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Protecting My Kids in a Dangerous Marriage: Laurel Slade-Waggoner

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April 20, 2023 5:15 am

Protecting My Kids in a Dangerous Marriage: Laurel Slade-Waggoner

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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April 20, 2023 5:15 am

Therapist Laurel Slade-Waggoner talks about protecting her kids in her dangerous marriage—while staying strong amidst a narcissist's attempts to control.

Show Notes and Resources

Grab her book: Don't Let Their Crazy Make You Crazy: How to Stay Sane and Strong When the Narcissist in Your Life is Trying to Control or Abuse You.

Wondering how kids affect the decision to stay in your marriage? Begin by asking the questions in our blog post, Should We Stay Together for the Kids?

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I would say every parent has a built-in mechanism to protect their children. Yes. I mean, it's like a radar that's continually going off of, are they okay?

And then there's a different kind of radar that goes off when they start dating. Oh, yeah. And, you know, I was thinking there are times when you would just go in the house because your protection thing- Oh, when I'm just protecting- And I would take them on some adventure and Anne would be like, I can't even watch. I need to go in the house and just pray for the rest of the time.

Did any of them get hurt? No, but it's because of my prayers. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Anne Wilson.

And I'm Dave Wilson. And you can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. I mean, I'm thinking of that protection mechanism when you find yourself in a marriage and you don't trust your spouse with the kids.

Oh, yeah. And you're afraid. Maybe they're controlling. Maybe they're overbearing. Maybe they don't have any boundaries.

I don't know what it is. And I don't know if dads do this, but as a mom, I would continually think of, this is going to mess them up for the future. This could really mess them up. What I'm doing, and I think what would be really fearful is when you have a spouse that you're seeing things or maybe even an ex-spouse who's doing things when the kids visit and you don't have control of that.

Yeah, that's scary. So we need some help. And we've got Laurel Slade Wagoner back in the studio with us today. Welcome back, Laurel.

Thank you for having me back. You've written this book with this crazy title that I love, Don't Let Their Crazy Make Your Kids Crazy. Subtitle, How to Shield Your Children from Their Narcissistic Parents' Control and Manipulation.

That resonates. It's like, OK, I want to protect my kids in all kinds of situations, but maybe I feel like we already mentioned it. You know, my spouse is doing something that I'm afraid is going to make my kids crazy. And if you haven't heard our previous session with you, go back, listen to that, because it's really about marriage.

And it was titled Don't Let Their Crazy Make You Crazy. And now we're going to talk about kids. But even that first time that we talked to you, we were kind of defining what's a narcissist. So let's say you have a call in, you know, you have a call in. We have our listeners are like, I want to call and ask this. And they say, hey, I think I might be married to a narcissist.

I feel like this isn't affecting me and our whole household. How do I know if they're really a narcissist? And that's a good question.

I get asked that all the time. So it's looking at what a healthy person would do. So a healthy person, if you confront them, if you said, please don't take the boys ziplining when they're four years old. When they're three months old.

Right. I didn't do it when they were three months old or four, but I did do it when they were 12. If you if you show them what they were doing, how it made you feel, what you know, what you would need. And you went to them and they said, get over it. You're too sensitive. I'm going to do this.

They'll be fine. No regard for what's in the best interest of the children. That's somebody who's not really thinking of anyone but their own pleasure or comfort. And a narcissist is somebody who does that habitually.

So it's not just a one or two time occurrence. It's somebody who when you bring things to their attention, when you attempt to collaborate, they don't. They are 100 percent in power and control and there is no collaboration. So I put a quote at the beginning of the book, narcissists don't co-parent, they counter parent. So they not only don't listen, they interfere. So the whole book is about equipping your children.

That's why there's a picture of a shield on the front. God is our shield and we have to figure out how to shield our children from those behaviors so that they can live out the plan that God has for them. So they have to know who they are. They have to know what to do so that they don't internalize that narcissistic person's way of living. So how does a spouse realize she's married to or he's married to, you know, you can use the term narcissist or a fool or a very controlling person.

What's the difference between, I've got a husband or a wife that's not parenting with me but they're not a narcissist but maybe they are. Super selfish. Yeah, they're definitely selfish.

But when you know that they're sort of crossing the line. Is it that they won't change? They won't listen? They won't respond to what you're saying? They demand their way.

So there's a powering over. So Proverbs 18, 2 says, So that's what they're going to do. They're not going to try to understand where you're coming from. They're not even going to try to understand what God says.

They're just going to air their own opinions and demand that it gets followed through on. And if it's a pervasive pattern, then there's not that mutualness in the relationship. There's no mutual effort. There's no mutual concern for someone's well-being. And there's definitely not a mutual ability to repent and to take ownership for hurtful behaviors or to look at something from a different perspective. Biblically speaking, it's like God's word is so amazing because He says exactly what narcissism is.

He just uses the term foolishness. I'm thinking of, I mean, because I'm a woman, I'm thinking of having a daughter. And if I'm married to a narcissist, I could hear him. And if we go to church, I could hear him saying, You need to be submissive to me. And then you have your children, and especially your daughter, watching a mom want to be biblical, want to follow Jesus. She wants to do what the Bible says.

And so she probably has this, Am I following Jesus by just having Him rule and control the entire household? What would you say to that? I would say there's a lot of confusion about submission.

I would actually draw out what I believe healthy submission is. So let's say if you're talking to your children and you're concerned that your spouse is engaging in some dangerous behavior, let's say alcoholism, and you don't want your children to be around that alcoholism or you don't want your children to want to engage in alcoholic behavior. You can draw out and say, OK, so at the bottom, there's children. Then you draw an arrow up, and then there's the parent, and then you draw an arrow up, and then there's Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Bible.

And then you draw another arrow up to the Heavenly Father. Let's just say dad for simplicity's sake. If dad doesn't want to listen to what God has to say about alcohol, it says, Do not be filled with wine, but instead be filled with the Holy Spirit, because being filled with wine only leads to debauchery. So if dad doesn't want to listen to that and he kind of veers out, we're going to have to not listen to what dad says about alcohol. We're going to have to listen to what Jesus and the Bible say about alcohol.

And I'm going to tell you what that is, and we're going to get some protection in place. So you don't have to be in daddy's presence when he's drinking too much alcohol. So we're not following them into sin. As we would say, even in our Weekend to Remember marriage conferences, submission does not mean we follow our spouse into sin. We continue to follow Jesus, and we kind of demonstrate that and tell our kids that we're going to follow Jesus.

This is what he's saying. Exactly, because submission is, ideally, it's a beautiful thing about connection. So we're connected to somebody who is submitted to Christ in a beautiful, powerful way. But if they don't want to submit to Christ, we don't want to leave our connection with Christ.

So we have to stay connected to him and to biblical instruction. Taking that example of the next step, if that mom is protecting her, she wants to protect her kids, so dad's getting drunk. Dad comes home and goes out again the next night or the next weekend, comes home, and this pattern just keeps going. She's submitting, and the kids are with her. We're submitting to God. We're not going to submit to dad's sin. As time goes on and this behavior never changes, how does this mom—and we could flip it, it could be the dad, it could go either way—how do they protect?

Is there a decision at some point, like, we've got to break out of this, or do they just stay and let their dad's behavior continue? Well, and that's where I think we talked about on the prior episode that Joshua 24, 15 is a powerful, powerful scripture, so— It's like a life verse for us. Yeah, it is. Choose this day who you will serve as for me and my house. And you know why it's a life verse? My dad was an alcoholic. And I wanted to change that legacy, you know? Exactly.

So the end of that verse is, as for me and my household, I'm going to serve the Lord. So I actually had to go through this with my boys. So I sat them down and told them my Joshua 24, 15 plan that we're going to invite dad into a plan of sobriety and— Make a choice. Anger management and give him the choice. Daddy has a choice.

We can pray that he chooses. How old were your kids then? Well, the first time they were three and four and a half. So they were very young. So second time they were middle school. Mine are a year and a half apart, so. Okay.

And we'll remind our listeners that you divorced, but then you remarried your husband. No. And so the second time, how old were they again? Middle school.

Okay. So they were in middle school. So they understand a lot more as far as scripture. And so I explained the Joshua 24, 15 and then draw out another diagram. I love diagrams. So when I was counseling kids and even grownups, I draw a lot of diagrams.

But I drew a stick figure of me and the boys and dad. And then next to dad, I put the alcoholism, the raging, the anger, the not being good with money issues. And I say, we want to draw a line of separation. We want dad to draw the line of separation between those behaviors and himself. But if he won't, then what God says to do is we have to be separated from those behaviors. So we're going to have to separate from dad. So, but we want the line of separation between dad and those behaviors, but he's free to choose.

And if he doesn't want to get rid of those behaviors, then we're going to have to separate. And we'll just pray for dad. I mean, what did they say when they were middle school? Do you remember, did they look at you and say, mom, you're doing the right thing?

Or did they say anything? I mean, I'm guessing they're seeing the same thing, especially now as a, you know, 12, 13, 14 year old boy. It isn't like they're blind to what dad's doing. They had seen it for years. They had seen me confront for years and things didn't change. And so they knew exactly what was going on.

I mean, I have so many regrets that I didn't take a stand harder and sooner. My oldest was trying to get into my ex-husband's phone and send women messages saying, I don't like you anymore, because he was trying to make that woman not be mad at his dad because his dad wouldn't stop cheating when he was on vacation with them. He would see the text messages come in from other women. So my poor boys went through so much so they knew exactly what was going on. They knew that these behaviors were not what God wanted daddy to do. And they're trying to protect you too, probably.

Right. And so they knew that it was wrong. So they were on board with it, even though there were lots of tears and it was hard. But I can tell you being a single parent, we got so close to God. We got so close to each other.

But it's really, as you just expressed, it's so hard as a mom, a wife, husband, dad, whatever situation it is, to make that call. My mom, I mean, I was a little boy and I had two brothers and sisters who were teenagers. And my dad's coming home with girls. I mean, literally took me on vacation with his girlfriend.

And he would tell your mom the reason he's doing that is because she's not enough. Yeah. And there was alcohol. So there's all this going on.

Again, I'm a little boy. And so I heard some of this later, but my mom couldn't make the hard choice to say, I am not going to leave. I'm just going to stay here and I'm going to be submissive and I'm going to be the best wife I can.

And my older sibling said, Mom, you got to stop this. You got to make a choice. And she made a really hard choice. But it's so hard for the parents to do that because they want to stay and they think he'll turn, she'll turn. But at some point you realize we've given them a choice and they don't and you made that hard call. And it's the best thing you did, right?

Right. And I would also say, I meet with a lot of clients that are confused. They feel like they're choosing themselves over that narcissistic person, but you're actually choosing, you're loving that narcissistic person God's way and you're choosing what's in the best interest of them. They need their Lord and Savior. And you pulling back your presence and you letting them, letting God have that person, that is the most loving thing you can do for the parent.

And that's an important thing to explain to children too. Like, I'm not doing this for myself. We're doing this for everybody. We're doing it for you. We're doing it for Daddy. We're doing it for her. Yeah, and you're choosing to protect your kids.

I mean, that's a big, let me ask this. If you don't make that choice, what does that do to your kids? If you stay and they are raised by a parent who's not co-parenting but counter-parenting with their mom or dad and is a controlling fool. What's that going to do to your kids long term? It sets them up for vulnerability to either become narcissistic themselves because they see the power that that narcissistic person has and they see the destruction that the non-narcissistic parent is living in and they don't want to choose that. So they'll choose that narcissistic person's lifestyle or they go the other way and they become extremely co-dependent and they don't form their identity. That's why I encourage all parents, no matter what's going on with their children, I think understanding that God has a plan for each of your children and our job as parents is to help children understand that plan. So you have to notice who God created in the person of your child. You have to nurture that and then you have to respect that and not try to make them a clone of yourself or something you want them to be. I'm guessing too, as a mom and as you're trying to work on your marriage after marrying your husband the second time and you're a licensed therapist and so you have that part of you that knows the consequences of what could happen. And I'm guessing you're trying to protect your kids and even form that God-given identity in them as they're going through it.

How did you do that? A lot of talks, a lot of age-appropriate honesty, a lot of proactive teaching. So something I did with my boys and I did with tons of child and adolescent clients was a who am I activity. So as they were talking, I was just listening. I was writing down different things about them, their likes, their dislikes, their temperament, their strengths. And then I put on there, you are precious, you are worthy, God has a plan for your life.

So I had all these different words of who they are and I make a copy, keep it from my file and I give it to them. I say, now don't let anybody ever try to convince you otherwise, you are this person. So if they're very gifted artistically, we can't make them into an athlete. We can't force them into certain activities. You notice that God gave them that gifting. So you notice that, you nurture it, you respect it, even if maybe you want them to be an athlete. So you're constantly feeding them, this is who you are, this is the truth of scripture, this is what I see, all of those things continually. Right, and that neutralizes the narcissistic impact.

Yeah, I was going to ask you, like you have, your kids are older now. Do you feel like your words, your life as a mom, you are precious, got through? Because as you were saying that, I mean, Anne knows, my mom did it, she got through, she was amazing. And even though my dad was a narcissist and I felt devalued by him, I grew up in my teenage years thinking I'm amazing. And it wasn't because of him, it was because mom really spoke and lived in a way that made me feel valued. So, I mean, and part of me is saying that because if you're a parent and maybe even a single parent, you've had an experience, and maybe you still are with a narcissistic, foolish husband or wife, you can make a major impact on your kids. God will use you in a powerful way.

He used my mom. Do you feel like your words got through to your kids? Yes, so they were both on their different journeys. So my oldest son, he's very passionate, loves to speak, loves to preach. He has this righteous anger and he would be the one that was trying to thwart his dad's narcissistic behavior. And he'd be the one that was writing him letters and confronting him. My younger son was more quiet. And then when we divorced, he felt sorry for his dad because he saw me having all my friends at church, wonderful, wonderful clients that were super supportive. And then eventually remarried, but his dad was still engaging in that chaotic, crazy lifestyle.

So he felt sorry. Was that hard for you? Yes, yes. So that's where in the first book I talk about like pick your battles and you have to really strategize to the balance of like protecting the kids and not controlling the kids.

You have to really find that place. So I would have to equip him and tell him what to do when he was over there and different things. And now that he's grown up and he has a serious girlfriend of his own, he's just now getting in touch with his righteous anger. And like, I cannot believe dad made those choices or he's a finance major. He's like, I don't understand how I could make those those choices financially. Well, you even talked about age appropriate honesty. That's probably a tricky balance and depending on their age, what that looks like.

It is. And I think that that's a really difficult one because I do I don't know if you've ever heard that Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote that says, Silence in the face of evil is in fact evil. So you don't want to be silent and you don't want to give the impression that you support that behavior.

So I use the filter of the Bible. So if there is activity that's going on that directly contradicts scripture, then in an age appropriate way, we have to let that child know what it is because we don't want him thinking or her thinking that that's acceptable behavior, what God wants for anybody. So age appropriate honesty is is difficult where there is narcissism involved. So you were a therapist as a mom, were you their therapist or did you put your kids with someone else?

Because you know it. Is it important for kids to get help? Yes, I referred them to someone else. Now, one of my big regrets is I probably brought too much therapy home.

Like I would bring home the self-control bear game or escape from anger island. Did they say like, mom, not another diagram? The diagram's on the wall. Or yeah, do the devotions at the breakfast table while they were captive and couldn't leave. And so I was probably too structured because everything else was so chaotic. So that was the one area of like, I'm going to equip you.

I probably over equip them, but. Has your first husband changed? No.

He's still the same. Yes. Yes. So. And you say that in both your books, narcissists don't change. Right. I mean, they can, I'm guessing, the power of God can do anything, but often you don't see that happen.

Right. And as a matter of fact, I had his prior girlfriend reaching out to me. She's just emotionally battered. And, you know, how can he do this? And it just, he just doesn't change. So, and it's so sad. He's very likable, has a great personality.

Everybody likes him, but he just will not relinquish these behaviors. So when you look back, because now your kids are older and you can look back with some perspective on the life you lived, where do you see God? Where was God? Was God in your marriage, in your husband being a fool and your divorce and your remarriage and your divorce, and then now you're in a blended family with five kids and grandkids. Do you have a perspective, like you look back and say, huh, here's where I saw God in this whole thing. It's amazing.

I am a very, very shy, quiet person. So the mere fact that I'm even sitting here, I've gotten up and spoken to 200 people. It's just, God is my everything. God is my lifeline. I would literally sleep with my Bible, my old NIV Bible that's all battered on my ex-husband's pillow to remind me that God is there.

I am not alone. His promises are true. And he was faithful when a door closed. An example is I really wanted a house in the neighborhood where my ex-husband had lived. He said he was taking the house. I had to get out. It was a lot of them do.

Like, he makes the money. So you want to leave, leave, but you're not getting money and you're not getting the house. So I kept driving around for months looking for a house to rent in that neighborhood.

Nothing opened up. But then all of a sudden, in the neighborhood right next to my boy's school, a great house opened up where they could walk to school. So God knew better.

I thought I wanted this, but God gave them a better gift so I could still work and see clients after school and they had a way home, a safe way home from school. So God is, he's so faithful. All his promises are really true. We might not see where his provision and his help is going to come from, but it is there. It's interesting, you know, in my mind when I heard you say you put your Bible where your ex-husband's pillow was, it's like you replaced him with God. Which you always had, but it was just a visual to say, I'm not going to submit to this man who's going to lead me to sin. I'm going to submit to the man.

I mean, again, I'm putting words in your mouth, but what a visual to say, this is my rock. This is my hope. He's right here.

Absolutely. And I think that fear of him not providing keeps a lot of people in abusive circumstances. So I don't know what kept your mom stuck, but I mean, with a lot of people who they don't trust they're going to be okay financially and they don't trust that their kids are going to be okay. So that's why I'm very thankful for Matthew 18, 15 through 17, because we've got to get more eyes on it. And I walk through how to teach children that scripture, like, please stop, Mommy, or please stop Daddy.

You should read that scripture and close it. Even our educational system uses that, right? So if somebody is bullying you, you tell them to stop. If they don't listen, you get a teacher.

You go get somebody else. If you still won't listen, then the principal gets involved. If that bully still won't listen, he gets expelled. So Matthew 18, 15 through 17 is being used in the school system, and we don't even give God the credit for that.

Yeah, I'll read it. It says, If your brother sins against you, by the way, this is Jesus speaking, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Which means separation, right? So God truly has all the answers. If you can just get to that point of believing that, that's what helped me was, okay, it feels wrong to set boundaries. But this is what God says to do, and I'm going to trust it. And then the abuse stops.

That's so good. It's the most loving thing a person can do. It doesn't feel like it at times. But even as parents with our kids, we have to set boundaries. And man, if you're in a marriage situation where you realize, I'm married to a fool, there's got to be boundaries. It's going to impact not only your home, but your legacy.

Because it's going to impact your kids' kids' kids'. That's good. It doesn't stop. Absolutely. Hi, I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Laurel Slade-Wagoner on Family Life Today. Boundaries and sometimes separation means it's one of the most loving things we can do. Wow.

Not only for ourselves, but for our children and our children's children. I love that Dave unpacks scripture there at the end. Powerful stuff today from Laurel Slade-Wagoner. She's actually written a book called Don't Let Their Crazy Make You Crazy. You can pick up a copy of it if you're under the control of a narcissist or you know someone who is under the control of a narcissist. Just head over to and you could pick up your copy there. And while you're there, we wanted to let you know that Nana Dulce, who was a guest earlier this week on Family Life Today, has written a book called The Seed of the Woman, 30 Narratives That Point to Jesus. That book by Nana is going to be our thanks to you when you partner financially with us at When you do that, you can help more families hear more conversations like the one you just heard today. Again, you can partner online at or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329.

Now, when you give, it could be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Now, speaking of narcissism, tomorrow on Family Life Today, we're going to talk about narcissism in blended families with Ron Deal. Our very own Ron Deal will be here with Dave and Ann Wilson. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-22 04:53:10 / 2023-04-22 05:05:17 / 12

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