Establishing Healthy Boundaries with Adult Children (Part 1) – Allison Bottke
Standing in heaps of trash, alcohol, drugs, and broken glass, Allison Bottke felt devastated. She had helped her young adult son clean up his life and rent a home, only to have him relapse into his old lifestyle, trash the rental home, and disappear. The next time Allison saw him, he was on the county’s “most wanted” list. When she noticed that almost every other person on the “most wanted” list was also in their 20s and 30s, she started thinking about the other heartbroken parents feeling powerless to help their young adult children. In this interview, Allison challenges parents of young adults to employ a tough love approach and break free of the stranglehold adult children have on their hearts. She shares a six-step acronym SANITY to help parents find understanding and freedom.
I bought a life insurance policy from my son when he was 25, years old. So I could afford to bury him because I knew he wasn’t gonna live, I knew he was going to die. He was gonna kill himself. Drugs motorcycle something. So I’m, I remember sitting there thinking this is just not how it’s supposed to be. This is not how parenting is supposed to be welcome to the focus on the family. Broadcast helping families thrive, john a significant part of what we do every day here. Focus is to encourage and empower parents. We want to help you. That’s the bottom line. Mom and dad were here for you as you partner with God to do the best job possible with your Children. And now we’re aware that some family situations are more difficult than others. And we often hear from you about where your Children at, especially the 2030 something’s adult Children who, uh, maybe launched, well maybe haven’t launched so well, maybe they didn’t get accepted into college or maybe they’re in a slump with the job market or maybe there’s been an issue through the teen years and that has now imploded in their twenties, Whatever it might be. Uh, we’re here for you and this is a concern adult kids, this is something every parent can relate to at some point in time. The fear that my child is going to fail to launch. Um, they’re gonna get stuck somewhere in that transition to adulthood. Um, we all know families where the adult kids are still living at home and the parents are still wondering will they ever leave or like my family, It’s been a revolving door, they leave and then they come back and then they leave again. It can be a trying time. Maybe your young adult or someone, you know, is young adult is a prodigal or there choosing a lifestyle that’s contrary to how you raise them that often is the conflict, there may be addiction or something worse. Whatever the issue is, we know it’s breaking your heart as a parent. And again, we have focused our here to help today. We’re going to explore how you can love those adult Children. Well even when it’s hard going through it. Our guest is Allison baki and she has first hand experience in this area. Her personal story is dramatic and while some details may not directly apply to your situation, she has some great parenting advice and wisdom to share with all of us. And Allison is a popular author and speaker. She’s written more than 32 books and the one we’re gonna be referring to today is called setting boundaries with your adult Children. Six steps to hope and healing for struggling parents. Get in touch for a copy and let us know if we can be of any help. We do have caring Christian counselors here as well. Our number’s 800 the letter a in the word family or click the link on your screen Allison Welcome to focus on the family. Welcome back. Really, thank you. Thanks for having me back. Good to have you back, let’s start with that failure to launch concept we’re seeing that is growing in our culture today. Why do you think this is a growing problem for today’s families? A lot of its financial, you know, the financial challenges that young people have on the outside and whether they’ve not budgeted well and that happens a lot. They, they don’t know how to live, they don’t know how to financially budget their, their their lives. So they come back home and it’s, you know what, it’s, it becomes so easy parents have allowed this and why not, why not go back home if I’m gonna have my rent paid and my electricity paid and food and somebody is gonna cook for me and it’s a, it’s a double edged sword there we know all parents I think have that, especially with your junior and senior in high school, I mean I’m in that spot right now, I’ve got a senior in high school and I thankfully have one who’s two years into his journey with college, but you do begin to wonder are we gonna get there, is, has, has that launch platform gonna go, you know the steam and the combustible engines and all those things you need and it may not even be that there’s a failure to launch, its just a shift in our economy, a shift in lifestyle, it’s not always a bad thing to have adult Children living at home, if it’s an equitable situation, if it’s everyone’s helping each other and boundaries aren’t being stepped on. And we spent generations used to live together, you know, multi generations. So it’s only been in modern times that these kids, you know, are are pushed out like this, you know, we expect them to be out on their own, um in some instances, that might not be a possibility, and I appreciate that. And we’re going to talk more about how to create something that’s constructive for everybody, but we want to talk about the issues before that, you know, and sometimes parents can create this problem at least contribute to it, correct? Absolutely. I mean, that that’s uh certainly something that can happen, and you can actually cause things to go uh worse than you anticipated. How do parents contribute negatively to their Children’s failure to launch, they become that safe landing place for them and don’t want them to feel pain. That sounds so right. So, it’s Exactly, Exactly. But it’s not helpful. Everything good grows out of pain, It’s like physical therapy, you’re not gonna get healthier if you’ve got an injured bone until you go through physical therapy and it’s painful. Mhm. Life, sports growing is painful sometimes. How else? How else do we learn consequences? This is probably the key that parents are challenged with, they don’t allow their Children to experience the consequences of their actions. You’ve got a couple of stories in this way, I think you call it enabling parents in training. So what, what are those stories, just get our listeners and viewers up to speed? I think finding myself dealing with boundaries as much as I do, I’m just very aware when boundaries are an issue. I was at a store once and saw a woman who’s obviously frazzled, I could say that the customer was in front of her, she could have gotten rid of her and I was standing and I said, are you okay? And just to say that she lost. Yes. And she’s no, I’m not, I’m, I’m so mad, I’m so mad, I’m so angry. And she just started talking about her family and her kids and she loans the money and they don’t Pay her back and they’ll say, can I borrow a 10? She gives him a 20 and never sees change. And, and I asked questions, I mean, why do you do that? If he was consistently doing that, why do you continue to give him money? Well, because, and then then let me have excuses. Um, and her husband was the same way he didn’t clean, he didn’t help in the house. She’s working, they owned the business. Um, and it was just a litany of anger, resentment, anger and when it comes down and I said, you know, well, you can, you know, you can make different choices. And she kind of looked at me and it went like right over her head that there was that she could do anything different. Was hard for her to realize what did you have in mind for her? And I would think a sanity, she needed sanity, she needed to stop doing what she was doing and really and get around some supportive people to talk about this, otherwise she’s I don’t know what’s going to happen, who knows whether she’s gonna burn out or I don’t know what the Children were like if they were at all respectful or dangerous. So I was standing in line at a sandwich shop and there was a mom and a son in front of me and he he was I would say, maybe 17. I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. Um but he had a coupon in his hand, he was reading and he couldn’t understand really what what it meant. And I heard him talk to her and he said what what what what do you suppose this means for the sandwich? She said, well I don’t know when you get up there ask him. So I’m watching them and they get up to the counter and he speaks of that. He started to speak up and said, you know what does this? And she jumped right in and took over the whole conversation and I watched him physically just shrink and and my heart aches for him too. I thought mom you’re giving mixed messages here, you’re telling him go ahead and ask which is good, This is how he learned. And yet you don’t trust him enough or maybe is it trust? What what is the issue that you don’t think he can speak for himself that that you just are in such a hurry that you want to just what I don’t know what it is. So so but I saw that and thought but that that young man now is learning and how many times has she done that? So how hard will it be for him to launch? To trust himself that he could knows what to ask or to do? Well, there’s a great everyday examples of the way we parent that is setting the platform to not launch. Let’s get that definition of enabling versus helping. I mean, I think with parents that’s where that tough line is. And I don’t even know if there’s a clear distinction, but what would you suggest to parents to understand what is helpful help and what is enabling or counterproductive help? I’ve always said that helping is doing something for someone that they can’t do for themselves. So you help them enabling is doing something for someone that they can and frankly should be doing for themselves. You know, I I often use the example of a young child learning to tie their shoes. You know, you’re helping them by tying it for them and and showing them how to do this, but if they’re 10, 12 years old and just don’t want to tie their shoes and you’re bending down to tie their shoes for them. Something is wrong with this picture. So they, you know, they can do it on their own. So it’s it’s really looking at what they are capable of doing. And this is a big issue. We don’t really know what our kids are capable of doing because we’ve done it for them so often. And, you know, some listeners, they’re probably they may have 20 something kids and they’re doing well, they’re off to college or whatever it might be. I want to kind of give a contour of this out of the statistics. I think Pew Research Center in 2016 identified that 15% of 25 to 35 year old millennials were living in their parents homes, which was a higher rate than generation xers in 2000 Between 2005 and 2010, more than 20% of 25 year old high school graduates Who never attended college were not employed or in the military for those with some college employment rates were slightly higher. But basically it’s like an 8020 rule, there’s about 20% of 20 something’s that aren’t launching. Well, does that sound about right? It it does. And a lot of that keep coming back to that financial issues. A lot of them are education is expensive. So they may not to be able to have a ford to live on their own. However, the caveat to that is a lot of these young people are you know driving very fancy vehicles that they’ve managed to pay for, you know, and and very fancy electronic devices and you know, and so your parents are funding a lifestyle and that’s that’s the child, that’s the problem and it doesn’t always happen that way. Like I said, there are parents that that understand those boundaries and the kids are home and for whatever reason, again, whether it’s financial, maybe it’s emotional, maybe they had a breakup. You know, young people, especially these young men and they have a breakup that devastate them, whether it’s a divorce or even just a breakup from a girlfriend, it’s Yeah, you know, Alison so often the older I get, the simpler some things get when I look at scripture and I see the metaphors of what God is talking to us about, He uses marriage is a metaphor, he’s the bride where the bride groom, those kinds of things. And specifically when I look at parenting, of course we’re made in his image. So my thought is some of our desires are from God’s heart and then some of those things that are maybe unhealthy or from the sin that enters our heart in this world, right? So when I look at the parenting approach, I feel like when we’re trying to give good things to our Children, that is a, a personality of God. In other words, it says in scripture, he too wants to give good things to his Children, but there is also the site of God that he allows us to go through valleys to grow, to gain wisdom to better appreciate the good things that we have in life when they come our way. Um, how do we as parents pull back from the rescue mentality? I mean oftentimes think about it spiritually, we will pray God help us out of the situation and then we’re frustrated that God has not helped us out of that situation. We might even go as far as asking are you truly their God? Don’t, you know, the situation that I’m in and like a good parent is. Yeah, but I think you’re gonna learn something good through this. You allude to that in parenting, but it’s so hard for us to let our adult Children, particularly. Again, 2030 something’s walk through a valley where they’ve got to figure out how to get out of it even though we could jump in, we can help them out of our retirement account if it’s financial, we can help them, but restraint is often the wiser choice. Yes, it is and that’s where we need people around us to hold us accountable to that. We can really share these challenges that we have with. Um, if it’s a hole in our heart that we’re trying to fill, we’ve got to look at that and pray for wisdom and discernment that shine the light on us and that’s the key right there to be able to see how to respond to your child in a positive way. You really have to turn the light on you and say, what is it about me God, instead of praying that my son needs this for my daughter needs this or how it’s Lord, give me the insight and the wisdom to know what I have to change about myself. Yes, but I’m getting more to I’m thinking more of the allowing your Children to suffer consequences for their decisions. And that should really start when they’re young but we bail them out because we don’t want to see them suffer because there’s something we haven’t learned the right parenting skills many, many instances. You know, a lot of, a lot of us don’t know what, you know, this is a job that we don’t even get education for parents just dropped into parenthood Allison, it’s hard to tell you you’re you’re not gonna bail, he’s supposed to bring brownies to the school luncheon and you didn’t. Exactly and the guilt don’t we have guilt, you know, and that’s that’s a whole nother story, how to get over the guilt and the fear. Yeah, this is focused on the family with jim daly. Our guest is Alison and she’s written this great book setting boundaries with your adult Children and we’ve got copies of that, click the link on your screen or call 800 a family. You know, I think it’s really helpful for people to understand from your own experience. You know, the things that God taught you help us understand the background of factors that led to the troubles that you experienced with your son. You’ve stated it started with your your own rough upbringing. What happened for you? What were those triggers for you for me? Well, I was raised in a very poor family as well. My parents were divorced, my single mom, three siblings. I was the, I was the middle child. I was the middle child. The overlooked child. I know laugh about. Yeah, but I didn’t know I was poor, you know, you don’t know you’re poor when, when there’s other things. And and my mom was a you know, great provider, but but she got very sick and I was sent to foster care and during foster care I was abused and beaten. My brother was too. So it was a horrible situation. We were gone. She was in the hospital for two weeks and we were in a foster home for two weeks, two weeks, just two weeks, but had had the police not found me. These foster parents left my brother and I an abandoned house. They were gone. I was five years old. My brother. My brother was a couple of months old in a crib. They found me locked underneath the stairwell and my eyes were punched shut. I, I don’t remember any of this. Um, but I had a fear of the dark, horrible fear of the dark and, and really grew up not understanding why what, what that fear came from, but also being in a broken home, you know, that that love of a father was really, we all need that and I didn’t have that from an earthly father and I didn’t grow up in a christian family. So I didn’t have that love of the heavenly father and I wanted to fill that with something. So I was one of those, you know, young people that went off and Ran away and got married. I was 15 years old and it was because I knew I was strong willed. Um, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. This man was a wonderful human being. He was, you know, we belong together. This man who was 16 actually was 18 and older man. The older man, it was, it was a nightmare. He turned out to be incredibly abusive. Um, the first time he hit me was the day we were married and I thought, whoa, wait a minute, what is what is happening here. So my whole life and issues was all caught up in how I responded to people and how I needed and wanted love and how I perceived love, what that was to me and and control. It was a big issue being able to, you know, be so out of control with that with abuse. That’s a horrible thing to experience that and be able to become strong enough to get out of that relationship. And I had my son, I had my son when I was 16 and I and I vowed I was going to be, you know, a great mom and take care of him and do everything I could to take care of it to be that equated to money. It was a lot of it was you and Allison. I can imagine, I mean, my heart goes out to you because of those experiences. No child should ever experience that and seriously, I, but it does create some formative inputs for you. And I can only imagine, you know, your greatest goals and mom was not to let your son suffer in any way. And so and so the basis is right, but then the outcome can be really wrong, right? Exactly. And it’s amazing how many parents do have skeletons in their closet as young people. We aren’t, we don’t all grow up in perfect families and how we become parents and how we learn that that role is very tied into our, our our our youth, how we were raised, what, what, what, what we’re feeling or not feeling in our heart going back to that question of enabling versus helping in a loving way. What were those things specifically with your son that you think back on now that you enabled him that it actually worked against him for me I think was making excuses, Making excuses for the trouble he was getting into. And the, what did that sound like in your head when he got into trouble? What did you say to yourself? Well, we were living in southern California, Huntington Beach. He was a young kid that got caught up in the punk crowd and the very anarchistic movement, you know, it was all anti establishment and he would get thrown out of school, He played hooky, I’d make excuses. Well, you know, he didn’t he, the teachers don’t understand him or they don’t really appreciate his intellect or the, I just, what was the breaking point between you and your son? What was that incident that arrested your attention and you went, oh, we’ve got a lot of work in front of arrest. That’s a good term arrested because my son was arrested and it was New Year’s Eve actually the back he got, he had a horrible motorcycle accident, almost killed himself. He was metal pins in his arms and his legs. It was, it was lucky to be alive and got caught back up in the drug movement. But see it was pain, it was pain management. Opioids were so prescribed so there he is back into drugs again. Uh, and the swat team broke into his house and arrested him and we got a call, I got a call because my name was on his lease, I paid for the house for release, I put my name on it. Uh, and it was a nightmare when I walked into the house after a swat team, you don’t even, you see it on tv, but you can’t comprehend what it’s like in reality and the house itself was a trash can, I mean there were just bottles everywhere. It was New Year’s Eve, there would’ve been a party there. Um, but it was, I walked in there, I thought this is no human being should live like this. But then the connection to me really was that I put my name on the lease, I paid for this is not this mess I’m looking at, I’m, I’m financially liable. So that’s one enabling right there. Oh my gosh, big, big hitting and that woke me up in a, in a way that you know, I, I don’t know that I haven’t really realized before. So I’m standing there at the sink, dumping out the liquor into a sink, looking out this window that was broken because that’s where they threw the smoke bomb in the window. The whole house smelled acrid like like chemicals from the, from the swat teams thinking how does somebody live like this? You know, and that connection was just so hard for me to make that chris my sons chris got was back into this lifestyle again, why couldn’t he get off that Gerbil Wheel. But it wasn’t just why couldn’t he get off the Gerbil wheel? Why couldn’t I get off of it? And I realized at that point I had to stop, I had to completely stop and that’s what my sanity steps can I had to stop doing what I was doing and figure out why I was doing it and no no more focusing on him. I wasn’t gonna bail him out either. There was well I think you know that’s where we’re going to come back next time and speak to those things that you learned the acronym sanity and what that stands for. And that’s really the basis of your book Trying to help parents be better equipped than you were as they begin to face these difficulties with their I would say Codependent adult Children and what what their you know what they’re getting out of the relationship with mom and dad. So let’s do that at the end here. Allison without knowing those things. I’m mindful that we have pretty much ripped the band aid off of some parents that are listening that they have that 20 something child and perhaps it is a prodigal child. Perhaps it is related to drug abuse or some of those extreme behavioral things that some people get themselves into particularly in their twenties and what word would you have for them? It’s before you had your moment your realization that I’ve got to change direction. God I need your help? What would you say to that parent that is listening going, wow, okay, I need change. I would say that one word is hope. Never give up hope. There’s, you can change. Your child can change. God is beyond capable of taking care of this nightmare that you’re in. So hang on to that hope, chances are this didn’t just happen overnight that they’re having challenges with a, whether it’s a dysfunctional child failure to launch child a troubled child. This isn’t an overnight thing. So it’s been going on for a while and we’ll just get tired and we want to give up. So I would say just hang on to hope that anything is possible. What did you do specifically when you felt you were leaning into hopelessness? Though, there had to be those nights when you’re laying your head on your pillow and you’re saying to God, I don’t want to assume so correct me if I’m wrong, But Lord, I don’t see hope here. Absolutely. And and it was, it was hard just to say, I just, I just can’t deal with this. I, I bought a life insurance policy for my son when he was 25, years old so I could afford to bury him because I knew he wasn’t going to live. I knew he was going to die. He was going to kill himself. Drugs, motorcycle something. So I’m thinking proactively, what can I do? Okay, I can’t, I can’t afford to bury him, I better pay for this life insurance policy. And I remember sitting there thinking this is just not how it’s supposed to be. This is not how parenting is supposed to be and realizing that okay, I had to shine again. That’s where I shine the light back on me. Why am I doing this? It’s not so much why why our kids are doing the things they’re doing that’s important. But how have we contributed to this? What is it that we have to do? What is it that we have to change to be able to have hope to be able to help these kids in a helpful way, you know, and be able to separate. It’s a separation because we’re just, you know, we’re still connected to these kids, you know, and there’s got to be that separation. Yeah, I so appreciate that Allison in your heart. And I see the tears and you know, it’s still raw and that’s appreciated by the people that are suffering and going through it right now. And I love the idea, hang on to hope that’s all you’ve got and let’s come back next time and cover the steps and the ideas that brought you even greater hope, uh, than simply buying an insurance policy, right? Allison thanks so much. And I hope if this is an area that you’re living in or you know, somebody who is living in this space as the parent of an adult child who’s struggling call us, get a copy of the book. We’d love for you to be a part of the ministry to help other families. If you can join us in that way, either with a monthly gift or one time gift, we’ll send you a copy of Allison’s book as our way of saying thank you for being part of the ministry. If you can’t afford it, the content is so important, I believe, to put help into your hands, just get in touch with us. We’ll get you a copy of the book. Well trust other people. We’ll take care of the expense of that. And boy, the main point here is if you are in trouble call us. We have a great counseling team who can help you, who can talk with you about what your um seeing and what you’re experiencing so you can find hopefully godly equilibrium and good ideas on how to move forward. Yeah, don’t go this journey alone. Our number is 800 a family. 802 326459. Or the link for help is on your screen and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team. Thanks for joining us today for this episode of focus on the family plan to be back with us next time as Allison continues sharing her story and insights and we once more help you and your family thrive in christ.