Johnny’s basically a good kid—just trying to get it together.
If only I had a dollar for every parent who has said that to me!
The only trouble is that for Johnny, “getting it together” doesn’t happen until he wakes up, usually well into the day, at which time he eats (leaving the dirty dishes in the sink), then spends time playing video games or surfing My Space on the Internet, or wondering why his mother didn’t get around to washing his clothes yet.
It’s hard for some parents in pain to recognize and admit that who and what our children used to be is not who and what they are now. Many of our adult children are emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, socially, and spiritually stunted. Many are so rebellious our hearts repeatedly break, and still others are dangerously fragile, hanging on by a thread. Some have gone from smoking pot to selling it; from destroying their own lives, to taking others with them. Many of these adult children have cost their parents their marriages, their jobs, their financial health, their sanity… and in some cases even their faith in God.
We must come to grips with reality: our children’s radical “rebellious streak” isn’t just a phase that will go away. However, that doesn’t mean they are lost causes. As long as our adult children are alive, there is still hope for their redemption, salvation, and return. Restoring ruined dreams and reclaiming wasted years is what God does best, as Joel 2:25 so lovingly promises: “For I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten.”
We do not parent as people who have no hope. We have a God who watches after our children—if we’ll just get out of his way and let him do the restoring. But to get to restoration, we must start with the truth of where we are: Those once innocent children grew into the jaded and unmotivated adults they are today under our parental watch.
For many enabling parents in pain, the decline of character in our adult child did not occur overnight. The progression has been happening for many years, in many instances right under our noses. The view many of us have of our adult child is often of the precious son or daughter we raised—an innocent babe filled with potential, eager to please. This distorted view is not helping him to become the adult God wants him to be. To get past this, we must become objective while retaining an ability to love. Being able to see our situation clearly is critical as we move forward.
The following might be a painful exercise. Carefully read the list of personality traits and ask yourself this question: “Does my adult child possess any of these traits?” Be honest. You are doing no one, least of all your adult child, any favors by sugar-coating the painful reality. Is your adult child really “a good kid?” If you are unable to be objective, ask someone close to the situation to help. However, don’t get angry if that person tells you things you don’t want to hear.
1. Irresponsibility—repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments: not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.
2. Failure to accept responsibility for actions—reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, efforts to manipulate others through denial.
3. Lack of realistic, long-term goals—an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.
4. Impulsivity—the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation or considering consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.
5. Superficial charm—the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, and slick; not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything; never gets tongue-tied and has freed himself from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example; often very articulate and can be extremely well-mannered when he wants to be.
6. Grandiose self-worth—a grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart; an arrogant person who believes he’s a superior human being.
7. Parasitic lifestyle—an intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities.
8. Poor behavioral controls—expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.
9. Need for stimulation (prone to boredom)—an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky; often has low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because he gets bored easily.
10. Pathological lying—can be moderate or high; in moderate form, he will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever (in extreme form, he will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest).
11. Conning and manipulative—the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from impulsivity (item 4) in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of others.
12. Lack of remorse or guilt—a lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of others; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, non-empathetic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims (i.e., parents).
13. Shallow effect—emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.
14. Callousness and lack of empathy—a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, tactless.
15. Promiscuous sexual behavior—a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; if a son, he may have fathered numerous children; if a daughter, multiple unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and using abortion as birth control.
16. Many short-term relationships—a lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital.
17. Juvenile delinquency—behavior problems between the ages of thirteen and eighteen; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.
18. Criminal versatility—a diversity of types of criminal offenses (regardless of whether he has been arrested or convicted for them); sometimes taking great pride at getting away with crimes.
Okay, brace yourself, Mom and Dad. If you answered yes to several of these, you may be surprised to learn that all eighteen traits are actually the “clinical traits” of someone possessing what professionals now refer to as an “antisocial personality disorder,” formerly known as sociopathic behavior.
A sociopath has something wrong with his conscience—either he doesn’t have one or it’s severely fragmented or corrupt. Today, politically correct psychologists often call this a “character disorder,” defined typically as people who don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions and lives. As with any psychological disorder, there are varying degrees to which a person is affected. Yet regardless of the degree to which our adult children possess these alarming traits, they are not beyond our prayers. On the contrary, now is the time we must pray all the harder. Pray and plan.
Yes, by setting in motion a plan whereby we cut the cord of enablement, we are releasing them into a world where they can sink or swim, but we are also releasing them into a world where we can all, parents and children alike, fully realize the power of God to work in miraculous ways to bring his children out of bondage and into a life of utter freedom and peace.
Only God can erase the bitter and painful memories our adult children carry in their mind and heart…and I am not God. Neither are you. We must get out of the way and let God do what only he can. We must temper compassion for our children with wisdom, and we must not confuse compassion with sentimentality.
Although it’s often too late for prevention when it comes to our adult children, it’s never too late for redemption. Our only refuge is in God’s grace and mercy. Restoration and blessing will come after judgment and repentance. He might not be a “good kid” at this point in time, but he is still “God’s kid.” Though the devil may seem to have won a skirmish or two, the battle is still the Lord’s.
If you’re a hurting parent who dearly loves your adult child but longs to see him at last take responsibility for his life, please take a moment to watch the video “But he’s a Good Kid” (Episode 11) on the audio/video page of our web site. It could save your sanity—and maybe even your adult child’s life.
# # #
Adapted from Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children, Six Steps to Hope and Healing by Allison Bottke © 2008. Harvest House Publishers. All rights reserved.