QUESTION: When my father bought a new car, he gave his old one to our 16-year-old son. The stipulation was that our son would pay for the upkeep and insurance on the car.
We’ve included him on our insurance and he hasn’t kept up his end of the bargain. He has a part-time job and can afford to pay his share of the insurance because he doesn’t have any other expenses, except upkeep on the car and gas. I might add the car is in excellent condition. My father took really good care of it. We talked to him about his agreement with his grandfather and shortly after that, he gave us the insurance money. Then we found out his grandfather gave him the money to give to us. This is not okay! We want him to learn responsibility and learn life skills. How do we sort this out without a lot of drama and hurt feelings?
Dear Angry Parents,
Unfortunately there is no way to sort this out without drama and hurt feelings, so you have to pick your battles and minimize the potential damage. Try not to be angry at a child who is immaturely trying to make his way while still developing responsibility. Think about how you most likely were when you were his age. First off, whose name is on the title of the car? If yours, then you have more leverage. If your son’s, and he is over 18, you have to deal with things differently. I suggest talking to your father and finding out if he is on the same page of concern as you. If not, then you have to work exclusively with your son.
At that point, you may want to let your son know if he is not able to pay his insurance in a timely manner, he will have to begin having his own insurance (even at the higher rate) as of a given date (maybe two months down the road). This is the price of becoming an adult. If your father is on the same page, and the car is in your name, then let your son know next month if he is not able to cover his insurance within five days of the date it in which he is supposed to pay you, the car will need to be parked until payment is made (a bar lock on the steering wheel works well for this strategy). If you find you are not able to take either of these steps, then continue to pay his insurance, if the car is in your name, and realize you have lost this battle and need to plan in advance to avoid this scenario in the future.
Children growing into adulthood will make immature mistakes. There will come a time in which the best strategy is to allow him to experience the effects of his lack of responsibility. If this is uncomfortable for you, you have entered into the co-dependent zone and should evaluate how much you are willing to cope with (or afford) his youthfulness.
Many times desiring one’s children to grow also requires a change in parenting tools. Losing your child, as he becomes an adult, is more an emotionally painful experience for parents then it is for children, and they usually don’t even see it until they have their own children. Think about what type of relationship you want to have with your son 10 years from now and what that looks like, and begin to treat him with that image in mind. Will he be renting his own place, married, have children, struggling in his career, etc.? Establishing a level of communication of support (if he desires that as well) is more important than continuing the micromanagement we usually have with our children, as they struggle into adulthood. Making that shift is usually harder on parents then children. Many times children just blindly move forward, cleaning up their missteps as they happen before they develop more mature foresight.
I think the most important thing we can do as parents is to assure our children of our love for them, in spite of their irresponsibility or immaturity. And just because we think we taught them something does not mean they have internalized it and can draw from it until some life experience forces them to find answers to their life (many times after they crash and burn).
Hang in there!
Pastor Terry Neven
Dear Angry Parents,
Call them Millennials, Generation-X’ers, Post-Boomers – it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that those of us with kids who are now driving, and entering the work force, are surprised when we are confronted with their new-fangled attitudes around money and work. I am not an expert on early adulthood in the 21st century, but I have (with a good amount of angst and patience and joy) raised two sons, so I do feel your pain. As parents, we strive to instill good values, a solid work ethic and a healthy lifestyle, that includes an attitude of gratitude for gifts that are given to us. We want our children to become adults who care for others, and make a positive difference in the world. We teach them to live from the examples of people like Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and peaceful revolutionaries like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. Although it was a generous and helpful gesture of your father to give his practically new car to your son, I am wondering if your father set the conditions surrounding that gift, or if you did. Your father seems willing to continue to support your son with the money needed for insurance, while you are upset that your father has circumvented your conditions of the agreement. That has made you feel angry at your son and probably a bit betrayed by your father. You are upset that you have kept your end of this bargain, but your son has not.
So I will ask a few questions to go a little deeper here. What is your son’s motivation to give you the money? What are the consequences (other than you being upset) if he does not give you the money? Does he have other issues or resentments toward you, and is he using this agreement as a way of punishing you?
These are just some clarifying questions you may want to think about. Everyone has their reasons for doing, or not doing, everything. The simplest answer is, of course, to take the car away. Take him off of your insurance policy, and leave it at that. Unfortunately, his argument to you then may be “How do you expect me to get to work and earn any money now without a car?”
I would like to share with you an insight I heard a few years back on the “Dr. Phil” show regarding how to motivate someone to do something that they don’t want to do. He talked about finding their “currency.” Not everyone wants, or is motivated by, money. One of my sons never cared about money, or an allowance, for the chores I asked him to do around the house, so he wasn’t doing them. It was as if I was talking to a brick wall. Then I discovered that his “currency” was art supplies. I could motivate him to do his chores by providing some new art supplies instead of money. It worked well, and then, eventually, he grew up enough to realize that it felt really good to help me around the house, because he was actively being part of the family.
Positive reinforcement works well while kids are learning those life lessons, but sometimes it requires other tools as well. You don’t mention how old your son is, so I’ll assume that he is over 18. It sounds like it is time to treat your son as an adult, rather than as your child who has just put bubble gum in the microwave. I suggest you have a family meeting, including your father, and write up a contract between each of you. Your son must pay for the car, or he has no car. If the amount of money needed for upkeep and insurance is not realistic, then compromise. Everything is expensive these days, and wages have not risen proportionately. Having him pay something is better than nothing. Your father must agree to not bail your son out if he doesn’t meet his financial responsibilities as an adult. That way, expectations and commitments are all written down. It’s a business deal, and no one needs to take it personally, or get angry. Remember that the long-term goal here is to grow a responsible, loving, adult, who honors his word.
Jesus, the Christ taught us the importance of forgiveness, and I believe that if you can to let go of any hurt or judgment relating to your son, you can all move forward in a clean and honest way into your relationship, and your new agreement. Love, with good healthy boundaries, always wins.
Rev. Karen Mitchell
QUESTION: We’ve been married five years and, after four miscarriages, my husband and I have decided to adopt. Interestingly enough, had we successfully had our own child, we would have had to accept the gender of that child. Now my husband is saying he only wants to adopt a boy and he has to be a newborn because he has heard horror stories of adopting older children. I just want to be a mom and complete our family with one, two or even three children. My concern is my husband’s preferences will lengthen the process and I just want to get a child into our home.
Is there any way I can sway his rigid point of view?
~Frustrated To-be Mom
Dear Frustrated To-be Mom,
The good folks at the wonderful Crescenta Valley Weekly are pretty sharp. They know somehow that I am exactly the person to deal with this question. My wife and I dealt with similar issues.
First, let me say how sorry I am about the about those four previous heartbreaks. That’s what they were, heartbreaks. We were told to adopt also. I tell you this so that you don’t think I’m some unfeeling clergyman, making stuff up on the fly for the newspaper.
Second, let me level with you. I admit the problem before you is very difficult but the principle involved is simple. Sit down and swallow hard. Here it comes: Your passion for being a mommy as soon as possible does not trump your husband’s feelings. You’ve asked me for advice about how to sway his rigid point of view. Wisdom argues for swaying your rigid point of view. Hear me now: Adopting a child is something you must agree on. You cannot, cannot proceed in bringing a new life into your home without being in complete agreement.
Have you ever been the babysitter of a friend’s bratty kid? The giant gulf between that experience and minding one of your own precious kids is analogous to this. What if one parent feels manipulated and bullied about adoption? That’s a tragedy! Loving husbands will agree to a lot just to make their wives happy. If you get your way, how will you feel later if you see up close the results of an adoption that he only acquiesced to? But then it will be too late. Take this to the bank: Every child deserves and needs an excited daddy.
Third, have you considered that God may be speaking through your husband’s wishes? Have you considered that he might be right? I don’t know your marriage but if you two disagree, is he automatically wrong? I tell husbands all the time to consider their wives’ feelings. Please consider his. Respect his opinion in this matter. Trust that the God of new life has given you a partner who is able to see things down the road for your good. Ask God for the grace to do a hard thing for the sake of the man that you love. It was for such a time as this that God brought you together. Lean on him now. Trust him. Cry out to God.
Rev. Jon T. Karn
Dear Frustrated Mom to-be,
What a complex and challenging question and one I have no easy answer for. Rather than challenging your husband or trying to sway his point of view, what I’m curious about is what lies underneath his rigid stance of wanting only a male newborn child? Your assessment seems right on, that having these kinds of demands would hold up a process that is already lengthy and can be expensive. Might he be struggling with some unconscious fear or trepidation, something he isn’t even aware of? The spiritual answer is in getting to the bottom of what is motivating his position and that might be where I would spend my time.
Making a decision about adoption makes the whole idea of having a child very concrete, in a way that is different than getting pregnant and having nine months to get used to the idea of bringing a child who is going to turn your lives upside down into the world. Adoption can take months or years, and there are these very determinate steps you must take to bring a baby into your lives. It sounds like you have finally come to the decision to make adoption your chosen way of completing your family. Maybe pursuing some counseling would be in the best interest for the two of you and your relationship. My experience has shown me that what we think is the thing isn’t the thing, and that what is the thing is all stuff we are afraid to look at … the stuff that shows how vulnerable and afraid we really are. Down there, with the vulnerability and fear, that’s where God is, where healing is, where we really need to direct our attention.
I am keeping you, your husband and your child-to-be in my thoughts and prayers. Peace to you.