Establishing Healthy Boundaries with Adult Children (Part 2) – 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 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 welcome to the focus on the family broadcast, helping families thrive, john my heart aches for parents like Allison who have struggled to raise and encourage and support their Children. Yet nothing seems to help these young adults succeed by whatever measure we’re measuring that by maybe, you know what that’s like. Maybe you’re in that period of your life where your adult Children are struggling and you’re not quite sure what to do. You may have a prodigal who has walked away from their faith. Um, that’s probably the scariest position a christian parent can be in or your adult child is living with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Another common phenomenon. Whether you’re in the church or outside the church, maybe they’re still living in your home and seem to have no motivation, no plans for moving out and you’re worried about that future. We know a lot of families are in that boat. Maybe not in the same area of the sea where the storm is really cooking, but you’re heading toward that difficult area as we shared. Last time we want to help you change the dynamic of what’s going on in your family. That means identifying the problems, recognizing the mistakes you’ve made in the past as a parent and then developing a plan of action to create healthy boundaries and ultimately entrust your adult child into God’s hands. We had a great conversation with Allison bought key last time and I’m looking forward to more of this today and more of the solution that she’s written in a great book called setting boundaries with your adult Children. Six steps to hope and healing for struggling parents. And we’re going to cover those six steps today. And if you’d like to get a copy of Allison’s book, we do have that of course here at focus on the family. Our number is 800 the letter A and the word family or click the link on your screen. Alison welcome back to focus on the family. We shared part of your story last time about how your son Christopher struggled with drugs and the wrong friends and all those things that we as parents are concerned about. It actually even lead to illegal activity in various other problems throughout his young adult life. You’ve admitted or talked about what you did to enable him over the years as a loving mom trying to help him. The best way that you knew how I think all of us as parents have that part of our heart that we’re saying yes, we want to help. Um, some may have a better guard about whether that help will be uh, the best thing for that child or if withholding some of that help could be the better wisdom. And we mentioned that last time you finally came up with a strategy for parents who are in that same trap that you found yourself in. And it’s based on a word that you’ve come up with called sanity. I love that We all need sanity as parents and we’re gonna hit that today. Let’s start with that quick overview. What does sanity, the acronym, What does it stand for? Sanity is what we get when we learn how to set healthy boundaries and live a life that pleases God. So for me, I was going through the insanity, the gerbil wheel of insanity that really motivated me to think, okay, I want off this gerbil of insanity, what do I need to do? And at that moment I didn’t think of sanity steps. It was, I have to stop, have to stop what I’m doing right now. I have to stop behaving the way I am. I have to stop my actions. So I wrote down, stop. So it was a whole process jim to go through finding the sanity steps. I knew I had to stop repeating the same behavior and expecting different results and I knew I needed help. I needed to be around people that would hold me accountable that I could learn from and grow from. I started therapy. I started really reading everything I could on boundaries. I didn’t realize the issues I had. So I needed to be around so that they was assembled supportive people. And I wrote assembled people nip excuses in the, but I had to stop making excuses not just for my son’s behavior but my own so and so that was a significant uses and I had to implement some kind of a plan. I was, I’m a proactive woman. I was a businesswoman. I said, okay, I can do that. I need a plan, I need a plan of action. I need something tangible that I can look at and write down and actually do steps some something that I can that’s tangible. So that was implement a plan t was trust the spirit. I had to trust that God was in control and I so often went over him when the swat team raided my son’s house and I was standing there dumping out liquor. I heard the voice of God say stop, stop, stop. You can’t do this. I think, okay, I can’t, I have to have to stop this. I have to trust that voice and a lot of parents and I found this to be very true. A lot of parents will say I knew I was doing something wrong. I knew it wasn’t right. I knew I should have stopped. I knew when he asked me for more money I shouldn’t have given, but I just didn’t listen to that. So we’re praying for wisdom and discernment. We need to listen when it comes. So that’s the trust and wise, yield everything to God, that doesn’t mean give up, doesn’t mean give up and just tossing in the towel, but it means trusting that he knows best. And if I’m leaning on him and praying for wisdom and discernment, I need to follow that that that growth that I’m going through and and experience the pain. I needed to experience the pain. So my son could eventually experience it. And that’s that’s a hard thing and and to trust that God’s gonna take care of him, right? And that would be the most difficult I think for any of us as parents, but let’s now go back and let’s dissect all this because I think this is the helpful part of the two day program. And I want to make sure we do put thoughts and in good um ideas forward for the parents who are struggling starting back with s for stop negative behavior. Give examples of what parents are doing wrong to enable their adult Children. They’re paying, stop the flow of money is a big one for things that have to stop. It’s very individual. For all of us were not all making these, you know, the like mistakes, but typically the big ones are stop the flow of money, stop making excuses, stop coming to the rescue. You know, and stop being a landing pad for your child, Stop your own the big stop is your own, stop your own issue, stop your own swooping in, stop your own your own fear. If you can stop fear, if you could stop, stop, you know, stop being a a prisoner to fear and guilt, let’s move to a in in is insanity. The A stands for a symbol of support group. Why is this critical for parents who are struggling and what do these support groups look like? See, accountability is a key factor here. If that’s in your church family, a lot of parents don’t want to bring up the challenges that we’re having with our kids, especially if drugs are involved or incarceration or the kids are in and out of jail if there in and out of relationships. Um, you know, I’ve talked to parents who have daughters who have 34 or five kids, all by different fathers, you know, so it’s it’s a nightmare what a lot of parents are living with right now, you know, often Alice and I talked about that is chaos, It is, you know, we have a great series by Ray Vander Laan talked about that the world may know and raise a good friend and that’s one of the teaching points that he’ll uh, provide that jesus came to bring God shalom his peace to a world of chaos and chaos entered the world when sin entered the world, and that’s what you’re describing, just this everyday chaos that begins to occur insanity and it’s insanity. So this group, I can imagine that some of these parents, we feel like we’re learning this almost just experientially and it’s, you get into a corner of a room and you say, hey, are you experiencing this with your adult child? And Yeah, by the way I am. And you know, and then you start to figure out, wow, that’s not working very well. But it is almost like a code of some sort between parents because we don’t know if we’re doing it well or not doing it well, especially there’s such a pressure in christian families that, that we feel we’re supposed to be behaving in a certain way and our kids aren’t supposed to be doing this. And, you know, I was a young believer when I was in church realizing and I looked around and said, nobody around me could possibly have a son like mine, you know, he’s in and out of jail and and the situation, they just but once I started talking about it, I was stunned at how many people at that same place. So when you can be around other people and realize you’re not alone, Allison, let’s go to n for sanity. Uh, it stands for nip excuses in the bud. What are some of those typical excuses a dysfunctional adult child will try to use on their parents. Well, they’ve become sadly become master manipulators in many instances that looks like it’s like, it’s like, you know, I, I couldn’t get to work because my car broke down because I didn’t have the money to fix my car. So I didn’t go to work. So I need you to loan me this money so I can get this and it’s one excuse after another, you know, you can take a bus walk, do something, you can get there if you need to go. Um, so that, that nip excuses is A big one for me for my, with my son when he was in his twenties and early 30s was the cell phone, I paid for his cell phone and it got to be very expensive and he of course told me he would pay me back. That happened multiple times. I didn’t get paid back and there I am, you know, in, in major debt paying for this. But, but like the excuse was if he doesn’t have a phone, he can’t call me or I won’t be able to know if he’s safe or not, you know, like he ever really called me a lot on this phone, You know, it was, I’m paying for it, but I didn’t hear from him for, you know, so, so the excuses are there rampant, what did, what did in that regard with nipping it in the bud, you were in the courthouse and you had a realization about how oblivious Christopher was to your pain. What happened in that courthouse that caught your attention? I am a very emotional person. Um, and I was sitting there watching him go through this and watching they walked him out with the shackles and the orange suit and um, and I started to cry and I’m trying, you know, I’m not like weeping crazily, but I’m, you know, definitely sad. Um and I found out later that he had called a friend of mine and and said that I was just trying to get sympathy, that I was just trying to make it all about me and I said I don’t understand this because it’s not all about me, I’m caring for you, I’m sad at what’s happening. Um, but at that point I’d stop bailing him out. He knew he was there. I wasn’t bailing him out so he was trying to manipulate. Exactly. So there was, it’s all it all gets so convoluted when we’ve been on this gerbil wheel of insanity for so long to extricate ourselves from this and really step back and look at what the next steps are is critical because we’re all we’re caught up in the chaos and the insanity were caught up in fixing were caught up in in the fear and the shame and the guilt and until that’s where comes in so we can stop and step back. We’re not gonna be able to nip any excuses, We’re not gonna be able to get support. We’re not gonna be able to do any of these things until we can separate ourselves from our Children’s actions now and then and see how much of us, you know, is involved in this. What what choices we’ve made that have contributed to this. I often think if I hadn’t started bailing him out so soon things might have changed from his his history because I would bail him out and make excuses. But you can’t stay in jail. I’m gonna bail you out. You can’t, my son can’t be in jail. Well, he should very well have been there because he did something incredibly wrong and there’s consequences. You know, it’s he never had to experience consequences for a long time because I bailed him out all the time. So and when you get to that realization as a parent, it’s it’s hard because then we want to beat ourselves up, you know, and that’s not going to serve any purpose either. So that’s part of that knife excuses. You know, this is happening to my son because I was a bad parent. That’s not it at all. You know, I did poor choices. So did he. We all do God’s gonna forgive me and allow me to move on. But what moving on, looks like we’re talking to Allison baki today on focus on the family with your host jim daly and we certainly do recommend her book setting boundaries with your adult Children. Six steps to hope and healing For struggling parents. We’ve got copies of that book here, give us a call if you’d like one. If you can donate, please do. And if you need to talk to a counselor there here for you. Our number is 800 the letter a and the word family or click the link on your screen. Allison, we’ve covered the S. C. A. And the N. Of sanity. Now let’s talk about the eye which you have is implement rules and boundaries. This probably is the most difficult and we we can recognize where we’ve fallen short as a parent, our own uh, you know, misgivings, etcetera. When we talk about implementing rules and boundaries and that comes out of Galatians six I believe carrying each other’s burdens. How do we do that? How do we begin to set those rules and boundaries and really change our own behavior? That’s exactly what it is. Changing our own behavior. Um Being able to have an action plan is critical if you don’t have anything to aim for it, what’s that saying? Go, You’ll you’ll hit nothing every time. So we’ve got to have a plan. What is it that you want? What’s the outcome that you want as a parent? Is it for your child to launch maybe not? Or is it too perhaps help them through addiction? Or is it to know if you’re supposed to take care of your grandkids because a lot of parents now are taking care of grandkids because they’re kids because they’re either in jail or prison or they’re addicts and they are capable. So it’s it’s really, what is it that you as a parent, what do you feel that you need to do? What’s the next step? What our expectations and and and write that down? I’m a big believer, I’m a writer of them and they believe in writing things down so we can see it because we don’t know what remember in that, in that, in that throws of emotion that we’re so often in, and if we’re communicating with adult Children that are dysfunctional or troubled, they may not remember. So I’m a big, you know, proponent of writing things down to plan and presenting it to our adult child if they play a part in this, such as maybe moving out or what it is that that looks like, do you, um and if you’re going to no longer give money for no longer going to support them or they have to do this in order to get that, you’ve got to write that down. So that plan, I had to write down everything what I, how I saw my life, what the steps were on the other side, a lot of our kids don’t know what they’re capable of accomplishing because we’ve been accomplishing it for them. So when we step back, there’s a very strong possibility that these kids are going to get, get a clue and get a grip and be able to move forward, we’ve just been hanging onto them for too long. So we’ve got have that hope that if we can, if we can weather this storm, uh they may come out on the other side, you know, incredibly independent and and and and feeling self respect, feeling that they’ve done something good when you’ve been taking care of all these years, you know, and now now it’s up to you to do it and you make these small successes. That’s pretty amazing for young people. And you can see the changes that they that happens in their life. Exactly. We’ve got to get through the other two letters, the T. And the Y. T. Is trust your instincts, Why yield everything to God. Um the trusting of your instincts oftentimes that can be born out of fear and your instincts may be right, but you have to, I think be checking with other parents. Yeah, that that is, you know, have the network uh to be able to do that. But but normally instincts are correct. I don’t wanna understate that. But I’m just saying sometimes fear can overplay that instinct that you have, but you should always be listening to your heart. Let me put it that way. Yes. And and being able to trust that and and deal with the fact that you may go through some pain and fear. What’s an example of that for you? I have a really good one. There was a woman who contacted me who’s and and this actually happens a lot. Parents are saying, you know that their kids have fancy cars and they’ve got money and and they’ve got all these, you know, they’re taking trips there and yet they’re still living at home. This son was living at home, drove a fancy car, had a fancy motorcycle, had a lot of money and wasn’t really working. She didn’t see, you know, mom didn’t see him really go out to work much. So she’s kind of giving excuses to herself. How, you know, how does he, how’s he affording this? But it turns out he was dealing drugs. Had had dug a hole, drilled a hole in the floor of his bedroom and had a floor safe put in the house underneath the carpet. Um He was arrested. The police came in mom and dad to mom and dad’s house and and searched the whole house, found this floor safe filled with money and drugs, cocaine, a lot of cocaine. Mom is really clueless to this, but the police aren’t buying that. She’s clueless to this. She ended up getting arrested and ended up being an accomplice. They said how and she had to clear her name. It cost her a lot of money for a turkey fees to clear her name because she wasn’t an accomplice, but it’s her house, she’s paying the bills, he’s living there right with her. How on earth could she not know he’s doing something illegal when he’s driving this, you know, and not working. So she ignored these feelings. And she said to me, I just knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know how did she didn’t have a support group at that time. She didn’t know how what she was going to do. And it was, it was tough. And you see these, I see these stories unfolding often and it’s frightening. Yeah, I mean that’s, I mean trusting your instincts is a good rule of thumb and formulating how to approach that with your adult child etcetera. Really important, yielding everything to God. That sounds so easy, but probably the most difficult. Well I said giving, giving in, you know, isn’t isn’t giving up. So sometimes we have to just realize that we’re gonna go through a mess for a while. I’ve got this plan now, it’s gonna be tough. But God, you’re gonna help me, you’re gonna help me get through this and yield that. And um and letting go of expectations is really a critical thing. Um and to expect that God is in control. I’m gonna walk through this one day at a time and and trust that that, that the plan is gonna, is gonna work out. But do you realize it’s gonna be painful. So that’s the bottom lines and and that being able to be paypal is having your support group that you can lean on, you know, and and it all ties together, stopping, you know, beating ourselves up, talk to a counselor if you need to, it’s, it’s so intricate in this um surrender, which is what it is. It’s surrendering that, okay, you know, I’ve made some mistakes, but it’s a new day. It’s a new dawn. I’m moving forward and we’ll see what happens. You know? Allison that old cliche of letting go and let God do his thing with your adult child. Sounds so easy. It sounds so good, but it’s not no, it’s not, it’s it’s it’s not easy. It’s not easy. So, you know, my son is a believer and strong believer and has been free of heroin for 20 some years now, but it has a real challenge with, with with pain meds after being in so many accidents, so many motorcycle accidents is now reaping the, you know the consequences of a very rough lifestyle. Uh, and for me, I don’t know, I’m not bailing him out. He’s in prison. I’m not, you know, he’s serving time. So it’s a that surrender is trusting that God’s going to bring him around has, has been a very positive thing for chris, you know, he’s, he’s exactly where I think God wants him to be. He’s learned the bible back and forth. He’s in a prison fellowship, study. So he’s looking at life in a very different way now, but it’s taken a long time. It’s and to respect, you know that he knows now I don’t, he does, he won’t ask for money to bail him out cause he knows that’s not gonna happen. So we’ve we’ve now developed a different connection. Yeah. That dependency is over for parents to develop a true connection with their, with their adult kids is important. Not the not the symbiotic one where you’re bailing them out all the time but a true yeah. You know connection, you describe the need to apologize as you develop that action plan with your adult child. The parents should apologize to the child. What what does that apology sound like? It’s I’m I’m sorry that I I didn’t trust you enough to live your life. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the independence that you needed to to to grow on your own. I’m sorry that I kept bailing you out and I’m sorry that I didn’t believe in you enough and this is what I do and I’m sorry that I didn’t take care of myself and that makes me sad now because so many parents are going through this and they aren’t taking care of themselves. God has a plan for us as well as our kids. So if we don’t know what that plan is and we aren’t trusting in him and we aren’t depending on him and really walking that faith walk things are are just they’re gonna continue on that gerbil wheel. They’re never going to get fixed so that’s what the apology it’s it’s really saying I’m sorry and I’m moving on now, I’m sorry, you’re gonna go through some pain now. But this is how it is. Allison. You have hit the nail on the head. And I think your book has really helped us to think through those things that we need to know parents with adult Children. Where have we blown it? What do we need to do? How do we help them by helping ourselves see things a little differently. I I love the way you’ve laid this out. I mean, I I’m even thinking for Gene and I, you know, things that we did well and things that we may have done not so well and the consequences to our boys and, you know, one of the great things to do is simply to talk with our adult Children. Hopefully you have a kind of relationship where that um, I guess that awareness that hopefully this program has brought you will allow you to have that discussion and certainly get a copy of the book so you can become more familiar with what Allison is talking about. You know, a radio program like this just touches on the surface. We can’t go into all the detail and the book does do that. So, I would really encourage you to get a hold of us get a copy of the book. If you can give a gift to focus of any amount. If you can support us monthly, that’d be great to be a part of the ministry here. Focus on the family. We’ll send you a copy of the book to say thank you can’t afford it. Like I said last time we’ll get it to you because these types of resources are so critical and so important to you and your parenting journey that you need them. And I believe in it. I know focus believes in it and uh just get ahold of us will get it to you and trust others will cover the expense of that. But again, Allison, thank you so much for being with us. Thank you for your tears of pain. And I think tears of joy that God is moving this along. Your hope is evident and your trust in him is evident. But it ain’t easy. It ain’t you’re absolutely right. Yeah. So keep on being that good mom that you’ve been. Amen. Amen. Thank you. Yeah, you bet We’ll get in touch with us if you’d like to talk to one of our counselors if you need or would like that book for somebody else setting boundaries with your adult Children. And if you can donate generously, our number is 800 the letter a and the word family or the link is on the screen there for you and on behalf of jim daly and the entire team. Thanks for joining us today for focus on the family. I’m john fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in christ