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Ask Dave

Doing the right thing

Carla's son, who is a senior in college, has been misbehaving and acting disrespectful toward his family. She and her husband decided to take strong measures in response, and now she's wondering if they did the right thing. Dave and his guest, Dr. Meg Meeker, reassure Carla that their actions were appropriate - and helpful - in the long run.

QUESTION: Carla from Dayton, Ohio, calls in to talk to Dave and his guest, Dr. Meg Meeker. Carla’s son is a senior in college, and he has a contract with her and his dad. If he makes good grades and behaves in a mature and respectful manner, they will pay for school and provide a car to drive while he’s in school. Once he graduates, they’ll sign the car over to him. Over the last few years, their son has been acting more and more irresponsibly and disrespectfully. When his father confronted him, the son was unrepentant. Dad immediately took the car and cut off his cell phone plan. Now, Carla feels sick and wonders if taking action was the right thing to do.

ANSWER: Dr. Meg Meeker: So, he broke his contract? Then you’re right. He broke his contract, and there are consequences to breaking a contract. He’s a grown-up, and he knows what’s happening. So, this is a life lesson. You did well. Parenting is simple, but it’s hard doing the right thing. I guarantee you he will one day thank you for this.

Dave: Of course you feel sick. If you didn’t feel sick, you would be known as a psychopath. This is your child. You just left him homeless and carless in a parking lot, because he’s a twerp. Of course it makes you feel sick, and that’s because you’re human.

Dr. Meg Meeker: I tell parents you’re not done until your children are 25, and this is exactly why. They still need an element of parenting all the way through college, because you’re teaching them about life. You’re teaching him a lesson that he had to learn through you, a boss, a policeman, or someone. But you can’t get through life breaking contracts and promises.

Dave: Carla, let me just tell you. If he worked for me and had tweeted things like that about me, as his boss, I would have fired him on the spot—instantly. I mean, this crap comes around. He’s got to learn how to behave in the culture. But let me tell you the good news in this story. You married a good man. Your husband is a man! That took so much strength and so much courage. In our culture, there are so many wimps … you married a good one.

Dr. Meg Meeker: And a bad parent would have kept it going and said, “Well, honey, I know things are rough on you. So, you can come live at home with us.” But you take a child’s integrity and power away when you don’t force them to act like a grown-up. You are forcing your son to act like a grown-up, and it cuts right to your heart, but you did the right thing.

Dave: I’ll give you a prediction. Within 30 days, he comes home wagging his tail behind him. Even if he’s stubborn, hunger and cold solve a lot of that. I’m on the outside of all this emotion and hurt and broken heart. I’m just a guy sitting over here in admiration of great parenting.

Dr. Meg Meeker: Doing the right thing for your children is really hard, and that’s why you need strength. You’re not mean, you’re very loving. And that’s what God would do to us if we went down the wrong path. He’d say, “No, you don’t!” You’ll get through this, and your son will get through this, and I guarantee you this will be a great lesson for your son.

Dave: Thank you for calling in and sharing that. It’s a horrible story but an inspiring story. Hey, you make these kinds of calls all along the way. From diapers until they’re out of the house, and even after they’re out of the house.

Dr. Meg Meeker: And you have to apply the same principles over and over and over. That’s why you can’t parent a two-year-old differently than a three-year-old differently than a five-year-old. Some principles have to carry from zero to 25. You just have to do them over and over and over, and that’s how your kids turn out well.

Dave: I’m watching the brilliance of the questions you asked there. Now, I’m dialing back through the conversation in my head. You made sure that this wasn't capricious and arbitrary. You made sure there was a deal, because if he hadn’t known there was a deal, it would’ve just come out of left field. It would have been like firing somebody for doing something they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to do.

Dr. Meg Meeker: Exactly! But he went into the contract as an 18-year-old understanding the contract. And he signed it saying, “My signature means something. I get this.” And then he said, “Oh, forget it. I don’t want to do that.”

Dave: I want all the benefits but none of the other stuff. No, it’s a unilateral thing.

Dr. Meg Meeker: If they didn’t do what they were going to do, it would’ve set that young man up for a miserable life.

Dave: It would’ve taken him a decade to get over it.