Teenagers Lacking Responsibility- Questioning Our Parenting!

Apr 12, 2011 6:59pm

Dear Liz- my 18 almost 19 year old daughter. She is on the verge of NOT graduating. We put her into a private school, and have always had tutors for her. I have her in counseling right now to see if there is something else that I am missing. She has a good family life with TWO dads that love her very much! I am married to her step dad and have been since she was 2. She has a lazy streak. We have bought her a car/paid for gas/insurance and other essentials. Now, she won't even look for a job or get extra credit for her school work. We have around 6 family members who are wanting to come for graduation. Her private Christian school won't even let her walk if she fails one class. I feel at this point that there is nothing more that I can do. But I am embarrassed. How can I get her to see that she needs to "get with it!!" Life is hard and she needs to get a part time job or do EXTRA for her school in order to graduate!! Neither is happening!! HELP ME! I cannot help but feel its MY fault by either giving her too much or NOT doing enough. What can I do and where do we go from here? We go to church, we have a close relationship with her as well! I always have so much FUN with her! She is like my best friend. We have grounded her, but no help.


Middleton / ID


Hi in Middleton-

Thank you for writing in, I have received several letters lately similar to yours, I appreciate your specificity it really does help me in my efforts to help you.


If there were a specific set of rules for parenting that worked, trust me we’d all follow them. Unfortunately one of the most challenging issues as a parent is the idea that every kid is different and every kid responds differently. What could be great advice for one wouldn’t even dent another.  Leaving we parents in a position that REQUIRES us above all to get to really know our children. How they tick, what they respond to, what their issues are, what they think of themselves, and on and on.


On one hand you describe a lovely affable engaged girl with whom you enjoy spending time.  On the other hand you don’t mention her social life or friends, you describe a girl who seems to have no regard or care for her immediate future.  And in the same sentence you claim she has a lazy streak,  So let’s try and decipher.


Great idea to get her in counseling, you don’t mention what the counselor is saying, you need to follow up on that and learn as much as you can, in order to provide your daughter the help and guidance she seems to need right now. 

She is almost 19 as you state, and obviously the older they get the less influence we seem to have on them.  Many many parents buy their kids cars and pay for gas if they can.  In fact few seem to be able to resist if money is not an issue.  Don’t beat yourself up, we do the best we can.  On the other hand there does seem to appear a certain lack of understanding or accountability  on your  daughters part.  I don’t encourage parents, just because their kids turn 18 to suddenly imagine after an entire lifetime of being afforded certain things, that they cut them off and expect a new person to appear.  Teaching our kids responsibility and accountability and graciousness is a 24/7 lifelong effort. It cannot be instantly remedied because your child is now a grown up.  My thinking is that the burden of such a lesson is on us.  


I would suggest you let go of the embarrassment you feel for the moment, I know it’s difficult but wrap yourself around the fact that all most of us want as parents, is for our children to grow into young adults who  are confident and joyful and have excitement about going out into the world.  This- is where I would suggest you put your focus.  Your daughter is going through something, and you must find a way to get through to her.


Talk to the counselor; gather as much information as possible.  And then decide (which is the hard part) what avenue will be the best in terms of moving forward.  Do you sit down and lay the law down and tell her you will not be able to “enable” her any longer, as she seems to have forgotten to hold up her end of the responsibility in your family? Might she get the gravity of graduating and regarding her education then?  OR do you learn that something is really wrong, and that she is battling some emotional issues of which you were unaware, and you will together work through it?  OR, do you continue the way you are heading now and hope she evens out in a few years.  I highly suggest you don’t do the later.


You sound to be, not only a caring and loving mom, but bright and on it.  I think you have to do something here, which is why you wrote in.  Make a stand with yourself and your daughter.  Things are going to change.  If she won’t motivate for herself, then tell her she owes it to you, and that you’re sorry you haven’t made that clear all along.  “I do for you, you do for me!” To tell a child that they must do something they don’t want to do, is not easy, but as her mother you have every right to present the argument that if she cannot see her way to changing her present attitude and lack of responsibility, then you will not be able to see your way to continuing life for her in the manner to which she has become accustomed.  This is a standard parenting consequence method.  Remember to put it to her in terms that are as simple as, it is her choice.  Rise to the occasion or lose some of what is important to you.


I hope I’ve been at least of some help to you for a beginning here.  I know how tough this is, and will remind you that doubting your efforts as her mom will be entirely unproductive right now, focus on what you can do, and stick to it!


Great things for both of you-




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