Today, we’re going to talk about when a child, and by that, I mean an older child - a young adult - is taking advantage of your kind nature. If you have young children, this will still be relevant to you, because I love to think about parenting with the end in mind - which is to raise happy, resilient kids who thrive out in the world and who we have a fulfilling, balanced relationship of give and take together as they get older and as we get older.
This topic is something that I’ve experienced as a sibling, as a sister, but not as a parent, and I want to be upfront about that because I’m speaking as a sister who’s seen this happen in the family, and I’m speaking as a coach who coaches parents on this dynamic, when a child is taking advantage of your good heart, your big loving heart, your kind nature.
My story began when I was adopted by my aunt and uncle when I was a toddler, I don’t know if many of you know that? And I grew up with an adopted brother my same age, he is Navajo, and we were best friends growing up. We’re only three months apart in age, so we were in the same grade at school. We played lots of Star Wars together, we collected all the figurines, and he had the toy millennium falcon, I had the princess leia and R2D2 figurines, we had a cassette tape of the actual movie, the actors and the soundtrack on the cassette tape, we’d play it and act out the movie with our star wars toys. Our Christmases were filled with Star Wars toys, and we loved it.
My brother was made fun of in school, it was hard to watch. He struggled academically, he has dyslexia, so he was always in the resource classes, that’s what they did in the 70’s, if you fell behind the other kids in reading or in math, you were separated by aptitude, and because he couldn’t read well, he was put into resource. I knew my brother was smart in his own way. He could draw from memory anything he saw - at a very young age, he would make these comic pages with people and animals and stories, they were so fun.
But fast forward to junior high, and he never really found his place socially until he found friends with the stonies, that’s what we called them in the 80's, the parking lot crowd, and he became an addict, especially with alcohol.
He only graduated high school because my parents went to bat for him. He wouldn’t have graduated without their intervention and help.
After high school, he did this thing that was really hard to see happen where he decided he didn’t want to do normal life anymore the way society said to do it. He didn’t want to have a job, keep his room clean, follow the rules of the house, and he and a friend went down to the train station and jumped on one of the train cars and rode the train to Seattle. My brother was homeless in Seattle for a long time.
At first we didn’t know where he went or what had happened to him. But after a few months, my mom said that she got a phone call from him from a pay phone, he made a collect call, and he told her he was in Seattle, and he’s sorry, but he just needed to get away and he didn’t know when he was coming home. He sounded sick when he called, he had a rasp in his voice, he always had asthma growing up, and my mom asked him if he was okay, he said he couldn’t stop coughing but he couldn’t afford medicine but that he was fine.
I’m going to speak to a few truths I learned from this experience growing up with my brother who has always struggled, and how it has informed my own parenting, what helped my brother, and what didn’t and how we navigated it as a family, and how we’re still navigating it.
Also, I want to say that my brother’s current status isn’t good. His liver is shot and his body is in shutdown. He has Lupus, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other health complications that indicate he won’t be with us for long. He’s in a lot of pain and it’s hard to watch. We all do the best we can to help him know that we love him. He texts me randomly here and there, usually when he’s been drinking, and it’s always sentimental and sweet, but a little scattered and incoherent. I get teary eyed a lot when I hear from him because I just feel sad. It’s sad.
I will always mourn the version of my brother I thought he’d be when we grew up. He never became that person. And so it’s sad to me. But it’s also okay, because I believe that this life isn’t the end and that broken things find healing even on the other side of heaven.
What I’ve decided is that I will always be kind to my brother. Sometimes, kindness looks different than being “nice.” In other words, I will always tell him the truth. I don’t pretend anymore that his choices don’t hurt me and that I’m not sad.
I used to pretend. He has a difficult time with regulating his emotions, so often what he’ll do if you even hint that you don’t like something he’s doing, like continuing to drink even though it’s ruining his health, he’ll yell and fly off the handle and swear and just have a big man tantrum. It’s not fun.
And so that leads me to
Truth number one: There is a difference between being nice and being kind.
Let me explain: And I’m going to speak to this from a perspective of a parent now, because in a lot of ways, I’ve had to be a parent to my brother, that relationship change occurred after he came back from Seattle, he was really sick and I let him live with me to help him get established and back on his feet.
Sidenote: my mom is amazing. I love her and look up to her, and none of this is to diminish how she’s handled my brother. But we’ve both talked about this. And so here’s what I want to offer.
Nice Parent: A nice parent is someone who prioritizes harmony, comfort, and avoiding conflict within the family dynamic. They often aim to please their children and create a positive, stress-free environment. Nice parents might be hesitant to set boundaries or have difficult conversations, because they fear upsetting their children or damaging the parent-child relationship. While being nice can create a sense of warmth, it may also lead to enabling behavior if not balanced with clear communication and healthy boundaries. That’s how I define a nice parent.
On the other hand,
Kind Parent: A kind parent values their child's well-being and growth over temporary comfort. Kindness in parenting involves a deeper level of caring and involves actions that promote the child's long-term development, even if they're tough in the short term. Kind parents are willing to have open and honest conversations, even when these discussions are difficult. They set boundaries when necessary and hold their children accountable for their actions, with the intention of helping them become responsible, independent adults. Kind parents consider the bigger picture and aim to support their child's personal growth and resilience.
So some questions we had to ask ourselves: in what ways were we being nice to my brother, and in what ways were we being kind?
Some of the things that required a kind approach still make my mom uncomfortable to this day. She gets physically sick to her stomach when there is conflict in our family and she worries about it for days, weeks, and even years later. I don’t have this tendency. I don’t love conflict, but I’m willing to do it for the bigger picture. And so I’ve chosen to be the one who says the hard things sometimes to my brother. He gets mad. Last time I did it, he said strong things to me like, “this is war!” And he meant it. But I also knew he didn’t mean it. And I’m willing to stand up to him. Someone in our family has to. And when I do, I’m being kind to him, and to our mom.
Sure enough, he comes back around. It takes him some time. And that’s the hard part. But he always does.
Who can be the kind person in your relationship? If you really can’t be the one to say it, then enlist the help of others for the greater cause. It’s okay to do this!
Truth #2: Identify and be honest with your emotions in order to help your heart.
This is true in parenting. If you are feeling a lot of resentment, anger, confusion, guilt, grief, then be honest with yourself that these emotions are asking you to pay attention to them. And you do this so you can stop suppressing them, feeling them on the inside, while pretending you're not feeling them and being nice on the outside. That’s called emotional suppression.
Sometimes we say to ourselves:
Be honest with yourself here. If you’re not honest, then it will take its toll on your physical and emotional health; things like high blood pressure, there’s a high correlation between suppressed anger and heart attacks.
And so take care of your emotions in order to help your heart. And yes, your heart might be breaking because of the choices your child is making, but on top of that, if you aren’t taking care of your heart, then you will age twice as fast. If you stay angry, but suppress it for five years, you are going to age ten years in that five years time. This is not a good plan of how to take care of your heart.
I want to offer to you a better plan, which is to let yourself be angry. Let yourself grieve. Let yourself be honest about what it is you are resenting that you are doing that you wish you weren’t.
Because from that honest place, then you have something to build from.
I understand why we don’t allow ourselves to be angry. No one teaches us what to do with Anger. Anger is intelligent. It is! It is your truth.
But it can become toxic because it is like you are driving a car; and you are stepping on the gas and pushing on the brake at the same time. Anger tells you to run away and to attack at the same time because you do not know what is going to happen or when things will change. All you know is you don’t like what is happening right now.
There’s a saying in leadership that goes: "speak softly and carry a big stick", a phrase often attributed to former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
You are a leader in the relationship with your child. You carry the big stick and your words hold weight when you choose to speak up. Take cues from your emotions to help you know where to go next, where to lead the relationships.
As you Identify and be honest with your emotions you are helping your heart.
truth #3: Some children won’t learn what they need to learn unless natural consequences are their teacher. When this is the case, it isn’t personal.
So what I mean here is this: you will most likely need to grieve the version of your child you thought they would grow up to be.
But what this looks like is letting go. Stop holding on so tightly to that younger version of your child. We aren’t helping them when we are stuck wishing they could be the version we thought they would become. They are going to have to want it and to change from within.
I learned this truth from the scriptures.
Are you like me and have you always wondered about the story of the Prodigal Son and what the whole story is there? Have you wondered what the relationship was like between this dad and this son before he left home with his inheritance?
And if you’ve thought about that, Don’t you just love the Prodigal Son’s dad even more?
Here’s what we can learn from him and why I love him so much, and why I think of him when it comes to my brother, and when I’m helping my students in their parenting.
And so I love this dad and I feel for him. And then, as the son came to himself, and realized that even the servants had it better at his father’s house than his current filthy conditions, the son had to be sufficiently humbled. It’s sad. And sometimes parents aren’t willing to let their kids suffer like that. They think they’re being Christlike. I disagree. I think it takes tremendous courage and faith and trust as a parent to let natural consequences be the teacher.
When the child chooses the harder path, it isn’t your fault if bad things happen to your child. It’s a result of the child’s agency. When kids are little, we need to protect them from the natural consequences of agency. But once they become accountable, their agency is their responsibility, not ours. Why do we rob our children of using their agency? Because we think it’s our fault if they suffer. This is not true. It’s on them.
This may sound cold and dismissing. I understand if it does. I’ll have parents say to me sometimes, I can’t bear to . . . . fill in the blank. And that’s where the child has all the power in the relationship. When you can make peace with allowing for agency and natural consequences to be the child’s teacher, you will become empowered as the parent. And your child won’t like it. They’ll know the jig is up. And that’s where the real learning and growth will happen.
Truth #4: The truth that two things can be equally true: You can be a great parent and your child can be a complete mess. These two things can be equally true. Okay?
I hear this sometimes in coaching.
I hear, “I have no idea what I’m doing. Everything I do is wrong, my kids are always mad at me.”
And what I say to this is to embrace the AND.
Two things are equally true.
This is one of my favorite truths to anchor my parenting in because it means I don’t have to choose between two ideas that seem opposite of each other. This is so important to remember when it comes to holding our kids accountable and setting boundaries with them.
The way I teach boundaries in parenting is defining what you will do or won’t do - and not dictating what someone else can or can’t do or how they should feel. An example of what a boundary is not: would be if you have to make a decision you think is best but then you change what you will do based on how your child reacts emotionally. If you change what you will or will not do based on your child’s reactions, then you’re not holding boundaries - you’ll change your boundary to meet your child where they are at in order to make them feel a certain way, happy or calm, and we do this sometimes as parents so we can feel like we’re a good, loving parent. But this is where we can back ourselves into the resentment corner.
So instead, I like to narrate my way through this in my thinking: I say to myself: “two things are equally true here.” and I say that to remind myself that I can maintain my decision and boundary and empathize with my child’s feelings, but I don’t have to choose between being firm and loving my child. I can do both.
Two things are true.
Don’t you hate it when your child is mad at you? I know I do. This is so hard for parents who are kind hearted, especially.
But I want to offer you a promise here. I feel that strongly about this, that as you learn to tolerate your child’s anger, it’s one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and for your child, and it is THE MOST powerful parenting skill you can build. It will help you set better boundaries and it will help your child learn how to critically think through consequences, build emotional regulation eventually, and build self-trust, eventually.
Not immediately! It won’t happen overnight.
But over time, the more consistent you can be.
And so when my brother finally came back from Seattle and I told him he could live with me until he found a place of his own, I told him he had to do a few things:
I told him if he didn’t do those things, that would be frustrating for me and my husband, and we’d have to have him leave.
I told him,
And he did. He took that month and got a job as a fry cook and did really well for a long time.
There is power in drawing on the powers of heaven when we pray and ask God to help us teach our children what they need to learn. Ask for miracles and Keep asking for miracles. But do your part to help your child learn what they need to learn. Even Jesus had firm boundaries and righteous anger. He was kind but sometimes he wasn’t nice. He did all those things out of love, a bigger love that we are trying to understand. And don’t you just love Him for that?
Do you want to learn more about drawing on the power of heaven? I want to help you. Sign up for the newsletter here. Listen to the podcast. Let me coach you!
In this mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework that is a gamechanger for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.
In this free mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework I've taught hundreds of moms and dads for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.