Charles and Heather don't offer Cleaver family ideals or promise Brady Bunch thirty-minute solutions. They, instead, share the realities of their 6-year nightmare, in the hopes of fostering hope for the millions of families trying to survive the years from thirteen to eighteen. Replete with faith, honesty, and practicality, it offers readers nine practical lessons and provides a compass for even the worst tempests of teen rebellion.
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About the Author
Charles Stone serves as senior pastor of the Ginger Creek Community Church, a church of 1000 in the Chicago suburbs. He has a doctorate of ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and he has written articles for leading ministry and parenting magazines.
Heather Stone will begin nursing school soon. She writes and paints in her free time.
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daughters gone WILD dads gone CRAZYBattle-Tested Tips from a Father and Daughter Who survived the Teen Years
By CHARLES STONE HEATHER STONE
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Charles Stone and Heather Stone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe First Tattoo
The wildest colts make the best horses. -Plutarch
Our journey didn't really begin with Heather's first tattoo at age thirteen, but about twelve years earlier.
Before Heather was born, I became a true believer in seatbelt safety. I still remember the 1960s public service seat-belt commercials and their catchy march-time jingle that encouraged drivers to buckle up. That message stuck with me and I became a seat-belt-use drill sergeant for every passenger in our car, including our children.
In the eighties, car seats were contraptions of shiny tubular bars and flimsy plastic upholstery; even without the kid they weighed as much as a John Deere forty-two-inch riding lawn mower with both grass bags full. I would not move the car even out of the driveway unless I strapped Heather into her seat. I never budged-no exceptions. Not even on one infamous day-the day I learned the meaning of the phrase "the strong-willed child."
After Heather turned one, we planned a trip to see my wife's family in Mississippi. At the time we lived in Texas and decided to fly instead of enduring the sixteen-hour drive with a one-year-old. We recruited some friends at church to ride with us to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and then drive our car home. I lugged our heavy-as-a-John Deere-mower car seat to the backseat of our two-door Grand Prix, strapped it in, and buckled up Heather. No problem so far.
We then picked up our friends. They sat in the backseat next to Heather. Ten minutes into our drive, Heather began to utter a guttural sound as if she'd been constipated for days and was about to ... well, you know. But that wasn't the problem. Those grunts crescendoed into earsplitting 150-decibel shrieks, equivalent to how that John Deere mower would sound with no muffler, two inches away from your ear.
A simple translation of her shrieks (we were experts in discerning Heather's unintelligible demands) might read like this: Father, I did not want you to put me in this cheap car seat in the first place. I don't like being confined, and I want the freedom to roam in the car at my leisure. I will do as I please. So, until you take me out of this seat, I will continue to blow your eardrums out. And with a set of lungs like these, I will win.
As a seat-belt-safety-conscious father, I pulled into the emergency lane and stopped. I got out, pulled the back of my seat forward, and leaned into Heather's face to make eye contact with her. She listened intently to my lecture on the importance of car safety and why I would not let her out of the seat. Even though my wife pleaded with me to take her out, I was her father and I knew best. I told Heather not to cry anymore and that we would continue our trip to the airport.
I sat back down, closed the door, and merged back into traffic, quite proud of my fathering skills. After approximately 6.2 seconds Heather let out another piercing howl. For the next full forty minutes we endured a non-stop concert of high-pitched grunts, growls, and howls that resulted in migraines for all. (Funny thing-our friends never again volunteered to take us to the airport. With 20/20 hindsight, I now realize they were probably as uncomfortable with my attempt to correct her as they were with her howls.
About that time, I read James Dobson's book, The Strong-Willed Child. Heather fit his description of a defiant child. The book's principles worked okay with Heather for the first thirteen years. That is, until that first tattoo.
Heather attended a Christian school through the eighth grade and always performed at the top of her class. She impressed her teachers with her grades, her positive attitude, and her in-telligence. Then toward the end of the eighth grade, we began to discover that the child-rearing principles that had worked up to that time quit working. We began to argue more, and she began to defy us. We felt confident, however, that she'd soon grow out of that stage. Summer vacation would certainly bring back the compliant Heather we knew, we thought. (A sure sign of clueless parents.)
The school held a graduation ceremony for the eighth-grade students on their last day. As my wife and I drove to the school, I thought about Heather's accomplishments and her future high-school years. I proudly mused, My firstborn is growing up.
We pulled into the gravel parking lot. As we headed for the gym, we sensed a buzz among the kids. We took seats about halfway back. About fifteen minutes later, the ceremony began. As the students marched in to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" and sat down, we spotted Heather. I noticed she wore a very short dress I had never seen before, and I felt uncomfortable about it. Usually she wore very conservative clothes.
The principal greeted everyone, prayed, and gave a short speech about the past year. He challenged the students to do their best as they moved into high school. As he called each student's name, he or she walked to the podium to receive a graduation certificate. Because of the small class size, it didn't take long for him to get to Heather. I swelled with pride.
As she reached out to receive her diploma, I noticed a disapproving look on the principal's face. I couldn't imagine why until she turned around to walk back to her seat. Her eyes locked with mine. She glared at me, and the defiance in her eyes seemed to say, Dad, I'm throwing down the gauntlet. You'd better buckle up because now things are going to be different. I'm all grown up. You can't tell me what to do anymore.
At that moment I saw what had shocked the principal. When she had filed in, only her left side was visible. When I saw her right side, there, on her right upper arm, in royal blue, crimson, and white, oozing with bravado, blazed a Superman tattoo.
I think the S on the tattoo morphed into a wicked grin. My daughter, a preacher's kid, had gotten a tattoo without permission. My blood pressure sky-rocketed. My face flushed red with anger. I felt a hundred disapproving stares from other parents. They, too, saw this act of willful defiance that signaled the beginning of World War III. This meant spiritual warfare.
I would now have to nip in the bud this defiance before it escalated into something like, well, body piercing. I laugh now, since a few years later Heather came home with her tongue pierced. My response then, after I had learned not to panic, was a muted, "Yuk, Heather. That must have hurt."
However, in that first skirmish, I ranted and fumed on the drive home about the horrors of body mutilation. I gave her this ultimatum: "You will not blatantly throw away all our Christian values by mutilating your body with a tattoo!"
To my chagrin, she informed me that it was a stick-on tattoo. I then got very quiet and thought, Way to go, Charles. Was that stupid or what?
* * *
The tattoo incident, although not a big deal in itself, marked her transition into adolescence and our transition into five years of relational turbulence. Had I been more prepared with a book like this one, our experience wouldn't have felt like an emotional death valley. In those early days of the storm, I panicked too often. Our other two kids, a younger brother and sister, responded to standard child-rearing and discipline techniques. But not Heather.
Even in my ignorance, though, I made a few good choices early on. I chose to stay intimately involved in my daughter's life, though I could have disengaged my heart through over-control or emotional distance. Fortunately, I didn't make all the panic-induced mistakes that could have driven a stake into the heart of our relationship.
We've collected the following battle-tested tips to help you avoid panic when your daughter shocks you with her choices. Check these out for some encouragement.
How to Apply Relational Life Preserver 1
1. Understand that your influence matters more than you think.
During our five-year struggle, I often felt that what I said or decisions I made no difference in Heather's choices. Only in retrospect did I realize that what I believed and how I acted mattered greatly to her.
Studies bear this out. A study of twenty-two thousand children found that adolescent girls aged twelve to seventeen living in families without a live-in father were almost 50 percent more likely to use illegal drugs, alcohol, or tobacco than girls living with both biological parents. Another study revealed that emotionally available dads do impact their daughters' spiritual commitment. Although Heather expressed little interest in developing her faith during her rebellious years, I know my emotional presence contributed to her eventual return to her spiritual roots.
Your direct involvement in your daughter's life does make a difference. We matter more than we think. Stay emotionally connected to her (see chapters 4 and 5 for ideas how). Defuse the temptation to withdraw when things get tough.
2. Admit to yourself that tough times may be in store.
After a few frustrating grocery store experiences, I now do a "buggy check" each time I pick a shopping cart. Why? It's hard to steer some buggies straight because of one misaligned wheel. Kids remind me of buggies. Many easily stay on course without much parental pressure. However, others, like Heather, require Herculean efforts to keep them even in a semi-straight line.
Adolescence complicates the life of every girl. Friendship issues, struggles with self-concept, and hormonal changes all converge at once. Their moodiness can make us feel as if a chameleon lives with us-pleasant one moment and like a deranged cat the next. Their changing bodies contribute to this emotional roller coaster.
Neuroscientists discovered that the part of the brain that helps us make sound judgments doesn't fully develop until our early twenties. Meanwhile, the part of the brain that generates raw emotion (such as anger) enters a stage of hyper-development in the teen years. This explains in part how our daughters can be so moody and make unwise decisions based on emotions alone.
I had no clue about this biological change occurring in Heather. In fact, I had developed a smug attitude toward other parents with difficult teens. I identified with some people who thought that all we had to do was follow Christian principles and everything would turn out right. I discovered how naïve I was. Up to that point I had read the Bible through rose-colored glasses. I wrongly interpreted Proverbs 22:6 ("Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it"). I had believed it guaranteed parenting success as long as I followed biblical principles. Not until later did I realize that Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs as a general observation about life, not as a book of ironclad guarantees.
Your daughter won't bypass those normal teenage struggles. She may be hard-wired to oppose everything you want her to do, as Heather was. Psychologists use the term oppositional to describe such a child. Oppositional children seem to be in constant conflict with their parents and don't know what the word cooperation means. If you think your daughter may be an oppositional child, see if her behavior fits these characteristics adapted from a book by psychologist Norm Wright. The oppositional child:
Enjoys being in control, so (she) challenges authority figures. Has a tendency to remain negative, even though the negativism serves no purpose. Would rather compete than cooperate. Views right and wrong as somewhat relative. Is frustrating, since she doesn't respond to normal discipline techniques or approaches.
As our journey with Heather progressed, I faced the reality that she was an oppositional child. I found it doesn't do any good to stick your head in the sand and pretend all is fine. Face the truth that your daughter will test you. Don't become passive and toss the tough situations to your wife or a counselor to handle. If you see the warning signs, become proactive. A mom told me her wayward daughter "never took the easy road." Your daughter may not take the easy road either.
Although it may seem odd, pray that your daughter goes through her difficult times before she can legally leave home. I've often thanked God that Heather's difficulties happened while she was still under my roof. Had they begun in young adulthood, my influence would have been diminished greatly. When I felt tempted to explode, I reminded myself that Heather's strong-willed nature, when it finally pointed in the right direction, would serve her well. Once she decided to do the right thing, that will would keep her on the right track. In that respect, being strong-willed was a positive.
3. Don't blow a gasket. One of our counselors gave us wise insight into the word offspring. The common term, she said, suggests the truth that children will want to "spring off" from their parents to seek independence and form their own identities. That process of "springing off" came as a shock to Sherryl and me. We didn't have any experience with a child moving into adolescence. She was our firstborn, and we hadn't rebelled as teens, nor had our siblings.
I erred when I attempted to stifle Heather's desire for independence. She erred when she crossed the line of independence and stepped into rebellion. Dads, it helps to sort out the difference between our daughters' desire for independence and rebelliousness.
Independence teaches our daughters to walk alone, whereas rebellion makes them refuse training, even when they can't walk alone.
When your daughter begins to change, it's okay to feel alarmed. Don't stay there, though. Our daughters need us to respond properly to their desire for more independence. We must recognize normal teenage problems for what they are and not overreact to them in any of these ways:
Yelling, screaming, and calling them names. Grounding them until they're twenty-one. Banning them from church. Cutting them down in front of the family or friends. Passively ignoring them. Excluding them from family activities. Making doomsday forecasts (such as "You've now ruined your life forever.") Creating rules that guarantee their failure (for example, threatening no phone for six months if she leaves one more towel on the bathroom floor).
One of my early shocks came when Heather began to use bad language. I blew several gaskets at that point. I wish I'd applied this advice from David and Claudia Arp.
The early adolescent years (ages 12-14) often bring with them a fascination for dirty words and inappropriate sexual terms. If you accidentally find a filthy note, don't panic! You have not failed at parenthood. Do not take this note as evidence that your kid is into sex or drugs. If you found it legitimately, you can use it to open a discussion as to appropriate language, scriptural principles of sexuality, and controlling thoughts. But remember to listen, don't react!
The advice that I did heed came from our psychologist. He said, "Treat your daughter like she was somebody else's kid." Since I usually responded more calmly to another child's rebellion, this made sense. I reacted better to Heather's rebellion when I took his advice. This kept the tension between us manageable.
In the Bible, Timothy understood the power of a calm response when he wrote, "God's servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth" (2 Timothy 2:24-25, MSG).
Finally, if your daughter comes home with a stick-on tattoo (or a real one), pink hair, or punk-rock clothes, remember the battles with your dad over long hair, the Rolling Stones, and bell-bottoms.
Excerpted from daughters gone WILD dads gone CRAZY by CHARLES STONE HEATHER STONE Copyright © 2007 by Charles Stone and Heather Stone. Excerpted by permission.
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