Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tough Love

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs around. Just when you think you've got yourself a winner, all hell breaks loose. How would you deal with the bitter disappointment of broken trust?

Let's take the case of a typical family- father, mother, kid, let's make her a daughter. Growing up, she had good grades, nice friends, made good decisions. All the way through junior high she was fairly dependable, so at 16 she is rewarded with a drivers license and the keys to a car. She's your kid, you can trust her, right?

Within a few months, you notice she is not around much anymore. Letters and calls from school let you know she's not there as much either. You start to check the odometer and find mileage unaccounted for; she's really been getting around.

Even worse is the money deemed necessary to keep up her so called middle-class existence. Cell phones and I-pods and clothes, oh my. As parents you should discuss what to do about Connie, but instead, one side blindly affirms the girl's dire need for each and every purchase and chides the other for lack of trust- her grades are still good, she's never been in any real trouble, don't worry, be happy.

Then you find cigarette butts in her ashtray and beer cans in the trunk of her car. Now, you know full well that kids have been smoking and drinking for as long as there have been kids, beer and cigs (a fact your other-half glibly reminds you). But that was before it was proven how dangerous smoking can be, not to mention drunken driving. And besides, the laws have changed, what you've found is technically illegal for your daughter.

So you pluck up the courage to demand of your spouse a family meeting to address little angel's reckless behavior, and by the way, where is she? Out with Jack, is the response. Jack, you explode, Jack who was arrested last month for drug trafficking? Don't be silly, says other-half. Jack goes to church and his mother is on the PTA board. There's nothing wrong with Jack. It was all some mistake or misunderstanding.

So you wait alone for your little precious to drag her sorry ass in, looking not at all ashamed or apologetic. Rather than allowing the discussion to dissolve into a shouting match, you begin in a non-threatening manner. Where have you been? What have you been doing? Who have you been doing it with? Why did you decide to trash the advantages life gave you and bring shame and humiliation upon this house. Real low key stuff.

She smiles that 5k smile (same as your spouse's, you suddenly realize) and tells you she's done nothing wrong. Missing a little school is no big deal, neither is a road trip or four. It's just more expensive today than in the past, and besides, spending money is good for the economy. As for the beer and cigarettes, they aren't hers, she's never even tried them, but if they were, it's only technically illegal and everybody else does it. And don't worry, she tells you as she pats your hand, she's so not into Jack.

There you have it, the conundrum. This offspring, who you have been some 50% responsible for bringing into the world and nurturing for the past decade and a half, is purposely violating recognized rules of behavior, breaking the law, associating with dangerous criminals, and lying to your face about it. Your other half is off in some drug-induced fantasy land where no action is too vile to be ignored or defended. You are paying the bills and wondering how your life ever got to this point in time. What do you do?