How To Create a Prodigal 101

1.  First, students, remember to major on minors:  Make no differentiation between social guffaws and moral absolutes.  In fact, invert your response if possible–For commandment-breaking acts, throw up your hands and say, Oh, she didn’t actually mean to lie.  And, for matters of indifference,  go bat-crud-crazy: HOW DARE YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT SHOES, and so on and so forth.

2.  Concern yourself with externals like ‘modesty’ over internals like ‘a growing resentment that will take years of therapy to even begin to undo.’  Your daughter wants to do what??  Wear a tank top??  Doesn’t she know tank tops are of the Evil One?  Refuse at once, shame her for even asking, and then turn a blind eye when she goes to chat on her iTouch with a 14-year-old boy who wants her to talk dirty to him.

3.  Care more about what the church ladies think than what God  thinks.  Discipline only for behaviors that embarrass you during the coffee hour between Sunday School and church, then ignore the same ones at home because no one’s there to watch Miss Sassy Pants give you the lip.

4.  Frustrate your child at every turn:  She wants to go to her friend’s house?  Make her pay.  She can only go if she does ALL her chores, WITHOUT complaining once even though you are forcing her to do her brother’s dishes as well as her own, her homework, her piano practice.  Make her clean her room and babysit her baby brother whenever you need a break or have a headache, even if that’s seven hours a day.  Should she dare to defy you on this, cancel the get-together at once.  Better yet, wait until the very last moment and THEN cancel it.  How will she ever learn to submit if it doesn’t hurt?

5.  Treat her like a slut.  Again, crucial.  Shaming her for liking that sundress is only the beginning.  Showing an interest in boys?  Flirting? Caught kissing once, even?  Label her ‘loose,’ immediately.  Freak out well out of proportion to her ‘deed.’  Give her every indication that you believe, deep down, she is a bad seed and has some sick perversity no other girl has.  Whatever you do, steer clear of honest talk about sexuality, periods, and what is normal (and God-given) in that arena.  It’s integral that she feels dirty as young as possible.

6.  When you see what she wants/needs, make it a priority to give her the exact opposite. Is she needy at night, wanting to take up your precious bath time to chat?  Push her away.  Teach her the meaning of ‘me-time.’  Roll your eyes.  Does she need an outlet, a friend, advice, encouragement?  Toughen the big baby up by just ignoring whatever wheel is squeaking loudest.  Make her life an obstacle course of pleasing you, of avoiding your mercurial wrath, of lying just to keep you off her back and have a moment of peace.

7.  Never, ever say you’re sorry.  What, and risk her thinking you flawed, or, worse, human?  Shame on you for even considering such a thing…

8.  Keep your distance.  To make sure she knows who’s boss, it’s important to remain aloof and detached.  Whatever you do, don’t cuddle up on the couch and watch a chick flick together.  Be as cold as possible, let her know your displeasure in her very being, and be sure to never tell her that you, too, have bad days, wonder who you are or who God is, or hate your thighs like she does hers.  Instead of living life alongside her, live across the river, detached and indifferent, but be sure to flip out when she gets the attention and affection she craves elsewhere.

9.  Never smile at her. This may communicate that, no matter her weaknesses and struggles, you actually adore her.  Make sure you are distracted when she talks and be sure not to praise her most recent accomplishment too lavishly.  In fact, try not to attend her recitals or games or play performances if at all possible.  What, and risk her getting a big head?

It’s so easy to look at a rebellious child and think, what is her problem and to further shame her in our attempts to pull her back onto the straight and narrow. But, what if we are to blame, at least in part, for creating our prodigal?  What if we’ve been boorish and unreasonable and perfectionistic and relentlessly demanding and too harsh?  What if we’ve toyed with our child’s psyche or bludgeoned her vulnerability and withheld from her the warmth and love she so desperately needs?  Perhaps the first stop on the road to a prodigal’s return is a heartfelt apology from her parents.

I hope this class is one we all fail abysmally.

  • Ellen

    I read this yesterday and have been thinking about it ever since. I’m sure it comes from an honorable desire to be a good parent and encourage others to be good parents. But I came away feeling that, instead of encouraging, it essentially blames parents if their kids mess up. My brother was a prodigal. And during the hardest times of his teenager-hood, when my parents were struggling and hurting and trying to protect their other children while helping their eldest to get out of his spiral of anger and violence, the thing that helped the LEAST was getting the message that, somehow, his behavior was their fault and the way to fix it was to fix themselves.  No parents are perfect, and mine weren’t. But my brother’s self- and other-destructive behavior was not a result of their imperfections.

    The parents who will take the time to read a blog post about parenting are precisely the parents who least need to be reminded to think about their shortcomings. And they are the most likely to read something like this and come away thinking, “Oh no. I’d better not mess up or my kid will mess up.” The parents who are “boorish and unreasonable and perfectionistic and relentlessly demanding and too harsh” to such an extent that they might actually be damaging their children aren’t going to read blog posts on how to be better parents.

    After reading this yesterday, I went around the rest of the day with a sense of fear and failure, worrying that if I told my kids to go play outside and leave me be because I desperately needed a nap (which I did), I was potentially creating prodigal children. I wasn’t. I was just being a limited human whose resources have been particularly stretched this week by sick family members and other stuff going on, who knew without a doubt that I needed my “me time” more than my kids needed me to listen to more of their stories and ask them more questions about their day and help them more with their homework and all of that.

    Again, I know this comes out of a good parent’s desire to be a better parent and help others to do the same. But I think it really missed the mark. I just thought you should know how this flawed mom responded to your post.

    • wholemama

      I appreciate your thoughts, Ellen.  Certainly, it was not my intent to discourage parents.  If you read my blog regularly, I hope you will find that I am very much in favor of a mama taking care of herself and that all of us stumbling down the path of parenting are in great need of grace.

      What I was responding to, in perhaps a bit of a hyperbolic way, was an ongoing situation in my life.  I can, literally, see this child becoming a prodigal before my very eyes, sadly in very large part because of what her mother is doing.

      I am reticent to even write those words, because, yes, they do sound accusatory.  But, in this case, and in a couple of other similar ones I’ve dealt with over the years, I have seen this happen.  Are parents always to blame for their child’s rebellion?  Of course not.  Are they sometimes?  Yes.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve lived with it.  And it breaks my heart to see a sweet child be turned into a bitter and resentful teenager/adult because they were raised capriciously.  I’m talking chronic mistreatment here, not mom taking a well-needed nap and shooing the kids outside.  I’m talking about parents who constantly exasperate their children.

      So, no, this isn’t the most encouraging post.  It’s meant to be more of a warning, perhaps my way of standing up for children who are powerless and have no voice, who are trying to be obedient, but finding no amount of good behavior is good enough, who live day after day with rules that change with the shifting of the wind, whose deepest needs are consistently trampled upon.

      I’m sorry for your parents and for all parents who have prodigal children and realize it could happen to any of us.  I once read that a parent who is ‘faithful’ in raising their children is guaranteed to have ‘good’ kids and I thought, sheesh, well that will make any parent whose kid doesn’t turn out ‘good’ feel terrible.  We don’t have guarantees.  Many teens treat their lovely parents terribly and there’s no excuse.  I’m talking in this post to parents with younger children who still have time to change course.  Not all children rebel because of numbers 1-9 above.  They might rebel for other reasons altogether.

      My point is not that parents must be perfect in order to avoid raising a prodigal, but that sometimes we do things we aren’t even aware of that are creating prodigals right under our noses.  And that is something to take seriously, as uncomfortable as it is to talk about.

      A more uplifting post next time, I hope, but today, this is what’s weighing heavily.  Thanks for writing.

  • Ellen

    Thanks for your response Amy! I do indeed read you regularly, which is why I felt OK about letting you know how this post hit me. It actually makes a world of difference to know you were writing this in response to a particular situation. Because I kept getting stuck on your audience: Who were you writing to? Again, I think most parents who read blogs like yours (and mine…I also blog for Patheos, in part about parenthood, as well as disability, ethics, and random other stuff) are the conscientious, thoughtful types who probably err on the side of being too critical of ourselves, where those whose parenting is most damaging/damaged often lack the insight to know they would benefit from tapping into a community of parents, whether online or in real life. But knowing this was more a vent on your part, a cry from the heart in response to a particular sad situation you are witnessing, makes perfect sense. Thanks for explaining!

  • Lemonzest55

    Great article…Insightful!
    Sooo GLAD I never had KIDS, tho’!

    • wholemama

       Thanks, Lemon.  But, no kids?  How will you ever learn how to clean vomit out of carpet??  ;)

  • Mike

    if prodigal means they can move out sooner, why not? they may not be your best friend when you want them to be  as you age, but they will stand on their own 2 feet.

    • wholemama

       I’m all for kids being able to stand on their own two feet, Mike, but driving them away to get them to leave seems, well, depressing.  Aren’t there other ways to prepare them to leave (and to WANT to leave) without wounding or severing relationship to get them to do so?

  • Clement_W

    Thank you for making it so clear. I finally begin to understand the difference between “Do unto others what ‘you would have’ done unto you.” and “Do unto others what ‘was done’ unto you.”

  • E B

    Along these lines I strongly recommend the book “Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child” by John Gottman.

    • wholemama

       Great, thanks for the recommend, EB.

  • Pingback: How To Create a Prodigal 101 | Redeemedography()

  • barryclinton

    Some interesting points here. Thank you for writing it. Might a lot of this work for sons, too????

    • wholemama

       For sure.  I picked girls because that’s who was on my mind, but could easily do one of these with boys as the subject as well.  Sadly:(

  • Didi K

    This makes me sad and sick… because I have seen it so many times and seen the effect of it so many times. I do not have children yet, but we desperately want them. And, one of my main goals and motivations in being a mom is to love them, to show God’s love for them, to be their friend. And I don’t mean that in the ” I am her friend, so I never correct her or discipline her and  I always poop rainbows and fart butterflies” I mean that in the sense that I want to be the one person (or hopefully 2 because her daddy wants the same thing :)) in her life that she knows is always FOR her. Even if “for her” means saying no she cannot go to that party or get that tattoo or drop out of school to become a travelling yodeler – I don’t want my children to ever have to wonder if I love them or want them. 

    • wholemama

       Didi, your future children will be blessed.

  • Alexandra

    Can we still focus on some externals, just a few, in moderation, and with a pleasant smile on our face, while the sun is shining, and after developing a great relationship majoring in the majors???  :)

    • wholemama

       Sure, why not?  Once you have a great relationship, I think kids are more open to some fine tuning.  Like, please, dear, won’t you please wear a tank top under that shirt that’s cut down to your navel.  With relationship in place, I think they actually hear us on things like this.