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Where do you fall in the parenting spectrum?

Marc Fisher has a terrific article in this past weekend’s Washington Post Magazine. Entitled “Are You a Toxic Parent?”, this provocative piece explores the spectrum of parenting when it comes alcohol and other substance abuse. There are so many subtopics within this piece that it is hard to know where to start any commentary so do read the whole article. However, the opening paragraph sets the tone:

True or False:

·Kids are going to drink anyway, so they might as well do it at home, under adult supervision

·Restricting teenagers makes no sense when they'll be on their own in college soon enough

·You'd rather be your child's friend than an authority figure

If you answered 'true' to any of the above, you are not alone.

But that doesn't mean you're right

Mr. Fisher chronicles the great divide between those parents who set firm limits and those who turn a blind eye to their kids’ indiscretions. The parents who ignore or even enable their children’s drinking have a variety of justifications:

-- My time with my child is limited. Why waste it with arguments about drinking and parties?

-- If I clamp down too hard it will make my child rebel even more

-- I want my kids to think I am a cool parent

--There is really nothing to do. Kids will be kids.

Unfortunately, these approaches can have deadly consequences as this all too familiar description of a teenage tragedy reveals:

Before she lost control of her family's Ford Explorer on a hilly stretch of Colchester road in Fairfax Station; before she flipped the SUV and smashed into a car driven by her friend, who suffered minor injuries; before the horrific end to that Friday night a year and a half ago, Lauren Sausville, a 16-year-old junior at Fairfax High School, drank. She drank a lot -- at least six beers and four shots of vodka, enough that when the authorities found her, the level of alcohol in her blood was 0.13, well over the legal limit of 0.08. Lauren got the beer from an older guy she knew from the neighborhood. She was buried in a beautiful white-and-pink casket.

However, the comments by Lauren Sausville’s stepmother, Debbie Sausville are also very telling.

"I ALWAYS SAID I'D NEVER BE ONE OF THOSE PARENTS who goes out and gets their kid a car when they turn 16." Debbie Sausville laughs, shakes her head, gives me a sheepish smile. "You know what?" When her daughter, Shannon, turned 16, "I bought her a car. You know why? Because I was sick to death of going out at 11 to go get her."…

The quest for perfect parenting, Sausville believes, has led to a ratcheting up of expectations to unreasonable, absurd levels, creating pressure for parents to be hyper-involved in their children's lives, to be that much more deeply aware of their kids' activities than the next parents. She sees a gulf between mothers like her who work and mothers who have quit work and committed themselves entirely to child-rearing.

"In this area, you have to have two incomes to get by. And then the schools call you to come in for a conference at 1 p.m. And you're supposed to be like the moms who have no other life: 'Oh, let me just take the cookies out of the oven and hang up my apron and I'll be right over!'"

Well, Ms. Sausville, I live in your neck of the woods. I am not judging the choices you made as a mother, but don’t belittle those of us who have put parenting up front and center in our lives. I gave up my career as a physician to be there for my kids. We get by. We don’t have fancy cars or big screen televisions. We don’t take extravagant family vacations. Nobody is sporting expensive designer clothes. I don’t have a housekeeper. Three of my children are now over sixteen and we haven’t purchased a car for any of them. In fact, so far no one has gotten their driver’s license on their sixteenth birthday. I still go out at 11:00 on Friday and Saturday nights to pick up my high school daughter.

I am not taking cookies out of the oven. I am talking with my kids, learning about their friends, saying “no” when it is hard to say “no”, and on my knees in prayer. It is only by the grace of God that I have not lost a child as you did. I have several more years of having high school age children in front of me. There are no guarantees. I am not an over-involved helicopter parent. I am a loving parent doing the best I can to shape the character of my children so they can make the right choices. Sometimes it is inconvenient, unpleasant, and very “uncool”. God entrusted me with these lives. I will let him judge how I did.


Michelle said…
I thought you were baking cookies for soldiers!

My sister's youngest child will be in the second grade this year. She gets criticized by our mother (who had to work when we were growing up) and our other sister (unmarried and no kids) for not returning to the work world. Since our mom wasn't there, we KNOW what unsupervised kids can get into and have vowed to avoid that with our own kids.

Interesting article...I'm so not ready to deal with this. I'm glad I've got 5 years before I have a teenager.
ya know what... it's moms like you that...

1)picked me up after school, along with their own kids, and brought me home in the afternoons so I wouldn't have to sit at home alone til my mom got home from work. 9certainly kept me out of trouble too)

2) that treated me as one of their own, taking me to church every Sunday

3) helped me with my homework

4) picked me up from school when I got sick/hurt/in trouble & my mom was stuck @ work.

I could go on & on. My mom did not have the luxury to stay at home, she was single as I unfortunately find myself divorced. So yes, I can't leave work at the drop of the hat like I am expected by my son's school. But I do have other mother's who i can count on in a pinch- probably a mom much like yourself. I was always greatful for the "uncool" mom that was always available to talk to about my teenaged angst.

Very interesting article. :)
deb said…
As I read your quotes from the article I found myself wondering, 'What's so bad about making cookies?" My sister is in the Air Force and has spent time in Iraq. She is as tough as they come but she makes cookies with her children. I wonder why the writer found the act of baking cookies something to be contemptous of?

Our culture has become increasingly 'me' oriented. Actually parenting teenagers to become compassionate, responsible adults takes time, energy and some self sacrifice. A lot of parents simply want the easy route. So, they avoid the discomfort of arguing with their child or keeping track of their wherabouts. It is very sad.

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