Why guilt and neglect are spreading family dysfunction...

Photo Credit:  Max Newhall

Photo Credit:  Max Newhall

Ariana* is angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed by her 15-year-old son's complete lack of respect...not to mention the fact that he lies about EVERYTHING! His lying began, as far as she could tell, about a year ago when she found some cigarettes in the drawer under his bed while putting his clean clothes away one day.  At first she panicked...then, after talking with her husband, they decided she would confront James* about what she'd found.  James seemed a little rattled at the time, but told her they were a friend's and he'd never smoked before...actually, he claimed he'd forgotten he had put them in the drawer several months earlier.  Ariana believed her son. 

Until she caught him in a lie again a few weeks later.

It was a warm spring morning in May when James told his mom he was going to his friend John's house right from school to work on a science project, he promised to be home in time for dinner.  Six o'clock came and went, Ariana began to worry since it was out of character for James not to show up, or to neglect answering his phone.  When he did come through the back door (at 7:30), she was angry, ready to pounce because she'd worked herself up into a solid worry about whether or not he was safe or what might have happened to him.  Ariana let James know, in no uncertain terms, that it wouldn't happen again.  

Ariana, though annoyed, chalked the situation up to one of those "boys will be boys...teens are often negligent at keeping time" explanations, until the following week she was mortified to learn (from a friend of hers, whose son had told his mom, who then told her) that James had actually been over at the home of a girl whose parents were out of town!  A girl Ariana knew James had interest in.  She was embarrassed in front of her friend and livid with James because he knew they would never have allowed him over at a girls house without supervision...she was appalled that he would have chosen to be so sneaky!  Once again she confronted James, who outright lied to her initially, and then had the nerve to decide to become defensive before shutting down completely and not talking to her at all.

Ariana's husband didn't want to make too much of the situation; he had never liked confrontation and (according to Ariana) had "the patience of a saint."  Plus, he remembered all too clearly the thrill of visiting one of his girlfriends during high school when her parents were out of town... 

In response to the situation at home with her husband and son Ariana was seething, she wondered....What the hell is going on????!!!!

This kid, who up until a few months ago was sweet, open, cooperative, and TRUSTWORTHY...was now none of those things.  Ariana had no idea where it was coming from, or what to do to get him to "shape up". Neither of James' two older siblings EVER behaved this way....  And she was more than irritated with her husband for not taking her side and punishing James before things got worse. What was he thinking?!

After some stewing, Ariana grounded James for two weeks from socializing and she took his phone,  she immediately placed a tracking app on it; determined to get the upper hand and not be lied to again.

Does any of this sound familiar? (Maybe the circumstances are slightly different, but you can identify with the feelings?)

This is not an uncommon scenario in family life with adolescents.  Meaning teenagers will push buttons, stretch truths, become secretive, shut down, get defensive, and sometimes isolate and be completely uncommunicative...so the question becomes, now what????!!!!

Ariana and I met shortly after the whole second lying incident took place.  After hearing the story all the way through, I began with a question that threw Ariana completely off guard.

She was coming to me for a solution.  She wanted a 3-step-quick-fix answer about how to get  her son to stop lying, come to his senses, and to stop trying to get away with things his parents didn't raise him to do, like hang out at a girl's house when the parents aren't home. In addition, she wanted to know how I could help her get her husband to listen to her and take her side on disciplining and tracking James before things got further out of hand.

I explained to her that's not the work I do; while some different discipline strategies might help temporarily...at the end of the day, they won't build a healthier connection between herself and James, or between she and her husband.

And a healthier connection between she and James and/or she and her husband starts with a healthier connection to herself.

My question to Ariana was this...

"Ariana," I said, "What do you do to take care of yourself?"

She looked at me as if I was completely insane.

Then I explained to her, Ariana can only work on Ariana.  Quick fixes will not change what's really going on within the family.  If, and when, she makes the decision to take care of her own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs...the rest will fall into place.  BUT Ariana needs to understand and accept that it may not look exactly like she feels desperate for it to look right now.  

You see when mom changes, the whole family dynamic changes!

Moms are the emotional center of the family.  When Mom takes good care of herself and creates/determines and holds to her own personal boundaries, she sets her family up for success!

In that moment Ariana was hell-bent on being right, being in control of her husband and son, and showing them who's boss.  But she was going about it all wrong because the power she was trying to wield was coming from anger and fear which was creating disconnection. 

What she needed to do was to shift her energy to come from a place of love, therefore creating connection.  And that begins with connecting with her own feelings...the ones below the surface level anger/fear/embarrassment.

Anytime you feel someone is “supposed to be” a specific way in life, this includes how you feel you’re “supposed to be,” you are expressing love with conditions. These conditions are based in old patterns and programs you took on since childhood telling you how you had to be to receive acceptance and love....You can’t truly love others unconditionally until you first love yourself unconditionally, Mom.
— Terri Britt, Author of The Enlightened Mom

A big part of loving yourself is taking good care of yourself.  First.

Ariana broke down because taking care of herself was about the last thing on her priority list.  With a son about to get married, and one in college, plus the constant worry and aggravation James had put on her the past few months, the rift with her husband over the situation, not to mention work pressures and trying to keep up the the house...(her words...) "When the hell am I supposed to find the time or energy to take care of myself?"

"Well Ariana," I said, "Something's gotta give, right?  And it starts with YOU."

How many moms can identify with the last several sentences??????  

How many moms feel guilty about taking care of themselves and therefore get to a point of neglecting the most central emotional figure to their family's happiness and function?  

Maybe I should ask how many moms actually DO take care of themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually?

Because that's the key.  And so few moms put their needs first and this is why during the teen years, if not before, families fall into dysfunction.

Since I first began talking with Ariana, she and I have worked through several areas of her personal and family life.  We've looked back on her childhood to identify some areas where she felt unheard and disconnected in the experience she had with her family of origin, which were then surfacing in negative feelings and reactions when issues (like lying) started to pop up with James which then resulted in being on different parenting pages with her husband.

We've worked on clearly defining Ariana's personal boundaries with both her boys and her husband, and most importantly she's put together a self-care routine SHE'S EXCITED ABOUT!  Which means she is sticking to it! (YAY)


Mom, do you need someone to take you through these steps?  do you know you are the emotional base of your family and need help in getting it back on course?  

i am here to help you do it!

Fill in the form below and let's connect now to talk about your unique challenges and to a create a plan of action that will change the course of your family!

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*Ariana and James are not their real names and their story is shared with permission so other moms can benefit*