When we adopt and/or give birth to children, they don't come with a manual. Most of us learn about parenting through trial and error. Depending on our generation, our basic parenting skills might be shaped by what out parents did or did not do. Nonetheless, there is not a parenting manual that works for all. At best, there are some books, articles, films and workshops that might help, but every child is unique. Even in the same family, what one does with one child may not work with the second child.
What is clear is that parenting is a hard, full time job with a lot of overtime. Where does a parent turn for support? There are support groups for every issue under the sun. Where do parents turn when they want to kill their kids?
Thirty years ago, no matter what your ethnicity, neighborhoods, schools and parents supported each other. If PJ was acting up in the neighborhood, before he got home you had already received a phone call giving you the heads up. PJ knew he was dead just by your tone of voice. Some of us in those days would rather have moved to a foreign country then face our Dad who leaned toward looking at everything in black or white terms. If any adult called home to complain about our behavior, we were wrong before we even opened our mouth. There was a camaraderie parents shared that gave them a sense of connectedness and support.
Unfortunately, today there is very little connectedness. People can be neighbors living next door for twenty years and be total strangers. They share no connectedness even though their kids played together every day while they were growing up.
Parenting a teenager today is radically different. Parents today have to face so many challenging social issues that parents in previous generations never had to consider. Drugs, alcohol, sex, computer technology, gangs, violence and terrorism, just to name a few. So many parents feel so inadequate dealing with these explosive concerns.
We need to create more support opportunities, places for parents to gather to express their concerns, their frustrations and their fears. A growing number of parents don't want to wait for the crisis to erupt before they respond. They want to be more pro-active and protect their children and their families from some of the reckless behaviors that are infecting our communities.
Parents need to talk to each other. They need to respect other families and their style of parenting, even if they don't agree with it. Unless another parent is being abusive and/or violent, we have to respect diversity in style.
QR is nineteen. He is the youngest of three children. Both parents are successful professionals. His two older brothers are college graduates who are living on their own.
From the time QR was in middle school, life has been a challenge for him and his parents. He always pushed the envelope to the edge. He has been in counseling since the age of ten. Although he loves his older brothers, they have had it with him because he constantly creates grief, no matter where he goes. Unfortunately, when you confront him, he denies creating the problem and says it's everyone else.
High school was a roller coaster ride. He started in public school, was forced to go to boarding school, returned to a Catholic school and ultimately dropped out of school because he does not like structure or discipline. Needless to say, when he dropped out his senior year, his parents were devastated. He assured his parents he would continue his education.
In the spring semester of his senior year in high school, QR registered at Suffolk Community College to work on his high school equivalency and at the same time apply college credits towards his associate degree. QR is very bright. He started out like a ball of fire. He was motivated and energized to get his high school diploma and become a matriculated college student.
By late spring of his first semester at Suffolk, QR was waning. His energy to work hard and stay focused was waning. He started to stay out all night and smoke pot.
When his parents confronted him and expressed that some of his social behaviors were illegal and unacceptable in their home, he told the to "go fly a kite." He had no intention of amending any of his social life.
As he smoked more pot, he became more adversarial and belligerent with his parents and with people in authority. During his anger and outbursts, he would kick holes in the hallway of his home and threaten to punch his Dad if he did not back off.
A highly motivated young woman came into QR's life. He loved her instantly. She was a college student with exceptional grades. Her parents had their own business and she lived three blocks from their house.
A few months after they connected, QR talked about moving out. He continued to be difficult with his parents. He and his girlfriend talked about living together. His girlfriend's parents said he could live with them. They tolerated them sharing the same room, even with younger children living in the house.
The girl's father gave QR a job and let him drive the family car, even though he did not have a license. He also did not forbid drinking and smoking pot in his home. He never called QR's parents. He believed that QR was the most abused child since Oliver Twist and never questioned QR's tale of woe.
Nine months later life in the girlfriend's house was a disaster. The father wanted QR out. He was reckless, irresponsible and a negative influence on his family. He finally talked to QR's parents, who expressed their gratitude, but also their deep frustration that the girlfriend's parents had rescued and enabled their son's reckless lifestyle.
The purpose of this conversation was to let QR's parents know that in a few days QR would be homeless. His parents were open to him coming home. QR made it clear that he did not want rules and that he had no intention of stopping the pot smoking and the drinking. His parents made it clear that their love for him was unconditional, but that he had to come home on their terms. If he was willing, the door was open.
QR's response was "I am not sure." How sad. The parents only expectations for their nineteen year old son were no drugs and alcohol (because they are illegal) and for him to have a full time job.
Time will determine what will happen.