Posted by fxckfeelings on December 10, 2009Share This Post
Most of us make a big deal out of apologies, but the sad truth is that “sorry” doesn’t serve as a guarantee of lessons learned or absolution, just a band-aid on our hurt feelings until one party messes up again. For all our emphasis on forgiveness, it’s hardly a virtue, Christian or otherwise, if it requires you to assume that people have more choices than they really do.
My daughter is turning into a petty criminal. She’s getting kicked out of school again, she won’t stop messing around with drinking and drugs, she has unprotected sex, and her boyfriend is probably the guy who broke into our house and stole our TV, though she refuses to believe it. My husband and I have tried so many times to get her to see what she’s doing wrong and steer her in a better direction—we’re our own private “scared straight” program at this point—but every time we confront her about where she’s headed, she says she feels terrible, that she’s sorry, that she never wants it to happen again…and then she gets wasted and everything repeats itself. If only we could get her to understand the harm she’s doing, maybe we could get through to her and turn her around. Meanwhile, it’s killing us. We try to forgive her, but it’s hard. My goal is to forgive her and get her to see what she’s doing to herself and everyone who loves her.
There’s no point in getting your daughter to see what she’s doing wrong if she can’t really stop herself from doing it, and she really, really can’t. You can’t scare straightness into a boomerang.
Regret and remorse will make her feel bad, and you might think that will stop her from fucking up next time. Well, au contraire, my dear unHarvard-educated sap. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it works. You should know that since you’re the one missing a TV.
According to Christmas movies and sentimental parts of the Bible, repentance leads to redemption, but I say, goddammit, that’s just wishful bullshit.
Repentance leads your daughter to hating herself more for the shit she does when she loses control, and self-hate makes it that much easier to lose control again. Your goal isn’t to get her to repent. It’s to get her to accept that she’s fucked and should nevertheless try for better self-control.
Fuck forgiveness, too, while you’re at it. You wouldn’t forgive a snake for doing its thing with your foot and its fangs, because it does what it does, and your daughter’s lack of self-control is probably the same kind of thing. If you weren’t around, she’d still be having the same problems. She’s just steal someone else’s TV.
No one knows why some kids have so little self-control over anger and neediness, or sometimes we know but knowing does no good. Acceptance means you aren’t entitled to judge or forgive; just to make the best of things.
Making the best of things means trying all the standard tricks for keeping a kid of any age away from over-stimulation and temptation. Keep her busy, move her away from the bad kids if you can, and find good activities you can schedule regularly. Above all, stay calm and positive, and don’t show how scared and upset you are about her fuck-ups.
Don’t expect treatment to change her. Sometimes a 24 hour control-your-every-activity residential school will break bad habits and build new ones, but it’s expensive and often doesn’t work.
As for the oft-derided “Good Will Hunting” one-on-one psychotherapy, it’s less expensive and similarly unlikely to lead to a basic transformation. More realistically, therapy can do the same thing as you’re doing: positive coaching towards better behavior. As for achieving that better behavior by getting her to take responsibility, own her actions, and feel bad…you’d have better luck with a snake charmer.
Compose a statement of purpose that will keep you positive. “I think you want to be a good kid and that you regret at least some of the things that happen when you mess up. But it’s hard for you not to mess up because your brain pushes you so hard to act before you think, that’s just the way you are. So we’ll keep on trying to keep you away from risky situations and slow you down, so you have more time to think about what you really want to do. There are some troubles we can’t protect you from. You may get HIV or go to jail. But nothing will change our determination to help you get the control that you need, sooner or later.”
My sister and I have had issues over the years, but we’ve always managed to stay cordial despite our differences, at least until she got married. Just after she got married five or so years ago, she did something to my parents that really pissed me off—she was basically stealing from them, as far as I can tell—and while, in the past, she and I would have eventually gotten over it, her husband got into the crossfire (I chewed both of them out, not just her), and now he won’t let me anywhere near my sister to even try to move past this. I still think what she did was awful, and I still think her husband is an asshole, but she’s my sister, and she’s family, and I need her in my life. My goal is to figure out how and whether I should make amends to my brother-in-law, even though I’m not really sorry, so I can put my family back together.
You’re right to start thinking about what’s best for your family relationships and forget about who’s a conniving criminal, because you’re never going to stamp out family crime or protect its willing victims. You’re not God, or even Judge Judy.
On the other hand, you may benefit in the long run by avoiding unnecessary conflict, retaining your family membership card, and participating in events that allow you to make the best of the family you have, crooks, liars et al.
If forgiveness is important to you, you’re fucked, because whatever you forgive your sister for, she’s likely to do again, which will destroy your faith and make you nasty. Fuck forgiveness. Again.
If she’s a criminal, she is, so your goal is to accept her the way she is and decide what you want to do with her and the family relationships that you will always unavoidably share.
Figure out if the fight with her is worth it, and if it’s not, and you decide that peace will give you a better chance of enjoying family events, then mend fences, declare the war over, and let all hostilities from this point on be for her and her husband to sustain, or not.
You can’t stop her and her husband from continuing to hate you or freeze you out, but by refusing to hate them back, you just may lull them into giving it up, shutting up, and making nice.
Prepare a statement that stays positive, doesn’t lie, and lays out the advantages of peace. It may sound like an apology, but it’s not. An apology would be dishonest. “I know we’ve had our differences, but there were tensions in the past that no longer seem important, at least not to me. I believe you and your husband are an important part of my family and I think we’ll all be happier if we can share some friendly time together. I think it’s better to put the past behind us and remember that we share lots of good childhood memories, a love for our parents, and responsibility for their welfare as they grow older. I think we’ll all gain from resuming a positive relationship.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname