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“But Mom, It's Not My Fault!”

  • Allison Bottke Author, Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children
  • 2009 5 May
  • COMMENTS
“But Mom, It's Not My Fault!”

Editor's Note: This article is fourth in a 6-part series on how parents can stop enabling unhealthy behaviors in their adult children. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Have you ever heard any of these lines from your adult child? 

  • I’m just too tired
  • But Mom, things are different today
  • You just don’t understand
  • I’ll start on Monday—I promise
  • Things will be different this time
  • It’s not my fault

When you make the decision to stop enabling your adult child, you will have to be firm in not listening to these common excuses. Real healing begins when a parent stops believing the excuses and lies, and insists on truth. As we develop our action plan for dealing with our adult child, there must be no room for excuses. Our boundaries must be firm. There is a right and a wrong… and we are going to choose to do what’s right. Period.

After years of enabling, I was getting older and wiser — but not wise enough. The subtle ways I continued to enable were becoming clearer to me, but it took a comment from my son to shake me into a reality I had never before experienced — a reality that forever removed the blinders from my eyes, giving me an empowered strength of purpose.

It started as I sat in court — not for the first time — watching my son, who waited in handcuffs and shackles to hear his fate. A long list of charges was read, my son was assigned a public defender, a court date was set, and he was given a $10,000 bail — of which ten percent would be needed for him to leave jail that day.

A stranger tapped me on the shoulder.

“I’m your son’s bail bondsman.”

My son had his own bail bondsman. How convenient.

“If you can pay the $1,000, we’ll have him out of here in no time.”

“No.”

“No?”

“That’s correct.”

He looked at me as though I’d grown a third eye and then turned shook his head at my son, who scowled in return.

The tears came again. I tried to hold them back, swallowing hard, quickly wiping my already puffy eyes with a handkerchief. My pain was so great, expressed in a seemingly nonstop flow of tears, but I was determined to remain firm.

Somehow my son managed on his own to come up with the money and with someone to guarantee the $10,000 bail in the event he didn’t show up at his hearing. He was out of jail by that afternoon, spouting a list of excuses for what he called a “bogus bust.”

A few days later I was on the phone with a close friend who had talked to my son.

“He said you refused to help him get out of jail.”

“That’s right; I did.”

“Is it true it was only $1,000?”

Only? Clearly, she didn’t understand.

“It’s not about the money anymore,” I said. “I can’t keep doing this.” Once again the tears came. I was so bone-tired from the tears, pain, anguish, and fear for his life.

“His landlord evicted him,” my friend continued. “He has to move, and it’s stressing him out. He says they haven’t got a case. There weren’t any drugs in the house.”

I wasn’t about to get into an argument with my friend; she had no idea the long list of items the SWAT team had removed from his home. She didn’t understand how many times I had sat in a courtroom listening to charges brought against my son. She had no concept of the pain I felt every time I saw my only child in handcuffs and leg chains — or the feeling of talking to him on a prison phone through thick, plate-glass panels. She hadn’t experienced the never-ending list of excuses.

Then came the pivotal situation that helped remove the blinders from my eyes — the final step in my freedom from bondage.

“Allison,” my friend went on, “he said you put on quite a show in the courtroom. That you cried so everyone would feel sorry for you.”

I’ve never been stabbed, but I imagine the pain I felt in my heart at that moment was close to what it would feel like.

“What?” I stammered.

“He said you were crying so people would feel sorry for you.”

I got off the phone as quickly as possible before my friend could discern that I was crying once again, this time going from anguish to anger as her words sank in.

He thought I was crying to gain sympathy?   

Clearly, my son was unaware of the depth of my pain — and therefore, I also assumed, the depth of my love. All the years I had come to his rescue out of love for him, out of a desire to keep him safe, to help during his trials and tribulation, all for naught. He didn’t get it. He never got it. Not only didn’t he get it, but he didn’t appreciate it.

And at that moment I suddenly realized with crystal clarity that instead of helping him, my actions had hindered him. He had no idea how to feel remorse, empathy, or shame. In fact, I feared he had no idea how to feel at all, and I doubted he knew his behavior was wrong.

Gaining this new level of understanding was like giving sight to a blind man. The remembrance of the raw pain that had coursed through my weary body in that courtroom came back in waves as I weighed the reality of my feelings with my son’s twisted perception of them.

Sympathy? Dear Lord, help me to understand this.

I’d stopped the flow of money long before, yet I still supplied him with “things” that cost me money, so in reality I hadn’t stopped the flow of money at all. I still listened to his never-ending litany of excuses for his circumstances, wanting so much to believe. I showed up yet again in a courtroom to lend my support, to offer my unconditional love, to show him that no matter what he did I still loved him and would be there for him.

The time had come to stop being there for him — at least in this way.

I needed to adopt a different response to my son’s choices. It was time to nip his excuses in the bud, as well as my own excuses for continuing to enable — no matter how subtle. No more would I lay my heart on the chopping block of his uncaring life. It was time for a new set of boundaries, with geographic distance being a key factor.

My son was a fallen human, yet so was I. I had fallen back into old habits of enabling — subtle, yet nonetheless negative and damaging. No longer would I accept the excuses. It was time to go back to the drawing table and revamp the action plan I had developed years before, starting with revised boundaries.

“Lord,” I prayed, “I don’t want to harden my heart, but desire instead to protect it. Please help me to love my son in a way that is also loving to myself. I can’t take this pain anymore. Enough is enough. Please help me to heal my broken heart.”

I was ready to fully address the conflict and the consequences.

I was ready to draw the line in the sand.

I was ready to apply the “N” step in gaining SANITY…”Nip” excuses in the bud.

Are you?

Published May 22, 2009.

If you’re a hurting parent who dearly loves your adult child but longs to see him at last take responsibility for his life, please take a moment to watch the video But Mom, I’ve Been Busy (Episode 5) and Smoke Rises (Episode 8) on the audio/video page of our web site. It could save your sanity—and maybe even your adult child’s life.


Adapted from Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children, Six Steps to Hope and Healing by Allison Bottke © 2008. Harvest House Publishers. All rights reserved. Visit www.SettingBoundaries.com