:  Plan, Act, and Let Go!

If the presence of your boomerang child has become a negative situation, and they’re still enjoying the benefits of living under your roof, then you are probably kidding yourself about their maturity.  You could be justifying their childish behavior.  You’re allowing it to happen.  Kids are hampered by their parents’ inability to act.  I have seen some of these kids at Heartlight, and I think, “You can’t be serious!”  By letting your kids stay at home, you are allowing them to rely on you when the Scripture says we are to train up a child in the way he should go.  Hear that?  Go.  If they stay because of excuses, these kids won’t grow up to be good husbands, good wives, good fathers, or good mothers.  They’ll repeat the cycle with their own kids.

If you are the problem, you need to let go!  Parents, remember that your child is more important than you.  If you aren’t releasing your child to move onto the next step, it’s your issue not theirs.  When you finally let go, let me tell you this;  you’re going to love it!  Where they are going is more exciting than where they have been.  You need to trust God to take care of your kids.

The moment when the prodigal son came back to his senses was right after everybody quit giving him everything.  You need to consider what this means for your family.  Come up with a plan of transitioning your child into the real world.  Move them to a point where they are either in school, working, or waiting for a move to the next step in life.

You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program.  It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens.  Next time, we talk with Family Coach Tim Smith.  Tim, whose philosophy of parenting is “don’t do anything for your children that they can do for themselves,” will share his personal experience and perspective on having children return home.

You can hear Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


When Christmas Joy is Overshadowed by Struggle and Pain

prodigalWith Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably thinking about last-minute shopping or getting your final preparations done.

And then, maybe once those pressing to-do’s are complete, and Christmas is in the rear view mirror, you’ll have a few quiet moments to yourself when you can reflect.  How was the year?  What went well at home?  What didn’t?  What conversations, or conflicts, do I wish I could erase from the year?  And what’s ahead in the new year?

There’s something about the Christmas season that puts us in a nostalgic reflective mood.  It reminds us that God is with us.  It gives us a sense of hope.  But for many people, the holidays stir up all kinds of raw emotions that remind them of their weakness and loneliness.

Reflection Can Bring Pain

At Heartlight, Christmas is a time when we often see a new batch of kids arrive at our residential program.  These kids are in pain.  They have been dropped off by their parents and we often find these kids feeling a mix of anger and failure.  Every family that we see at Heartlight is going through some kind of difficulty.  Christmas is anything but merry to these people.  They are in pain and don’t know where to turn.  And so they have come to Heartlight for help.

When teens begin to act out and express their issues in rebellion and destructive behavior, it places incredible pressure on mom and dad.  It’s a confusing and painful time for the entire family.  Especially when we feel like we’ve done everything right.  We’ve read all the books, followed all the guidelines for happy homes, and yet our kids are struggling and we can’t figure out why.  And we say, Wait a minute!  I’ve checked every box and done what I’m supposed to do.  Why am I not happy?  Why are my kids messed up?  

Owning the Struggle

Allow yourself to struggle with these issues.  Struggle isn’t a bad thing!  It’s important for your kids (and for you) to live with the struggle for a while.  Just because you’ve checked the boxes doesn’t make you a perfect parent.  And you’re not going to be one despite your good intentions.  All of us have fallen short in our parenting skills in some way.  But you can learn to struggle well.

The struggle gives us the answers we need.  Answers will eventually emerge from our confusion if we allow ourselves time to wrestle through the difficult issues.  Instead of filling the holes in our lives with the latest fad on parenting, an oversimplified four-point outline, or shallow advice from well-meaning friends, we need to be okay with the void in our life until we realize that it can only be filled by a relationship with God.

Life is hard.  It is a struggle.  That’s the point.  If we think that we filled the hole with something we did, like a clever parenting strategy or a one-size-fits-all program, then when it fails, we’ll think that we have failed.

The jigsaw pieces of your life will not always fit together like a scenic puzzle picture.  If it does, and we think it does, then we’re on the wrong track.  If there is something in your life that feels okay and perfect, then chances are you are filling the void with something that only God is supposed to fill.

Being With Our Teens in Their Struggle

Depression runs rampant this time of year.  It’s odd that it’s the most joyful time of the year for us as Christians, but for many teens, it’s among the most painful.  When the culture tells us it’s time to be joyful, we can disengage from sons and daughters who are in pain.  When we disengage from our kids, we tell them that they aren’t worthy.  They aren’t worthy of entering into the pain they’re feeling.  They aren’t worthy of working through the problem with them.  They aren’t worthy of the time it will take to engage with them.  If we walk away from their struggle, we tell our teens that they are only good if they are being and feeling good.  There’s something desperately wrong with that notion.

When we telegraph to our kids that they aren’t worthy of our attention, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.  Parents feels like they’re doing something wrong because their kids aren’t okay; the kids feel like they’re alone in the time when they need you the most.  It’s not okay to tell people that everything is okay.  Somewhere we’ve lost the perspective that it’s okay to not be okay.

Christmas:  God’s Response to Our Struggle

When things aren’t okay, we are forced to look to God.  That’s what Christmas is about.  Parents, God sent His Son to fill that empty place inside of us.  In the middle of the struggle, there are a lot of families who are having a wonderful time because of the hope of Christ.  They know that God has given us something to bring these broken pieces together.  Things aren’t always fixed this side of heaven, but we can have hope that the pieces will eventually come together.

Don’t let the sadness and frustrations of the year rob you of the celebration of what God is doing.  Through the first Christmas, God offered His Son to be involved in our life.  When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God told us that He is with us, and He will always be with us.  God is calling us to do the same with our kids.

The Bible helps us enter into the suffering of our family.  There is a path, a way to find joy in the midst of our pain.  That path is not what you might expect.  That path is lament.  Popular recording artist and Bible teacher Michael Card has done a lot of deep thinking about lament and what it’s like to sense this feeling of isolation and loneliness.  You can hear my conversation with Michael on our radio program.  Listen to Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, my friend.  In the midst of our struggles this season, let’s keep our eyes on the One who was willing to walk among us.  Through Christ, we can have hope because He controls our future!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


What if My “Ex” Won’t Hold the Kids to the Same Rules?

When families go through a divorce and the kids end up splitting their time between parents (often called co-parenting), it changes the dynamics of the family, as well as the basic interactions between parent and child.  For parents of teens, this shift can be especially difficult as every member of the family tries to re-discover their role.

Changing Roles of Co-Parents

Co-parents often find themselves in different roles from those they had during the marriage.  Moms are especially affected by this because the dad is usually the disciplinarian in the family. When Dad leaves, Mom needs to develop a new set of skills.

Dads are usually the disciplinarian and authoritarian in the household.  They are the ones who build boundaries and structures that give teens the guidelines they need to help moderate their own actions.  Moms usually do great with relationships.  However, when Mom begins to take on the role that Dad used to play, the relationships can be shoved aside in order to ensure the rules and boundaries are in place.  But, Mom—the relationship you have with your teen needs to remain intact!  Don’t abandon the role you played before the divorce, but instead, find a way to support your teen through balancing discipline, boundaries, and relationships.  This is especially important as you walk through this difficult time together.  Your teen will either look to you for support and help—or he’ll look elsewhere.  It’s up to you.

Interacting with the Other Parent

Just as your role is changing, your relationship with your ex has changed.  And it will continue to change.  Your ex will do things that you don’t like, and this is going to affect you and your kids.  But it’s up to you to determine how much your response will affect your kids.  No matter how you feel about your ex-spouse, you can’t change them.  People are going to do what they are going to do.  Thankfully, that includes you.  You can change how you respond to your ex, your teen, and your changing role as a parent.

The boundaries that you set for your teen, and those that your ex sets, will help your child only if you keep your teen in mind first.  Think about your motivation behind setting a boundary—did you do it for your teen or did you do it as a way to get back at your ex?  And think about what you are saying about your ex—at least what you say in front of your teens.  Did you say that to knock the person down? Did you think about how this could affect your teen?  And if your teen pits your ex’s way of running his household against you, stick to your guns!  There’s a reason for the standards you set; remember that reason.  If you can still talk to your ex and clarify the boundaries you are each using, then take advantage of that.  Men—man up and stop using your kids against your ex-wife.  Women—stop using your kids against your ex-husband.  And kids—stop using your parents against each other.

How Teens Respond

When teens split their time between two parents, a lot of their reaction to mom and dad comes from the parents’ view of each other.  Stop badmouthing your ex in front of the kids.  What you say will form your child’s view of you, your ex, and your child himself.  But it’s not enough just to put up with the other parent—you need to give your child the structure and support that she needs.  That means setting your own standards and rules, making them clear to your teen, and consistently enforcing them.  It’s not enough just to have a conversation about rules.  Your actions and the way that you enforce the standards will affect how your teen responds to you in the future.

When I talk to the kids at Heartlight who have experienced co-parenting, they talk about how they respond well to the structure that their parents have given then.  It’s like me; I don’t like stoplights, and I don’t like stop signs, but I’d hate to live without them.  In the moment, your teen may rebel against you, your ex, and the rules each of you have set.  But Mom—stick to it. Dad—stick to it.  Eventually, your child will come back to you. At that point, it will be the relationship that you have built with your teen that will cushion the blow and help them find their way back to you.