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When kids use your stuff without asking

A Mom wrote to me recently: "Wow, I just realized only an hour after we spoke that I was seriously overestimating my progress relating with my teenager. Very sad, to have him gaslighting me again today, shifting blame to ME after HE used my car without asking, which he knows he's not allowed to do, and leaving it a mess. The worst part is he has no remorse. Instead of apologizing, he got defensive!"

Can you relate?

Most parents can, especially when you so often go out of your way for your kids. It feels like a slap in the face.

But is it really?

This is a tricky situation and as Brene Brown points out in Atlas of the Heart, when things are hard, shame is usually riding shotgun.

Brene is a big proponent of having the courage to walk alongside our kids instead of controlling them. This means to own our part in the relationship interaction.

<<Wait MY part, what about HIS part? HE was the one who was in the wrong here.>>

Read on…

During our next coaching session, I worked with this Mom on this situation. But first things first. It's crucial for you, the parent, to slow down and unpack what is here for you.

  1. You staying in your head, evaluating how they are ‘wrong’ and wanting to control their behavior actually blocks relating.

  2. Experiencing your own feelings is a prerequisite for relating. They guide you to your unmet needs that opens the door to understanding and showing up for your kid.

Before this Mom could care about what her son was experiencing, she needed to be given the permission, time and space to go back and experience the felt sense of her own emotions. To feel and listen to the hurt, the frustration, the anger, the confusion, and the pain that this situation brought up.

Especially as it activated previously stuffed unprocessed pain. It's a cycle.

The 180 Magic

Our instinct is to turn away from pain, but the counter-intuitive, 180 magic is to stay with it.

Pain and uncomfortable emotions like these have a biological purpose: to point us to unmet needs for our survival. In this case, an unmet need for this Mom to be seen, heard and appreciated for all she was doing. An unmet need for safety, shared reality and partnership.

Until we take the time to process the pain and discomfort of hurt, frustration, anger and confusion, they won't go away. In fact, they get stuffed in our bodies as stuck energy to be re-triggered later on.

When emotions get stuck instead of felt and processed, it is extremely hard for us to not react. It is also difficult not to yell, blame and shame. Especially when we are tired and our tank is low, it is tough to be curious and not punish.

So during our session we took the time. She felt safe and heard enough to experience her emotions to completion. She was able to see that she had unmet needs and that her son, since he was dysregulated too, wasn't a good strategy to meet these needs at that moment.

"It makes sense that you feel hurt and frustrated and sad, that he said those words, and did those things. Of course you feel angry. I believe you."

This validation heals. It can shift our energy. It can meet us where we are so we experience feeling seen and heard. It's like a balm. Magic.

It's the same thing our kids need, but in an intense moment, hard to give.

Showing up open and curious

When I sensed that the Mom was more grounded in her body, emotions and needs, I asked her if the son's reaction, gaslighting and blaming, could be a defense mechanism? Could he maybe be feeling ashamed for having taken the car and leaving it a mess?

As a teen boy, he probably couldn’t admit to feeling ashamed, to himself or to you. It makes sense he’d need to protect and save face. I wonder if he offloaded blame at you to shield his inner vulnerability?

From this more grounded place, she was able remember that she knows he's smart and understands the rules. Then she grew curious and wondered what else may be going on for him? What unmet needs did he have? What other factors like impressing friends might have been at play?

Boundaries connect

The last step is boundaries. I asked her, "When both of your nervous systems’ have reset and neither is feeling reactive, is there a boundary you’d like to enforce with him?" (boundaries are prerequisites for love and relating. More on boundaries here.)

Once he’s ready, being held accountable with a consequence for taking your car without asking and leaving it a mess will help him grow. Surprisingly, making amends will support him to feel better as well.

LifeSaving Listening heals

A few days after our session, she reported back saying she was able to offer LifeSaving Listening* time to her son, and he shared what was really going on, that he was struggling with friends at school and that he regretted that he didn’t ask and left it a mess.

It's a game changer; it creates 180 relating magic.

In partnership,


PS. If your child is struggling with anxiety or anger or you are feeling triggered, know that you aren’t alone. I know I need support when my kids are struggling, and still it's hard for me to reach out and ask.

*LifeSaving Listening time is one of a series of practices I teach parents to build trust and open communication. It’s a way to show up grounded and non judgemental. This creates the safety and permission for kids to be able to open and share more of what they are feeling and experiencing.


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