Ask Lisa—What Do I do With A Daughter Who Is Out Of Control?

“Ask Lisa” is an advice post for people who write in asking questions about a specific problem or situation.  Although is in no way a substitute for therapy, my hope and prayer is that it gives encouragement and direction for whatever you may be facing today.

If you have a specific question you would like answered, write in!

Dear Lisa,

I am writing you because I don’t know what to do.  My daughter Emily is 23 years old.  She has been working in our family business since she graduated high school.  She is disruptive to our business as she is often late, is disrespectful to everyone, and has a poor work ethic.  I brought her on because I wanted to train her from the ground up in the hopes of her taking over the business one day.  I’ve removed her from projects, disciplined her, talked to her privately, but to no avail.  Everything seems to be spiraling and it is affecting my other staff.

To make matter worse, she has had a history of anxiety and depression.  Currently, I fear she isn’t taking her meds or going to her therapy appointments. All she seems intestered in is partying with friends, which can’t be helping matters. What do I do? I love my daughter but I can’t continue going on like this.

Sleepless Mom in Seattle

Dear Mom,

Such a challenging situation for any parent!  We love our kids and want to do everything we can to make their lives as stable and successful as possible.  Yet as our kids grow into adults, we can no longer control them or corral them to ensure their safety.  We can’t. We can love our kids, pray over them, and encourage them.  But when they won’t listen, sometimes the only thing we can do is draw healthy boundaries for ourselves that hopefully bring them face to face with the reality of their life and situation, boundaries that allow God to intervene, changing and transforming them in ways we never thought possible.

I can tell you love your daughter and are concerned not only for her future career and financial stability, but also for her mental health issues.  I would encourage you to consider setting up a time to meet with her privately.  Detail specifics of her job performance.  Express your desire to have her continue working with your company, but set clear expectations for what would have to change in order for her to do so, including a timeline for meeting each expectation.  If there have not been any consequences thus far for her behavior, you could define specific consequences for each infraction (ie. Sent home and docked a day’s pay if late, etc.), but there has to be a willingness on her part to change.  If she doesn’t see a problem and doesn’t seem inclined to change, the best course of action might be to let her go.

If you are not sure exactly what healthy boundaries look like or how to implement them, I encourage you to get my book, Peace For A Lifetime, which will help you understand and create healthy boundaries for all of your relationships.

Allowing her to experience the real world with real bosses to whom she’s not related might be the best life-teacher.  Doing everything for them rarely grows anything in them.

Allowing children to experience the real-world consequences can be the best life-teacher.  Doing everything for them rarely grows anything in them.

Many parents have adult children with mental health issues, which I know can make the situation more complex. However, somewhere along the way, adults, even if they are your children, have to learn to assume responsibility for the own mental/emotional wellbeing.  As a parent, you could agree to pay for psychiatric visits, meds, and/or therapy as long as they are willing to consistently show up for appointments.  Beyond that, in most situations, there is little a parent can do to make sure their adult child (especially if they are not living with you) is taking their meds or doing their part to maintain their mental/emotional stability.  

Your focus has to be on taking care of yourself and your business appropriately.  You need to make sure you have someone to talk with, a strong support system at church, as well as good self-care.  Pray over what your boundaries need to be, set a date to communicate your boundaries, and be prepared to follow through with them.

I’ll be praying for you!


**The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional in a clinical setting. 

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Don’t we all want a little peace?  My heart for this community is to provide just that – a needed refuge from all the burdens that weigh us down, some encouragement and inspiration to keep us weary travelers moving forward on our journeys, and some practical advice to help each of us navigate the challenges of life and relationships.  Whether in our parenting, our marriages, our faith, or the broken places in our hearts, this place is for anyone who dares to reach beyond the hopelessness that surrounds us and embrace a lifestyle of emotional abundance and peace!  

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In my book, Peace for a Lifetime, I share the keys to cultivating a life that’s deeply rooted, overflowing, and abundant, the fruit of which is peace. Through personal and professional experience as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve discovered how to take the broken pieces of life and find indestructible peace with myself, God and with others. Through my story and other’s stories you’ll realize that you can experience the life for which you long. You can experience abundance beyond anything you can imagine. You can experience peace, not just for today, not just for tomorrow. You can experience peace —for a lifetime!

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  1. It’s hard to step back and let our growing up kids feel the consequences of their bad decisions, but it’s really the only way they can grow. If we continually rescue them, we are stepping in between them and God.

    • Amen, Michele! It’s been a learning process for sure, but the results of having children discover who God is, who they are, and be able to build healthy, stable lives is worth it. Blessings, friend:)

  2. Helpful tips and advice! It’s so hard being a parent and trying to do everything right and then our kids go down a different path!

    • Parenting is one of the hardest challenges and biggest responsibilities God gives us. It can feel overwhelming, hopeless, and helpless when our children do make bad choices —our inclination is to rush in to rescue and remove the negative consequences. And yet it doing so, we also remove God using the negative consequences to teach, to grow, and to restore. Have a blessed day!

  3. Our son is 35 years old. During his teen years , he made numerous bad choices. Our hearts were broken for him. My husband and I prayed and prayed. We realized we could not handle this situation on our own. Time passed and finally, our prayers were answered. We had to use some “tough love” to get our son to understand. God answered our prayers in wonderful ways. We had to let go of our son and let him experience the good and the bad of his decisions. When we finally released our son to God, things began to change. Today, he is a wonderful, Christian man with a loving, compassionate heart. He’s married and they have our first grand baby. God truly answers prayers, in His time. Our son has apologized for all he put us through. We love him dearly, in the good and the bad times.

  4. Solid advice! visiting you from the graceful tuesday link up.

  5. So many parents are seeing this kind of problem today. Great advice!

    • It is becoming epidemic. We want to help our kids. It’s just so hard to discern what is helping and what is actually hurting them. Blessings, Nancy!

  6. I have an adult child I’m concerned very much about the direction his life has been going in for the last couple years. However, he’s been out on his own with his own family since he was 18. The only thing I can do which happens to be the best thing I can do is to pray hard. I pray hard prayers and it’s because I love him and don’t want to see him continue on this path because it’s a dangerous one. He talks to me when things go wrong and I try to guide when I can. Visiting from soaring with him linkup.

    • I understand completely, April. I have two adult sons who have walked very difficult paths and it can feel helpless and overwhelming for parents. You are wise to know where your power lies and to focus there. Your prayers are powerful even when you can’t see the miracle today. God is faithful. He is working. We must put our trust in Him. Blessings:)

  7. GREAT advice, Lisa. Kids, whether they’re 2 or 22, learn from consequences, and when they need clean up their own messes, they often don’t repeat them.

    • Thank you, Jessica! You’re right – it doesn’t matter if they are 2 or 22, the principles are still the same. I say, let’s start ’em young and that way they hopefully learn young. Blessings, friend!

  8. Lisa, what a loving, yet truth and healthy response for what seems like an impossible situation for a mom. Your book sounds like a great resource. God bless you!

  9. Great advice! Parenting can be terribly painful in these situations, and the mental health component adds complexity and fear. Really appreciate your wisdom, and thank you for dealing with a tough question/situation.

  10. Such good advice! We’ve been there- and the best thing was when our adult child went to work for other people and then finally found a job that was the perfect fit for his need for structure. I read somewhere once that a very successful businessman wouldn’t let his kids work for him until they’ve worked for two years for someone else – and, from my experience – I wholeheartedly agree- whether they are out of control or now – but I’ve found that the out of control adult children tend to be more in control outside of their family business! Sometimes, it’s harder being the parent of an adult child than when they were all little.

  11. So much going on with families, is anyone untouched by these decisions anymore, eve in trying to help others. Praying, His peace for us.

  12. Wow, I’m so sorry for the lady who is going through this with her daughter. Lisa, thank you for your wise words. Boundaries are essential in so many relationships. And we are not wrong for setting boundaries when someone crosses lines.

  13. It’s refreshing to see solid advice for parents to set and enforce boundaries. I love that you addressed how to do that, as well as how to tangibly show love as a parent (like offering to pay for therapy sessions, etc.)

  14. Parenting is challenging at times. And having an adult child who is not responding to adult life responsibly is difficult. You have given this mom great advice. Some adult children have to live life the hard way first before embracing life with maturity.

  15. “Doing everything for them rarely grows anything in them.” I’m currently reading “The Coddling of the American Mind” and the authors would totally agree with you on this (as do I). It’s hard to step back when we want to step in, but it can often be the best thing.

  16. Great insight , Lisa. It is hard when our kids are adults. We will always be a parent, mom, but as you mention, we no longer corral them for their safety anymore. Or have much control over their behavior or reactions.

    I agree the boundary setting and consequences with expectations measured along the way are the best plan to follow.

  17. Thanks for sharing with the #DreamTeam
    We would really appreciate it if you could add our linky badge. Thanks so much.

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