Troubled parents deserve support, too


IN A RECENT column, I chronicled the turmoil and scandal my fellow mothers and I were enduring in the name of raising teen-agers. It is a daunting list.

Car wrecks, drunken parties in unoccupied homes, unplanned pregnancies, shoplifting arrests, cheating scandals, drug busts, school suspensions and horrifying trips to shock trauma centers, to highlight a few of them.

I wrote that my fellow mothers and I had discovered, to our everlasting dismay, that we couldn't make our teen-agers do the right thing or the safe thing or even the sensible thing.

I wrote that the recipe for a trouble-free adolescence - an intact, middle-class family with a reverence for God, education and one another - did not always work.

I concluded by suggesting that the parents of troubled or semi-troubled adolescents reach out to each other with candor and compassion so that we, like our kids, might get through the rough times.

Some of the reaction from readers was gratifying - tearful mothers grateful to know they were not alone as they battled to bring their children safely into responsible young adulthood.

But a couple of the letters were disturbing in their anger and their judgment.

"Your column sounds like, 'Whoa [sic] are we, we just can't do anything with these children: so let's all have a pity party for ourselves and share our sorrows.' Please ... There is - or at least used to be - a thing called discipline," wrote a father of six, ages 9 to 27.

And a woman who described herself as a political poet looking for fodder on the subject of "soccer moms" wrote that she found the price the public might be asked to pay for such behavior "horrifying."

"It's fine to bake cookies and offer gifts of empathy, but that will not help the victims of your 'teens in turmoil.' I do not care to pay for their spoiled, selfish behavior either physically or mentally. ... Not everyone is blase about wretched, life-threatening behavior."

No one knows how hard it is to raise a child until he or she is hip-deep in the process. That is just as true for the parents of colicky babies as it is for the parents of teen-agers who are testing the limits of good sense.

And, just as the parents of babies discover that there is rarely a moment's peace, parents of teen-agers learn to their dismay that this is no time to put their feet up on the coffee table.

Parents quickly realize that there is no way around childhood or adolescence. The only course is to march steadfastly through it, with love, prayer and the support of others.

Parents don't choose to have their teen-agers misbehave any more than they would choose to have their babies continue to cry through the night.

They do what they can to prevent these dismaying exigencies, but it doesn't always work. My son's grandfather caught this uncertainty succinctly when he declared, when my Joe was still a toddler: "That boy is either going to be a lawyer, or he is going to need a lawyer."

Your child might take to school or to church or to sports or to the friends of which you approve without a word from you. It might never occur to him to disobey you.

But there is no formula for obedience, despite the assurances of those parents lucky enough to have experienced it, and your teen may defy you at every bend in the road for the sheer hell of it, making you doubt yourself to a degree you never thought possible.

Raising kids isn't all luck, but a good bit of it is. If that were not true, we would all be happy, successful parents with happy, successful kids.

No parent would choose a contentious and troubled path for their child, but that doesn't mean it can always be avoided. We can't trust child-rearing to fate, but we often suffer its vicissitudes.

My point is the same one I made in that earlier column. Adolescence is a rough time for parents and teens, but our kids have their friends for companionship and support. If it works for them, it can work for us - even if we never share anything more than a kind glance.

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