31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Discovery Can Be A Scary Thing

Single With Children: Whittle down problems a day at a time

Susie Parker
Publication Date: 03/23/05

I thought I understood the notion that parenting isn't for wimps, but until this past week, I had no real clue.

I've learned a few mothering techniques over the past 21 years. I know to apply kisses to skinned knees and elbows, lie in bed with a feverish youngster and watch the same video at least 17 times. I learned other things too.

I respect my kids, but I am one of those parents who launches the occasional search of my kids' rooms. I am the Mom, and that affords me a lot of latitude. If my instincts tell me something isn't right, I have learned to heed those feelings.

Last Friday, my instincts told me something was amiss. My son was out with his friends, so I took the opportunity to look around his room. It didn't take a lot of detective work to find some things that made my heart sink. It was one of those experiences where your eyes are delivering a report to your brain, but your heart is screaming, "REJECT!"

I realize teenage years are the most tumultuous period of life any of us ever have to navigate, and I don't know too many people who would care to revisit that period. Hardly any of us breeze through those years without making a few mistakes, and sometimes mistakes can cross an invisible line and become life-threatening.

I never expected my kids to whiz through post adolescence without making a few bad choices. Obviously, my son had done a little experimenting and made a questionable choice.

What I found wasn't earth-shattering, nor atypical for someone his age. But it rocked my world. I gathered up the evidence and took the time to carry out six bags of trash, put fresh sheets on the bed and dust. When I get stressed or upset, I can't be still.

What to do? It was apparent to my son by the condition of his room that I had made more than a passing inspection, and this was not welcome news. After his initial expression of outrage came a flood of excuses. I listened. When it was my turn to talk, I told him I appreciated the fact that this didn't disqualify him to run for president, but it was a very serious matter.

"Please don't tell Dad," he said.

Of course I had to tell Dad. I dreaded making the call, but I did. I didn't know how the news would be received. Would it be the perfect time to list the ways I have failed as a parent? Maybe charge me with not paying enough attention? Would he blame me for years of overindulging the kids?

Fortunately, he did none of that. He expressed concern, offered no blame and within 48 hours, he flew 2,000 miles to check out the situation. I invited my kids for dinner at a specific restaurant and when we walked in, I spotted our out-of-town visitor. After the kids recovered from the shock, my former husband's impromptu visit let my son know that this was serious business.

The four of us talked for an hour before ordering. We laughed and we cried. Though initially reticent, my son looked relieved. The jig was up and a lot of walls were instantly dismantled, along with the bravado. It was a productive, honest and warm dinner. Serious decisions were made because serious situations require them.

Nothing was easy. A couple of people said we over-reacted to what is nothing more than a youthful rite of passage. If we did, that's just fine. Though it was a long, uncomfortable evening from where my son sat, he had to know he is loved. Everything said, every action taken, came from a deep, shared love for our son's safety and well-being. Divorce and distance didn't change our focus and devotion as parents.

He wasn't pleased with the changes and reduction of privileges. He feels as if he's under a microscope. That's because he is, and will continue to be, for quite some time. Trust and credibility can be lost in a second, and it takes a long time to earn those things back, but everything is possible on the "one day at a time" plan and knowing that you are loved, even when you make those inevitable wrong turns.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at SusieWrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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