A Dad gets back behind the steering wheels: How a father regained his agency with his oppositional daughter. 

Joe reflected on the progress he had made as a parent saying: 

“Over the last couple of years I had lost all confidence and direction as a parent with Chloe; but now it’s like I’ve got hold of the steering wheel again.  Now when she’s pushing and pushing to get what she wants, I know that at the end of the day, it’s my decision. I decide what I will go along with and what is not OK.” 

This is the next installment* in the story of one parent, Joe, as he worked to figure out how he could be a resource to his defiant 13 year old daughter Chloe. Previously Joe recognised that his pattern of rushing in to smooth things over for Chloe resulted in increased entitlement from his daughter. He began to accept that changes for Chloe would be slow but that the first step he could make was to stop trying to create peace by bribing Chloe. His stepping back from an ineffective pattern was the launch of becoming a more hopeful parent. Joe started to shift his focus from trying to change Chloe to a focus on what he could change. 

Joe gave consideration to what was in his control as a Dad when faced with Chloe’s demands. Just last weekend Chloe pushed him to drop her at the shopping Mall where she wanted to hang out with her friends. The previous agreement was that Chloe would spend the afternoon at a neighbour’s house with a girl from her school. They were going to watch a Netflix episode and work on a geography project.  Joe had already committed to be at their son Jake’s basketball game. His wife and co-parent Sue had left earlier to spend the day visiting her elderly mother.  

Chloe had learned how to get her dads attention. She would intensify the drama about how much she needed him to consent to her demand. In the past Joe would have dropped everything to avoid increasing outbursts from Chloe – even if this risked him being late for Jake’s game. Conversely on this occasion he gathered himself, clarified his priorities, and said to Chloe: “I know that hanging out with your friends is important to you but I am not willing to take you to the Mall at such short notice. My commitment is already made to be at your brother’s game and there is no way I am going to let him down. I’m also not going to be a part of messing up our neighbours plans.  I’m willing to help out with transport next weekend if we work out a plan in advance, but not today.” 

Chloe was silent for a moment. Joe thought she was still somewhat shocked to hear her Dad’s newfound tone of conviction in his recent responses to her. The silence however was not for long as Chloe retorted loudly:  

“Dad you don’t care about me and my friends. You’re putting Jake ahead of me and ruining my weekend!!!” 

Joe is working hard to not react to Chloe’s retorts. She certainly could stir up panic within him but he realised that parenting out of fear isn’t helpful for his daughter. He responded in a firm but controlled tone saying:  

“I’ve let you know my position Chloe and it’s not negotiable at short notice. I’ve got nothing more to say about this.” 

Chloe ramped up her protest with inflammatory language directed at her Dad. Joe focused his eyes on his emotionally wound up daughter and said:  

“When I am talked at with such disrespect it takes away my willingness to be generous with the many privileges I give you every day. I am not going to be walked over by you Chloe – that is not the kind of parent I want to be.”   

Joe then left the room to finish his car maintenance work in the garage.  Chloe followed with ongoing verbal pressure but Joe was resolute to not engage.  

After some time Chloe backed off and started getting ready to go to her nearby friend’s house. Joe wished her a good time. He noticed his distress about the rupture in his relationship with his daughter. He felt steadier when they were close. Nevertheless he did not backtrack and try to make peace. In the past he would have promised Chloe a special outing that night to make up to her. Joe was aware of his inner triggers to accommodate his daughter’s immaturity; and that he was a central part of the immature pattern.  He could see how much his parenting had been influenced by his conflict avoider posture in the family he grew up in. His older sister and Dad used to fight regularly and he counterbalanced this by always responding compliantly to his parents. 

By days end Joe refrained from indulging Chloe. Rather he showed an interest in the Netflix TV drama she was following. He asked her how it compared to similar shows they had watched. Who were her favourite characters and what she admired about them? After a bit of shared conversation Joe left Chloe to herself and made a priority of sitting with Sue to talk about what was happening in each of their worlds. He mentioned the challenge he had had with Chloe to Sue but did not focus on his worries about her. Instead he shared with his wife what he was learning about himself as a parent and how hard it was to learn to stay on course in the face of conflict. He reflected with Sue on how he can be just the same at work when there’s a hint of discord. 

Joe reflected on the progress he had made saying: 

“Over the last couple of years I had lost all confidence and direction as a parent with Chloe; but now it’s like I’ve got hold of the steering wheel again.  Now when she’s pushing and pushing to get what she wants, I know that at the end of the day, it’s my decision. I decide what I will go along with and what is not OK.” 

Previously Joe had sought professional help to find out what was wrong with his daughter. He had hoped that there might be a diagnosis and a treatment for Chloe’s oppositional behaviour. Additionally he wanted to relieve the tension emerging in his relationship with Sue about how his giving in to Chloe. If he could get a professional to treat his daughter’s problem it just might take the heat out of his marriage. Some months down the track Joe was in a very different place. He no longer looked for a fix for Chloe. Neither was he looking for a solution from helpers who were external to his family and his parenting. Joe had discovered that he was part of the increasing problem with Chloe. He had stepped back to observe the unhelpful ways he was reacting. This laid the groundwork for him to recover his parent leadership. He could parent with what was in his control and not try to change Chloe. He could convey his “I” position on what he is willing and not willing to do. He could also connect with his daughter in a less intense way. – not trying to win back her devotion but simply conveying interest in her life. Things were far from perfect with Chloe. At the same time Joe had recovered his hope as a parent.  This hopefulness grew in parallel with his clarity on how to manage himself more maturely with his daughter, and indeed with Sue and Jake as well. 

 

*The previous 2 installments of Joe’s story were posted on May 10th and June 7th 2017 

https://www.jennybrown.info/observe-parent-child-interactions/ 

https://www.jennybrown.info/dad-putting-puzzle-pieces-together/