QUESTION: My husband and I are totally baffled and shocked by our 19-year-old son’s behavior. He has been a great student all the way through school, never caused us any problems and was the “model” child. Now we’ve just found out from one of his best long-time friends that he is taking drugs. His friend does not take drugs and is quite concerned about our son. We knew something was going on because his grades dropped dramatically his first year of college.
What to do is the question – an intervention? What? Please help us decide what we can do to get our son back on the right track.
~ Greatly Concerned Parents
Dear Greatly Concerned Parents,
There are at least three things I know of that influence a kid’s decision to do drugs: peer pressure, rebellion or simple self-discovery. Given that your boy has been, in your own words, a “model” child without prior problems and always excellent in school, I’m guessing the last of the three options might be in play.
Sometimes peer pressure can prompt action toward self-discovery, but you say his regular friend is bringing the concern, not the pressure. Knowing these few facts, all I can offer is to suggest that you treat your son as the adult he is and calmly broach the subject with him. Nothing works better than good old communication, especially if you can refrain from getting too emotional about the issue. Tell him that you know about his dabbling in drugs and that you want to know if there is a problem. Talk with him, not at him. Hear what he has to say. Don’t let him get away with denial if you’re certain that his friend is a credible witness, but at the same time refrain from being overly scolding and corrective. Rather, ascertain the facts; get his answer to your concern, then mold your response accordingly. Tell him what rules you wish him to abide, and why. Give him a suggested course as you would like it, but understand that he is not you. What he does while living under your roof (if that is the case) is to your advantage, but keep in mind the words of Scripture: “As for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord” (Eph 6:4 CEB). Other translations say, “don’t ‘exasperate’ your children.”
Your son is 19, so deal with him as a young man and not as your “baby,” and really try to hear his perspective. Let this issue bring you to a new level in your relationship rather than allow it to pull you apart.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Dear Greatly Concerned Parents,
Your son has an awesome safety net in you and in his good friend. Not every young person has people ready to catch them when they fall, and with the resources to offer second chances. He is blessed.
Now let us talk about the shape of that blessing in the days to come. Summer provides a good break in the usual rhythm of things, providing time to talk, perhaps even in some other settings. If he is not home for the summer, consider going to get him home for the summer.
Your first work will be that of careful listening. If I were you, I’d have to swallow my first instinct, which is to yell something along the lines of, “You are wasting your life! I am not paying for this!” – both of which may be true, but can be better said.
You’ll need to insist on a family conference – maybe more than one. Start with love rather than accusation. What is going on with your grades, son? Is it possible that this college is not a good fit? We are worried that you are into stuff that is taking you down the wrong path.
You and your husband should have some ideas beforehand about what you are and are not willing to do going forward. If drugs are actually involved, then what? If the college is too challenging socially or academically, then what? If you find out that something traumatic has happened in your son’s life, sending him into a tailspin, then what? Be prepared to guide with love and then, no matter how much pushback you get, your son will know himself to be blessed.
QUESTION: I divorced an abusive man five years ago and am now married to a wonderful, caring loving man. I have a son (I’ll call him Steven – not his real name) from my first marriage who is now 7 years old. His father has him every weekend. Every time my son returns home, his discontent is apparent. His father puts ideas into his little head that are making him unhappy and argumentative.
My second husband and I have a little girl Jolene (not her real name) who is 2 years old. When our little girl was born, my son’s father told him, “You are the baby, and you’ll always be the baby.” Here he is, 7 years old and his father is still calling him baby.
Although we treat both children equally and my husband is a great stepfather, it seems we have to bend over backwards to keep Steven happy.
Two questions: Is there anything I can say to Steven’s father that will help him understand how what he says is affecting Steven’s behavior? And, although we correct and remind him, is there any constructive way to help Steven understand that as part of our family we would like him to act appropriately toward his sister and the rest of the family?
~ Mom Caught in the Middle
Children are molded and shaped by observing their parents. Your relationship with Steven’s father and Jolene’s father affects a lot in terms of Steven’s behavior and shaping him as an individual. I’d like to suggest that instead of bending backwards to make Steven happy, you focus more on modeling a healthy and good relationship with your husband and children. Children do need to be taught wrong versus right and they do better when things are more clearly spelled out and boundaries are clearly set.
I think you are confusing him more when you try to bend your back to please this boy. You shouldn’t compete for Steven’s love with the ex-husband for it will be most harmful to Steven.
1) To your first question, accepting the reality that you have no control over your ex-husband’s behavior, you can still share your concerns with him regarding Steven’s behavior. I would let him know that you are in this (raising Steven) with him as a partner and as a best teammate to do what is best for Steven. And that you want to not only do best for Steven but also support Steven and his father’s (ex-husband) relationship. I think what concerns me is your relationship with the ex-husband. I wouldn’t be so concerned about the name calling of “baby” because that is the tip of iceburg. Meantime, I would refer to both of the children with their names instead of a nickname like “baby” at home.
2) Unhealthy parenting creates unhealthy children. Unhealthy love will eventually hurt our children. Correct discipline done in a proper way over time will do them a favor. Proverbs 23:13 says, “Do not withhold discipline (with love) *from a child.” Also 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go…” I encourage your family to create a list of what are not acceptable behaviors in your house with Steven. Also, together with Steven, create another list of appropriate actions. Once your plan is done and all of you have agreed, all of you sign it, post the list somewhere you all can see.
I bless you to love, care, instruct and discipline Steven with quality and may God help your family through this challenge.
First of all, do tell Steven’s father that his remarks to Steven are not helping Steven but hurting him. Try to say what you need to say in a nice way so as not (hopefully) to receive an earful from Steven’s biological father. I mean, even if the first husband is bitter I can’t believe that he would want to behave in a manner that is detrimental to the development of his son. As my late father used to say, you get more bees with honey rather than vinegar!
As for your second question, keep trying to reassure Steven that he really is an important part of your family. And tell him that you are aware that your current husband is not his father. By the way, your current husband, as sweet as he is, should never try to say that he is Steven’s father; Steven has one father, not two, and both you and he need to refer to Steven’s father as Steven’s father. What does Steven call your current husband? I believe he should call him by his given name and certainly not “Dad” or “Pops” or some other name that tries to signify fatherhood.
And one more thing: you might try to apologize to Steven for putting him in the situation in which he finds himself. Tell him that you acknowledge that your “mistake” in marrying his father has caused Steven his current pain. And you might add, as St. Paul says in Romans 3:23, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, even Steven’s sweet and well-meaning mother. We have all sinned and made mistakes, including
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church