Children do not ask to be born. The families they begin with, which happen by choice or by human circumstance, set the stage for their life's journey.
Some families project an image like the Brady Bunch or Leave It To Beaver. If the truth be told, they are really the antithesis of those families. Family life is plastic and superficial. There is no real communication between parents and children.
The parents say all the right things and claim to subscribe to all the right things, but in truth day to day family life is a disaster.
A few months ago, a well-educated mother and father came to see me. They live in an affluent community. They have one son who is a ninth grader in a good school district. He got caught smoking pot on the football field. He was suspended for five days and was directed to get an evaluation regarding his drug and alcohol use.
KT admitted to the counselor that he smoked a few times a week. The only regret he expressed was that he got caught. He did not feel like it was a problem. He is a "B" student in school and is well liked by all his teachers. The school confirmed all of that.
He was confronted with the fact that smoking pot was against the law. He said it was a "dumb" law. When asked why, he said his parents smoke pot and are very successful people, so why not? He claims he never smoked with them, but knows they smoke all the time.
The counselor felt the need to check out KT's story. When he asked KT's parents, they acknowledged that they smoked, but inquired what that had to do with their son's behavior. They indicated that they did not know that he knew they smoked.
Upon further inquiry, the counselor discovered that the parent-child dynamic was almost non-existent in this family, and KT is only fourteen.
At fourteen, KT is already making reckless decisions. His parents are not happy that their son is smoking pot, but they have no intention of altering their social behavior. They believe he should just stop because they say so!
KT has no intention of stopping either. He says he has to become a better sneak so as not to get caught. When pushed on the issue, he says he would stop, if his parents did. Then he laughed and walked away.
MJ's family is a strict, intact, middle class family living in an excellent school district. There are four children in the family, the eldest of which, a son, is a junior in the high school. The other three children attend the junior high and elementary school.
MJ, the junior, walks to the beat of a different drummer. Since junior high school, he has consistently been non-compliant. His social behavior became so challenging that his parents felt compelled to file a PINS petition. He was cutting, smoking pot and staying out all night. His parents were overwhelmed. They were shocked at how many parents seem to sanction this poor behavior by their silence.
With great apprehension, they filed the PINS and MJ was assigned a probation officer. His probation officer was pretty clear on school attendance, curfew, no drugs or alcohol and counseling.
MJ was somewhat intimidated by his probation officer and for almost a year was a model child. His communication skills were still poor, but he was compliant in every other way.
Once he was discharged, he started to isolate from his family. There were a few confrontations around school, drugs and alcohol. His Dad made it clear that he would not tolerate any real return to the old behaviors.
Shortly after that conversation, MJ got busted on his high school campus for possession and smoking a joint. He panicked and ran after he was booked and arraigned.
He ran for about three months. It tortured his parents. He would communicate very cryptically to his parents through his friends.
Initially his parents thought he was hiding out in the local neighborhood. Then they realized that he had stolen a credit card. There were receipts from stores around the Southeast and Midwest. It seemed as though MJ was having a grand old time.
Meanwhile, his parents were petrified. MJ was barely sixteen, although he looked nearly twenty. Although he thought he was quite mature, his parents thought he was pretty immature.
As the weeks passed and the communication lessened, his parents became more and more frightened that they would receive a phone call from the police saying MJ was lying alongside the road dead in some city a thousand miles away.
The police did find MJ a thousand miles away, living in the heart of the city with a group of young people. Someone had seen his picture on a missing person's sign and had called the police. Without incident, the police took him into custody. Within forty-eight hours, he was back home on Long Island.
When the police found him, he was living with a group of college age musicians who liked the same music as MJ. They offered him hospitality until he found a job and a place of his own. He was living in this apartment for about three weeks before the police picked him up.
This three month adventure brought MJ to many towns and cities around the Southeast and Midwest. MJ admitted that he had no desire to come home. Had the police not found him, he would have continued his adventure. He said people were great. They took him wherever he wanted to go, fed him and made sure he had the bare essentials for survival.
He came back to Long Island because the police did not give him much choice. Needless to say, he was afraid to face his Dad. To MJ's shock, his Dad was pretty mellow. His Dad said "you're grounded," and that was it.
MJ went back to school and came right home after class because he was grounded. However, he isolated himself even further from his parents. He told them rather bluntly that he could not stand them. His mother was devastated. His father asked why MJ hated them so. MJ said he didn't hate them, but rather everything they stood for. He said he was counting the days until he could get back on the road again on his own.
Parenting is probably among the most challenging responsibility before us. Those of us who parent did not receive a parenting manual upon the birth of our first child. For many, parenting has become a trial and error experience.
One thing I have learned over the years as I have parented other people's children is that no matter what your parenting style, parenting is a full time commitment. It demands consistency and accountability every day. Change and growth are possible and probable, if you work at it and don't give up. Our children are worth the effort.