ASK MOM - Let manipulative girl, 14, face monster

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Dear Mom:

Sometimes I wonder if I've unwittingly created a monster. I pride myself on being the dad who listens to his kids and sees their side of things, unlike my own father, who ruled from on high.

From the moment my children were born, my goal was to respect them, not annihilate who they were. I'm the do-it-all-dad, the soccer coach, the family chef and the shoulder they can cry on.

I thought giving everything to my wife and my kids would earn me something. But now, I'm not so sure.

Recently my wife accused me of being spineless because I can't seem to "follow through" on discipline.

Our 14-year-old daughter is an exceedingly bright girl who hasn't yet discovered her passion (outside of going to the mall, texting and talking to friends online). She's never been a problem, but she's not motivated to do her school work; she procrastinates, and then often just blows it off, so often that her teachers are calling us.

This is weird to us. All of her friends are the sporty, straight-A types we thought she'd be, too.

We're at a loss. If we ground her from texting for a week, after a few days of punishment -- during which she boycotts family meals, won't look at me and leaves hate notes about her mother and me around, my chest is about to pop. At that point, she'll come and sit next to me and flash me those baby blues and say how sorry she is for not doing her school work -- and I always cave in, and renegotiate with her.

She's happy, and everything seems better, but then the same problem or a new one pops up. How should I handle this?

-- Monster's Dad

Dear Monster's Dad:

I feel your pain. You sound like an amazing father -- thoughtful and caring. Yet despite your kindness and good intentions, you have a blind spot and are taking on more responsibility for your child's inner development than you should.

Don't despair, however -- it's easier to grow a spine than a heart. When you ground your daughter from texting for a week, stick to it and don't go back on your word. It is your job to help your daughter learn to accept responsibility and do what she's supposed to do. By allowing her to experience consequences, rather than to escape them, you're giving her a gift. You're allowing her to face the real monster -- the one in the mirror. It won't kill her to see that part of herself.

Your problem is that it sort of kills you. Like so many loving parents, you're trying to shield your child from her own dark side. That's not good, because we all have a dark side, and we all need figure out a way to master it.

Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you would like to submit to the Ask Mom panel, send it to catherinehicks@wwub.com. This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE. Cocoon Project SAFE serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consultation and support, call 1-877-339-4179.

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