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Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you planned. May 22, 2007

Posted by rootie2t in Uncategorized.

I knew when I was in my teens that I wanted to have kids.  I would raise them right, they’d grow up to be productive and moral people, and I would feel proud of having raised perfect children.

 When I started having kids in 1988, I read the right books, fed them the right foods, bought them the right toys, always put them in a carseat and went to church every Sunday.  And everything went well. They did well in school, they had friends, and people congratulated me on my well behaved children.

 And then, something happened. I’m still not sure what, but something definitely happened. My perfect 1st golden boy decided to go his own way.  My perfect second boy knew beyond any doubt that he knew more about stuff than I did. My charming and attractive third boy was diagnosed with ADHD, had to repeat the second grade, and endured several summer school sessions in order to proceed to the next grade.

Eventually my 1st son decided to go his own way completely, climbing out the window at midnight to meet friends and smoke marijuana. He decided school was for losers. Mentally, he dropped out in the 9th grade, and eventually dropped out for real in the 12th grade. He also brought his drugs into the house, and we threw him out. Literally. We packed up all his belonging, and put them in his car, and told him he no longer lived with us.  I felt like I cut out my own heart and packed it up when we did that. But what do you do, when there are 3 younger brothers in the house, including a 7 year old?

When all that happened, I doubted everything I’d done for the previous 17 years.  I tried to figure out where I’d gone wrong, should I have read a different book? Did I spank too much, or not enough? I questioned everything, seeking a source of blame, convinced that source was in *me*, was something I had done wrong and all my son’s issues were laying squarely on my shoulders.

But, you know, my son had (still does, I believe) a brain. He was (is) capable of self-determination.  There comes a point in a child’s life where they become autonomous and they *WILL* make their own decisions. Sometimes those decisions will go contrary to everything we raise them to believe, because they can. It pains us, as parents, to watch our child go down a road that the books and tapes and parenting magazines would have us to believe doesn’t exist.

Fisher Price never tells us that our child might smoke pot even if we buy the latest BabyJungleGym. Gerber never warns us our child might fail the second grade even if we feed them organic applesauce.

The best a parent can do is to equip that child with the tools they need. Beyond that, I don’t know what else we can do.  If the child has the tools, they will eventually use them, we hope.  When they get to that point where suddenly everything you’ve ever told them is WRONG WRONG WRONG because it’s not what they want to hear, they’re going to have to figure out their own way. You gave them the tools, the moral compass, the ethical road map, if they want to wander in a wasteland for a few years, then they will.  And chances are, if they survive (there’s an awful thought), they’ll eventually remember the tools and find their way back.

I’m telling you, when you see your child come a-wandering out of the wasteland, tired and remorseful, it’s really hard to resist the temptation to say “see, I told you so!” That’s not the thing to do, tho, because they’re already saying that to themselves.

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the son returns after wandering that metaphorical wasteland, and his father greets him with joyous enthusiasm, thrilled that his boy is back.  I like to think that’s how we’ve acted when our son came back to us.  No recriminations, no “why the did you do that??”, just “Welcome  back, what can we do to help you get back on your feet?”


Beating ourselves up over the way he behaved is pointless. He was a free-thinking, autonomous creature who paved his own road.  The tools we gave him when he was younger are coming into play now as well, stuff like a solid work ethic, how to pick friends, and a sense of integrity. He still does things I’m not quite so sure I approve of, but he’s making it, and that’s what matters.

My point in all this is to ask you, if you have kids, to be careful in becoming complacent about how you’re raising them. Half of how they turn out is within them. The other half is in what you teach them. And if your kids are doing things that you *KNOW* you didn’t bring them up that way, don’t beat yourself up about. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you planned.



1. OmbudsBen - August 14, 2007

what a powerful story — and heartrending.

2. mermade - August 17, 2007

This is a beautiful post, Rootie. Really. I have re-read is several times. Thanks.

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