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Equipping Parents For the Culture War

Guest: Rebecca Hagelin

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February 22, 2017

When Expectations Are Shattered

I am particularly concerned about the mother and father who give the highest priority to the task of parenthood. Their first-born child is conceived in love and born in great joy. They will neither talk nor think of much else for the next three years. The first smile; the first word; the first birthday; the first step. Every milestone is a cause for celebration. They buy him a tricycle and they teach him to fly a kite. And they patch up the bird with the broken wing. Only the best will do for this inheritor of the family name. They buy him Child-Craft books and teach him to sing. They show him how to pray. It is a labor of love that knows no limits.

Before they know it, their precious little lad is ready for kindergarten. How time flies! They buy him new clothes and cut his hair and get him a Snoopy lunch pail. "Hurry, now," says his mom on the first day of school. "Let's don't be late." She walks with him across the street and waits for the big yellow bus that stops on the corner. It arrives presently and the door opens. She places the child on the first step and then moves backward to take his picture. The door closes and the bus rumbles slowly down the street. Mom watches as long as it is in sight and then she turns toward her house. She cries quietly as she crosses the street. Her baby is growing up.

The years pass so quickly but it is a happy time. The boy learns to ride a bicycle and soon he's heavily into bugs and snakes and spiders. He gives Little League a try and Dad attends every game. You'd think it was the World Series! There is nothing this father would not do for his son. The boy loves his mom and dad, too, although he has a mind of his own. He has always been somewhat assertive and independent. His cousins think he is a brat. Some of the church folks think he is spoiled. His parents think he's just immature. All three are right.

The tenth, eleventh and twelfth years are marked by increasing tension in the house, but major blow-ups have not yet occurred. Then, suddenly, the roof falls in. The boy turns thirteen and a dramatic change settles over him. Overnight, almost, he has become distant and edgy. He explodes whenever he is frustrated, which seems to happen every few days. He also resents his parents for the first time. He shrinks back when they touch him and he objects to the pet names they have always used. He hates his mom's cooking and complains about the way she irons his shirts. It is a very tough year.

At fourteen, he spends long hours in his room with his door closed. Because life has become intolerable at home he talks vaguely about running away. His parents are utterly bewildered. What did they do? How have they changed? They feel no different, yet this son whom they love so much has targeted them as his enemies. Why? They are hurt and confused.

When he is fifteen, Mom is cleaning his room one day and finds some weird-looking cigarettes behind a bookend. "Could it be? Would he really? Oh, no! Not our son!" Then they discover a bottle of little red pills in the bottom drawer of his dresser. "Where is he getting the money?"

Every day is a struggle now for his mother and father. He will not yield to their leadership. This young man, whom they have cherished, seems bent on destroying himself before he is grown. He comes home at all hours of the night reeking of alcohol and smoke. If they demand to know where he's been, he blows up. "Get off my back!" he screams. They are worried sick.

Dad talks to the juvenile authorities on the phone. "I just can't control him," he says. "Sorry," the officer replies, "there's nothing we can do until he commits a serious crime. Even then we can be of little help. There are so many..."

At sixteen, the boy buys himself a car. Now he is really emancipated. His folks rarely see him. He fails four classes as a sophomore and quits school as a junior. From there to his nineteenth year, he is involved in three automobile accidents, gets seven tickets for speeding, and finally, is arrested for driving under the influence. He spends a night in the tank for that one, which nearly kills his mother. Dad's car insurance policy is summarily canceled.

Now, at twenty, he's living with a girl who is not his wife. She had an abortion last year and is pregnant again. They fight continually over money. He's never held a job for more than three months and they're living on food stamps and State assistance. A friend tells his parents that their son is snorting cocaine now.

Most painful of all to his mother and father is his rejection of their faith. He says he hates their religion and never accepted a word of it. "You can believe what you want," he sneers, "but don't try to sell it to me." Long-term, unrelenting depression settles over their home like a thick black cloud.

Does this frightening scenario actually occur in solid, secure, loving Christian homes? Yes, occasionally it does. And when it happens to you and your family, it might as well be a worldwide plague. I feel great tenderness toward parents who have been there.

From Parenting Isn’t For Cowards by Dr. James C. Dobson

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