Recently, I listened to the painful stories of two moms of Prodigal Sons. One of the women’s sons is a teenager, the other an adult with a wife and children. One son has a substance-abuse problem, the other has disconnected himself from his family. I love these two women; they are my sisters in Christ and they are hurting from the behavior of their sons.
The first mom, “Lucy” (not her real name), has a son who has been continually rebelling against the family. He went on a long trip this summer and decided not to return home. He has enough money to last him a couple more weeks, and he is “couch-surfing” with friends because he has no place to stay. The final blow came when he told his parents to cancel his return ticket.
His dad canceled the ticket. Lucy didn’t want him to do this; she was hoping that her son would somehow decide to get on the plane at the last minute. Her husband’s reply was, “Let him fall.” They are keeping the lines of communication open, but until he runs out of money, he won’t really have to make any big decisions about his situation.
The second mom, “Nina” (also a fake name), is the parent of an adult Prodigal Son. He is married, has a family and a good job, but he is a raging alcoholic. When I say “raging”, I mean that he is controlling and verbally abusive toward Nina and others, especially when he is under the influence.
Extremely upset with this, she had decided to write him a letter, telling him that she will no longer tolerate his foul language and verbal abuse. She is afraid, though, that if she does write the letter, she will no longer have contact with her grandchildren.
What is missing from both of these situations? Boundaries.
Boundaries with Prodigals
I have learned over the years to set certain boundaries. Some of these boundaries were with co-workers, some with family members, and some with children.
According to psychologist Raymond Lloyd Richmond, PhD., “The ideal of life is mutual cooperation, but if you must interact with others who are not cooperative and rather are hostile or manipulative then it is necessary to have strong boundaries to protect yourself.” — From “Guide to Psychology”.
A boundary is your line in the sand. It is the limit of what you will tolerate or accept from another person. You have the right to protect yourself from manipulation or disrespect. You certainly don’t owe anyone the opportunity to take advantage of you.
But what if we are reluctant to set a boundary with someone? Some people may think it is “rude” or “selfish” to set a boundary in a personal relationship. But the fact remains that your life can seriously and consistently be disrupted due to your inability to establish or enforce the boundaries of your life.
As the mom of a Prodigal, I struggled with setting boundaries with my son. Driven by guilt and fear, I was unconvinced that setting my own borders was the right response to my son’s addiction, manipulation, and illegal activities. To me, it sounded harsh; as though I was giving up hope or cutting him off from me. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Learn from My Experience
About five years ago, after over a month of prayer, some pretty obvious intervention by the Holy Spirit, and a dry-eyed examination of my own situation, I came up with a set of personal boundaries which I set with my son. Lucy and Nina might be able to incorporate some of these personal boundaries with their sons, and you may need to establish these with your Prodigal:
- Zero tolerance for physical or verbal abuse or intimidation. [Nina should tell her son this, by phone or in-person with her husband present. She can still contact her daughter-in-law by phone to monitor the situation.]
- No financial support. None. Including bail money or rent. [Right now, Lucy’s son thinks he’s on vacation. When the money runs out, he’ll have to face reality. Lucy’s husband is right when he says, “Let him fall.”]
- No car. No driving them anywhere.
- No stolen property, illegal substances, or weapons can be brought into your home.
- Changing the locks sounds dramatic, but if your Prodigal has an addiction, they will need to get money somewhere. I can remember telling my son, “this isn’t your flop-house!” [I later discovered he was dealing drugs out of my basement. How clueless could I be?]
I know it is tough to maintain a boundary with someone you love, especially your own kid, but think of it this way: by drawing the line, you are making it harder for your Prodigal to maintain the lifestyle they have chosen. You are, in effect, putting the responsibility for their behavior exactly where it belongs, on them.
God Has the Final Say
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12
Grace is real,
Judy, The Default Mom