Thursday, May 30 2024 - 7:12 AM
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Why Your Kid Is Acting That Way

In case you haven’t noticed, alcohol and drugs aren’t the only kinds of emotional painkillers known to man. We all have ways of coping. Some are just a little more hidden than others—at least hidden from our sight—not God’s. It is always a great relief to share this with parents of drug addicts. Although they may have a deep sense of guilt, often they also live with a kind of shock and bewilderment that can be debilitating. I’ve been a pastor for 37 years and I sent Peter to good Christian schools; what on earth is going on? I’ve heard this so many times, and for all the contrasting details, there is very little difference between parent and child.

Dad probably worked 80-hour weeks for Jesus. He checked out of marriage and family and found his pain best managed through accomplishments. Avoiding home life and the issues to be faced there, Dad gave himself unreservedly to his vocation and the accolades and fulfillment that came with it. And so the mold was set in junior just about the same time the pain of his father’s emotional abandonment had reached its limit. Can you see the stacked deck? The son had been shaped to medicate and be filled up with painful memories. It’s a lethal combination.

A Pleaser or a Fighter

Sure the son didn’t have to go for hardcore drugs. He could have picked something a little more culturally acceptable like eating chocolate cake or getting straight As in school. What drug he picked was optional, but the actual work of medicating was pretty much inevitable. That he would go all out in masking his pain was a sure thing. First, because the pain of abandonment from dad was bigger than the usual pain of growing up human, and second, because dad had set the mold.

Although I cannot be certain, I believe that there are two basic ways kids respond to their insecurities. Kids who lean towards pleasing their parents and submitting, and kids who lean towards wanting to rebel and fight. I think this has to do with personality and I bet it plays a role in what kind of “drug” a child will choose. If dad was a pastor working overtime for Jesus, then little submissive Peter will go all out to be a pastor and work even harder and with even less balance in his life. He will outperform dad to get the same buzz. Things have escalated.

But if it’s not little submissive Peter, but little fighter Peter, then he will probably strike out in a new direction as much against dad as possible. He’ll medicate with something that will differentiate him from Dad and hopefully hurt him in the process.

The Prodigal Sons

I think we could unpack the story of the prodigal sons this way. One son went carousing himself to nothing. Promiscuity and all the noise were his drugs of choice. It wasn’t until he hit the bottom and found himself jealous of pigs that he realized how good family and relatedness could be.

This could be quite a lesson for us parents who continue to save our children from the consequences of their addictive lifestyles. The wild boy needed to taste the fruit of the trees he was wildly planting. This was going to be his hope. The Bible actually says he came to his senses in the mud. Basically, he found that his way of coping with life was really, really bad.

Then there was son number two. This son had grown up in the same house so had the same woundedness as his brother. Not only does this make common sense, we know it because it comes flying out in the fit he throws when his wayward brother gets loved by dad. Not only is he disgusted; he’s confused. Hadn’t he earned his dad’s love yet? Where were his party and special clothes? Wasn’t he good enough? You can hear the pain of rejection in his voice and you can also discern why he has been so good. He seemed to think life would be fixed if he lived up to all the good expected. He seemed to think that with all his work, Dad loved him best.

Being Present and Available

Now I know this is only a parable, and that the father symbolizes Father God and how He just loves and loves and waits and waits. But why not let this also be a teaching for earthly dads and moms? It’s not about who’s in the pigsty vs. who’s in upper-level management. These outward stories can be very deceiving. If you really want to bless your children, you have to look at their hearts. You need to be present and emotionally available. Your own heart needs to be fully alive.

Sometimes we feel close to our kids, and it’s not because of deep emotional bonds as much as it is from comfortable addictive camaraderie. They cope the way we do and we are so proud. Parents who medicate through performance can be especially susceptible to this. Not only are they blind to their children’s real woundedness, but they will also continue to applaud greater and greater feats and unknowingly take the addictive cycle to new heights. Mix God into this kind of culture and you have very hurt and angry children who just keep doing more and more until they finally crack.

If you liked this, you might also like  Be Consistent | Enjoying Your Kids While You Can 

Claire Worley writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Claire Worley

Claire Worley

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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