Break the Cycle of Insanity: How One Mom Took Back Parental Control

Posted November 17, 2008 by

The cycle of insanity in my family looked like this: parents responding the same, ineffective way, yielding to the erroneous belief that somehow THIS time the response would be different. With my son, we went down a boundary-less road of second chances and manipulation that handed over way too much power and landed him in a therapeutic wilderness program after he was court-ordered out of our home due to marijuana abuse.

Now my pre-teen daughter was starting to act out. The difference this time was in my reaction: my threshold had finally been exceeded; I had been down the chaotic, crazy road of insanity once before, doing and saying the same old, same old, yet expecting different results. It was time for action. I would not tolerate any more yelling, screaming, control antics from my daughter. My response was about to change, and rock her world in a big way.

“What are  you doing?” she screamed as I picked up the phone.

“I am calling the counselor,” I calmly replied.  Sure, I had threatened several times before…empty threats, more of the same old, same old.

The only thing that was different this time was my response, not hers.
That day, I decided to take back the reigns of parental control.

“Noooooooo….” she wailed, stomping her feet, quickly promising not to scream anymore.

I calmly ignored her and stepped inside the bathroom and leaned against the door, holding it shut with my backside, made wider from all the stress-eating I’d been doing.

The phone conversation was brief, but the noise on the other side of the door communicated our situation pretty clearly: Mother with no control, no respect and a child in control.  It needed to change and I had taken the first step.

That was several months ago, and things are much better now, in large part to my calm demeanor (at least on the outside) and the soft spoken oft-repeated mantra  of  “I expect, you decide.”

Boy does she hate those words, but to me they are a new lease on life.

I calmly and clearly (no more yelling) state what I expect and then calmly and clearly state and affirm what her choices are if she decides to do (or not do) what I expect. Repetition and consistency are key. Over the last few months, there have been fewer battles and more victories. Sanity has been reintroduced to our family. If you’re in this situation, be forewarned: clearly the boundaries will be tested, so be prepared to follow through with help at first.

If you’re in this situation with your teen or pre-teen, tell me about it. What isn’t working very well? What do you do that’s effective? Remember, you can take back parental control.


Kathy has four children, aged 9, 12, 24 and 26. Her second son was seduced by marijuana when he was 16. Kathy is now a published author of "Winning the Drug War at Home". She is also a childbirth educator and is writing a pregnancy and childbirth book. Kathy graduated from Brown University with a degree in Health and Society, and also has a BSN in Nursing.

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  1. Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘Monicam’: It is so frustrating when kids will not do what you ask them to do. We recommend doing some problem solving with your daughters about what they can do differently to meet their responsibilities-for example, doing their laundry & keeping their room clean. You will want to talk about specific things they can do to keep their room clean-for example, they will spend 15 minutes each day after school putting clothes in the hamper, and tidying their things. If they follow through, they can earn a small reward (for example, 15 minutes more of TV time); if not, they do not lose anything and do not get the reward for the day. It is important to keep yourself calm as well, and focus on what you can control, namely yourself. You cannot control whether your daughters choose to follow through on their responsibilities; you can control yourself and how you choose to hold them accountable for their choices. I am including links to some articles you might find helpful: Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child’s Behavior Make You Crazy & Irresponsible Children: Why Nagging and Lecturing Don’t Work. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

  2. Monicam Report

    I have 2 girls 17 and 14. I am losing my mind. I’m a single mom dad is not involved at all, they gang up on me. I have no idea what to do. The oldest gets bad grades is lazy unmotivated, will not clean up her room. Youngest does ok in school but I always get the school contacting me at least monthly that one is not turning in homework or the other isn’t. I can’t control my anger when I’m lied to or ignored or disrespect by their lack of following any rules. I tried counseling for my oldest but after while the counselor says she has no idea what motivates my kid and tells me to save my money. I don’t ask for much, but if she is not going to do well in school wont get involved in sports or clubs has no desire to do or try anything then keep your room cleaned, I mean she has nothing else better to do. They share a room and clothes are everywhere clean dirty u name it. Yesterday I took all clothes out of room washed them and I am keeping them in my room they will have to earn them back. I am close to sending the oldest daughter to stay with or another family member if nothing else works. I’m in a parenting anger class we just started family therapy and I’m in my own therapy. Please help.

  3. A Survivor Report

    To ddvaladez — I hate to say this, but I think one of the biggest obstacles to getting our kids straightened out is if the parents aren’t on the same page. My son’s dad undermined most of what I tried to do. My son was able to manipulate him and triangulate us (and triangulate teachers at school, counselors, etc.) constantly. I would lay down consequences I thought we had agreed on and dad would backtrack. With these kids, there is very little margin of error and if you aren’t on the same page, it not only doesn’t help the kid, it also wrecks your relationship. Get counseling with the dad now — and if he refuses, get yourself some counseling and figure out how to set boundaries with dad.

  4. freegurl Report

    my boyfriend has 3 teenage boys who have him worn down. Mom is not in the picture at all and his job keeps him gone from 8 in the morning till 7 sometimes 8 at night. His boys basically do what they want (which includes not their homework) and although he has tried to set boundaries he is often not able to enforce them…or he is inconsistent..he needs my help but I’m not able and also not ready to move in with him yet. How can he improve this situation by himself? Please please help!

  5. Kathy Pride Report

    Momwithtwoteens, don’t give up. None of you give up. But I agree it is very difficult when both parents are not on the same page. But if one is casting blame or manipulating, it is very, very difficult.
    Demanding, screaming children are exhausting. You must take back control.
    I have learned to listen more.
    I have learned to set much firmer boundaries.
    I have learned to listen more.
    I have learned to laugh and be silly.
    I am not afraid to say no.
    I allow more time for directions to be followed, my daughter cannot be rushed.
    And when I disagree with my husband, I don’t do it in front of my daughter.

    Be strong.

  6. Kathy Pride Report

    Greetings, all!

    I am so glad you have joined the conversation. Want you to know I am going to comment back to all of you later today, just want to thank you for stopping by.


  7. ddvaladez Report

    Momwithtwo teens, how long did you stay with spouse until you had had enough oppositional defiance? I am in the same situation with my son with LD and ADHD and we believe he is highly functioning autisic (being tested soon). But, the husband is in denial and it makes it very hard to get help and to help my son with Dad constantly screaming that there is nothing wrong with his son!!! He is 12 and was diagnosed since 4 years old.

  8. annie Report

    I know how you feel about your grandson trying top be in control every waking moment. It is exausting. My preteen, is arguing almost, my every request. I talk in a polite voice but i seem to get resistance every time unless of course it is something fun.I’m constantly talking to my counselor.

  9. momwithtwoteens Report

    My teen children are manipulated by their father to believe that I am the problem. One is LD and one is ADD and the father is denile in both cases and doesn’t think their talents are in schooling and they can survive in this world without an education. I am out of the marriage but not out of the childrens lives. I have to support them. I will not give up on them. It is very frustrating to be the responsible parent and labeled the problem. Oppositional defiance in my household is wrecking my relationship with my teens and their futures. I will try those measuring tactics…ask some good hard questions as to what they are to do in their lives IF they continue to blame me for their failures…

  10. msmishy011 Report

    Guardian I know exactly what you are saying are daughter is so loud our dogs are scared of her and that is usually when she is having a good day when it is a bad day she doesn’t even bother yelling at them she is too busy yelling at us her parents.

  11. Guardian'O'2 Report

    My Bi-Polar Grandson tries to take control every waking minute. We see not only a Psychologist, but a behavior therapist as well as the psychiatric Dr.

    The only difference I seen in his manic state is that everything is bad – otherwise, he’s just loud and boisterous.



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