My 17-year-old ran away from home and won’t come back, because of her dad. What do I do? – Ask Dr. Leman 162 (Episode 347)


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It’s time for another Ask Dr. Leman: “My 17-year-old ran away from home and won’t come back, because of her dad. What do I do?” Listen in to find out Dr. Leman’s response on this episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.

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Doug: Welcome to the first episode of 2021,8 it is so great to be with you. And today we get a question we have never, ever, ever had, it’s like the new year off. It’s from Canada, and it’s about a 17-year-old that ran away from home and won’t come back. What can we do as parents? Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are so glad that you are with us today. And if this happens to be your first time I want to let you know this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or a child, please go seek a local professional for help. Dr. Leman, I don’t do this very often anymore, but do you guys have any new year’s traditions like on New Year’s Eve or the New Year’s Day?

Dr. Leman: New years has always been about family at our home. And even as a high school student I remember going over to my older cousins house, I mean, he had a family so he was quite a bit older than me but he was a first cousin. And my mom and dad were over there and they were sitting around. I remember they had ham and cheese sandwiches and desserts and some other extended family was there. And I actually enjoyed, I mean, I was 16, 17 years old and I enjoyed hanging out with family back in those days. So we’ve always just sort of stayed close, never gone out to big party, never thought that was great. Never had a desire to go to New York City and watch the ball drop or something like that, so it was just sort of a quiet transition into the new year. On many occasion we went to church on New Year’s Eve as well.

Doug: Awesome. Well, we have a very Andrea sweet tradition here that we make tea and cucumber…

Andrea: Cucumber sandwiches. We have a tea party.

Doug: We have a tea party?

Andrea: Yes.

Doug: And then Andrea brings out what happened in the last year and we reminisce with the kids.

Andrea: Oh, well, we make a list every year. So we have the things that we hope to do as a family and then we get to pull that old list out, check off the things that we did do laugh about them and then make a new list for the coming year.

Dr. Leman: Good for you, that sounds good. Wow, that’s a good suggestion.

Doug: Well, now let’s jump into Carol’s question here. Here we go, here’s Carol.

Carol: Hi, Dr. Leman. My name is Carol, I live in Northern Ontario, Canada. Two months ago my husband and I were shocked when we came home one day to find that our 17-year-old daughter had left home. We have two daughters, the older one’s 19 and she’s in the university and the younger daughter’s in her final semester of high school and planning on going to university this fall. We found out she went to live at a friend’s house not far from our home. The past six months have been difficult because my husband has cancer. There’s been several arguments between them so she left a note and said she needed to leave because my husband’s an angry guy and she can no longer live with his anxiety.

Carol: This perception is not ours but I know you’ve said that perception is reality. The communication between us is limited to occasional emails. We miss her dearly. My husband has gotten some help for his anger issues and we’d like to repair the relationship and any advice that you can give us would be appreciated. We’ve been reading your books and listened to many of your podcasts, but we don’t feel like we have any aces in our back pocket since in Canada she is allowed to leave home at age 17 and her university will be covered by the government. Any advice would be appreciated, thank you.

Dr. Leman: I want to start with the fact that you do have a couple of aces in your back pocket. Now, you don’t think you do but you do. She’s 17, she needs her dad, she needs her mom. I get it, dad’s angry, I’m glad he’s getting some help, but I just want to go to your 17-year-old for a second. When they leave home they end up living with a friend. Now, the natural progression in life when someone new comes to your home and you’ve got a 17-year-old in your home that isn’t your child that tends to run its course. Somebody is paying for feeding this kid. This kid is probably your daughter is swapping clothes with her girlfriend if they’re about the same size to have a change in this or that.

Dr. Leman: You have an occasional email and maybe a occasional phone call, both of those are aces in your back pocket and you need to play them now. Yes, I understand in Canada you can’t get the authorities involved, and by the way I wouldn’t suggest that anyway. I would suggest to you that she’s going to come home. I’ll bet you one of those loonies or maybe even a toonie that she will come home if you do absolutely nothing, no emails, no phone calls, no cards, notta.

Dr. Leman: That may not seem difficult to some people, let me assure you that’s probably as a tough as assignment is I could give to Carol. Because every motherly instinct in her says, “I want my daughter home. I don’t want her living apart from me. I miss her, I love her,” et cetera, all understandable. But if you can discipline yourself, Carol, to not picking up that phone, to not emailing her, what you’re beginning to put into your daughter’s mind is wonder, not a positive wonder a negative wonder of, “How come I haven’t heard from mom? I wonder what’s going on. I wonder if dad’s okay.”

Dr. Leman: Let those seeds fester, let them take root for a while and see what happens. My guess is she’s going to come home, and when she comes home, the first one, the greeter is not you Carol but dad with open arms and an apology following up with, “Honey, I’ve even been getting some help. I think I’m doing better and I realized that I said things in anger that have caused you angst.” So that’s my prescription for my friend from Northern Ontario, which is a beautiful province.

Dr. Leman: And by the way, Carol, I think you probably know this from reading my books. I live along the border of Ontario in the summertime and it’s such a beautiful place I’m so sorry because of COVID-19 that we haven’t been able to get into Canada and you lovely Canadians haven’t been able to migrate down to the U.S. either, so hopefully that’s going to change real quickly. All right, well, God bless you, I thank you for the question. And now we’ll go to our resident doctors and see what they have to say.

Andrea: Well, you’re right when you say that’s got to be the hardest assignment you can give her because that would just eat at me. And how long do you think she’s going to have to maintain that stance or they of not communicating, reaching out to their daughter before they’re going to hear something?

Dr. Leman: I don’t think it will be very long, depending upon how many times she is emailed her or talk with her. If she’s done that like on a weekly basis, let’s say, now that we’re just guessing here folks, okay? Just so you know. But let’s just say there’s an email one week or maybe a phone call the next week, that kind of limited. I would say somewhere between four and six weeks you can expect a knock on the door if for no other reason, curiosity. But again, dad is the one who greets her. If you see her coming you get dad up and he gets to greet her and say his piece.

Doug: What about the dad’s anger issue? Did that really push her? Is that too much that she’s just grown cold to the family?

Dr. Leman: Well, she’s the baby of the family, the older daughter’s already in university so I’m guessing that the first born is rather rural-oriented and the second born, the one she’s calling about is probably a very free-spirited person, very independent. So it doesn’t surprise me in times of turmoil that she might just take off. But again, almost all kids who take off come back, that’s what you have to understand. Someone they take off their, their life ends tragically. When you leave the comfort of your home you are putting yourself at risk. But like I say, and Andrea echoed it, that’s tough advice but if you can do that, Carol, that is the best way to get that daughter to be knocking on your door.

Andrea: Now, I’m the mom and if I know whose home she’s staying at can I talk to that mom and be like, “Okay, Sandra’s her friend, I’m going to call Sandra’s mom and say, ‘Okay, how is she doing? We’re doing this, we’re not talking to her, but can you fill me in?”

Dr. Leman: Yeah, I was going to give you the mother of the year award again, you’re so much a mom you can’t help it. Yeah, I would tell you this, if you knew that parent and you had a relationship with that parent where you knew it wouldn’t be violated I would bless your sneaky behind-Dr. Leman’s-eyes behavior. But… and I get it, I understand. But if she blows it and you really don’t know her and she said, “By the way your mother called,” you know what your daughter is going to do? She’s going to roll her eyes and go, “Oh.” So you just gone back. If you want to push yourself back a month that’s the way to do it. Like I said that the best thing to do is just button it up, lay low.

Doug: I’m the resident dance between the three of you. You guys love to point out that fact. I know you already talked about it but this seems to go against every rational thought I would have about how to make my kid know I want them to come back.

Dr. Leman: All right, give me a list. You guys think right now about what Doug’s saying. Doug’s saying, “Wait a minute, this goes against everything I would think of to try to get my daughter back.” What would be the things that you guys would do? You be the mythical couple, you don’t have to be the Terpenings, just you be Carol and her husband. What are the things that you’d like to do that you think would bring her back?

Doug: I know that we would sit down and find a beautiful, pretty card with flowers on it and write a super thoughtful note about how we love her and miss her and wish she’d come back. I’d probably send her favorite food or dessert and tell her how much I miss her.

Dr. Leman: Okay. Do you have another bad ideas?

Andrea: What about a meal at a restaurant honey? Where we can just meet up with her and we could say, “We want to take you out to breakfast at your favorite spot or dinner or whatever and let’s just talk about what’s going on in our family and…”

Doug: There you go. Okay, there’s our ideas, Dr. Leman.

Dr. Leman: Okay. I’m still chuckling. You guys just have so much love and compassion in your heart you can’t help it, that’s all there is to it. But no, it’s not going to help. She needs to experience the loss of her family. You poured 17 years into this kid’s lives, okay? And now she has to experience. And sometimes when you first get away, guess what? I’m free at last, I’m free at last. And then you find out that home you’re living in, guess what? Mom and dad don’t always get along. Or you find out that dad’s an alcoholic, or maybe, God forbid, he approaches you in a very unacceptable way.

Dr. Leman: I mean, a lot of things that can happen when you’re in someone else’s home, you never know what’s going on in somebody else’s home, trust me, till you be there. Sometimes life just unfurls before the 17-year-old and she says, “Man, I want to get out of here, I want to go home.” So is it tough? It’s very tough. Like I said it’s the toughest assignment I could give Carol. But when she says that we’re out of aces, she’s not, she got a couple in her back pocket.
Doug: So you’re saying that by us being silent and not engaging her the reality of where she’s living will become apparent that eventually the bad that’s in that family will become annoying and now she’s stuck between two worlds?

Dr. Leman: It hurries up the process by not engaging her in any way.

Doug: What is it going to take for her to go like, “Huh, I guess I got to…” Because I got to imagine coming back to the house is going to be tough. How does that process happen?

Dr. Leman: Well, I think the 17-year-old is going to have to eat a little crow dug. She thought she knew everything at 17. How many adults have you talked to that said, “Boy, I thought I knew everything at 17?

Doug: True.

Dr. Leman: Well, she’s going away to the university and the university is going to pay for her schooling. Who’s going to pay for her food, her transportation? If you follow the prescription and you play your cards right, you hasten the probability of her turning around and coming home.

Doug: When we come back I’m going to also bring up one of your favorite phrases and see if it applies. But Andrea is pointing, “Doug, don’t forget what you always do.” Is that the new opportunity to add to your printing toolbox is an ebook called Under the Sheets, between now and the end of December 31st of 2021 for a $1.99. Dr. Leman, that doesn’t sound much like a parenting book, what is that look about?

Dr. Leman: That is a hottie book, okay? That book will say things that you will blush when you read. If you have any voyeuristic tendencies where you want to look into other people’s sex lives this is the book for you. It’s a book that I felt needed to be written. It talks turkey. God created us as sexual beings unfortunately the world has perverted sex beyond belief. And this is a good, honest, straightforward, and a more than interesting discussion about what happens in your home under the sheets.

Doug: So to help you and the reason it applies to parenting is that if you lose your marriage you just made parenting a bazillion times harder and this is a real issue that lots of couples deal with. And so I appreciate you, Dr. Leman, writing a hard book to help us keep our marriage together to make parenting better. So between now and the end of January of 2021, we have our eBooks sold $1.99. And now, a no nonsense moment with Dr. Leman.

Dr. Leman: Your son or daughter needs her own space in your home. And I know many of you have more kids than you have bedrooms. But if there’s a way to creatively give your son or daughter their own space I vote for that. Hey, Leman, that costs money. I know, I get it. Some of you physically have to deal with that. I have talked to some people who grew up in a den of nine, 10, 11, kids. One man I know very, very well slept with his two brothers in a queen-size bed, three of them and there were nine kids in the family. So I realized those things are there. And by the way that young man I was talking about is very, very successful in life. Many of us who are successful didn’t have much in terms of material. But my point about their own room is, kids need a place to identify, “This is my space, this is my home.” Any way you can work that out, make it happen because it’s good for your son, good for your daughter.

Doug: Dr. Leman, this makes me think of the phrase, and I butcher all your phrases so I apologize, but I’ve already admitted I’m the dense. Andrea is laughing at it already. Without a relationship we have…

Andrea: Nothing.

Doug: So what does that mean here? For this couple here, without a relationship with their daughter they have nothing.

Dr. Leman: Well, life’s all about relationships. I stole Josh McDonald saying, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” Everything’s based upon relationship. In the sports world they call it team chemistry. I’m always talking to our teachers at Leman Academy of Excellence to use the cell phone to call home of the scholar. And it’s a 90-second phone call, but it just says, “Little Michael’s new to our school. This year I see he’s really done well in the classroom. I see him on the playground, he seems to be in the middle of about everything. From my end he’s really doing great. Here’s my cell phone. If there’s anything that comes up you want to talk to me about I’m all ears.”

Dr. Leman: Well, you be the parent. How do you feel when you get that kind of a call from school? You’ll say, “Wow, that Leman school is something. They really give a rip about our kid.” It starts building a relationship. Parents, your kids are not pawns, they’re not property, you don’t own them and you have to have a relationship with each of them. And you will have a relationship with each of them, you will. The question is, is it a healthy, good relationship or is it a destructive relationship or somewhere in between?

Doug: And the reason I bring it up is I think for Carol and other parents out there that have guilt over their kids that have severed their relationship or whatever, that without a relationship we treat them so poorly that it really helps me to think like if we don’t have a relationship, I’m not put on this earth to serve you. That actually, if you don’t have a relationship with me I can make it and therefore my actions correspond with that. So Carol, we ache for you, we ache for every parent that ever has anybody that runs away. We thank you, Carol, for having the guts to ask the question, you sound like an amazing mom. It sounds like you guys are trying to do all the right things. I hope this really helps you so that your daughter will come back and that you guys can repair that relationship and just have a sweet, sweet, sweet situation.

Andrea: Yeah. And I hope that if there’s other people out there that are walking through the same thing that this is helpful to them because Dr. Leman said things I didn’t expect.

Doug: Again?

Andrea: Yeah. Well, thank you for being with us so you can add your parenting toolbox and as always we love these questions. You can go to and you can leave your question right there and we’d love to answer. We look forward to the next time, tend that toolbox so you can love those kids more and more.

Doug: Bye-bye, have a good week.

Andrea: Have a great one, bye.

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