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I’ve heard some sad stories recently. With my son now nearing the end of high school, I’m hearing more and more about parents who abruptly decide to step away from their kids, leaving teenagers to fend for themselves as they reach 18. I cannot decide where the problem lies, if it’s with the teens who, at this stage of their development, are intent on pushing our boundaries (and can certainly drive us crazy at times), or if the fault lies with parents who have grown weary of their job; as if parenting is some part-time gig that we can opt out of at any time.
By way of example, one mom told me of her child’s friend whose parents abruptly decided they would not support her through college. They made this announcement just weeks before the young woman was to start her second year of classes at the University of Memphis. Not only did they pull the rug out from under her financially, they also announced they would no longer be providing a home for her.
According to my friend, she was a decent kid, hard working and honest, except now she had to scramble to figure out how to earn her keep and fund her dreams to attend college. With $200 in her bank account. Her parents did tell her she’d be welcome to visit during the holidays.
And then there my son's friend, a nice, decent kid who often visited our house and made me laugh with his Eddie Haskellesque demeanor. Around the table at dinner, we’d often have discussions, either debating the latest news headlines or talking about relationships. He always weighed in with thoughtful insights. And this boy understood responsibility, he wasn’t a shirker. He routinely did his father’s bidding, obediently, dutifully. He was a regular on the weekend graveyard shift at his father’s business because that was what was expected of him. While his friends would hang out on a Saturday night, he’d be pulling a shift.
On the upside, he always had money in his pocket. And he never batted an eyelash at paying his own way. I respected that about him immensely. And yet, his father angrily turned his back on him one day when the boy had the audacity to challenge his authority. Not unlike most teens, it’s part of growing up. Yet not only did the father lash out against his son, he ultimately disowned him. He devalued that teen’s loyalty and pride in a single, swift act.
What would it take for you to contemplate such a ruthless act? How many of us could honestly walk away from our children? I can’t imagine.
Conversely, I recently learned that an acquaintance of mine received a beautiful bouquet of red roses from her parents. The bouquet wasn’t just a dozen stems either; there were 40 in all, with a note that read, “We’re sending a rose for each year you’ve brought joy to our lives.” The girl was humbled by their demonstration of love and belief in her. What a contrast.
The question is, how do we raise healthy children? How do we ensure that our kids grow up to be mature, loving, responsible adults, ones who feel secure and able to fully love — and be worthy of being loved — by another? We want our children to become adults who view themselves as deserving of love. I think parents who abandon their children send a message that that their child is unworthy of such devotion. I have to wonder how that message will color their choice in dating or marriage partners.
Love isn’t something we turn on and off like a faucet. As a parent, our love needs to be unwavering, a solid foundation that our kids can build on and know is always there, to fall back on when life hurls its worst.
One of my mother’s common phrases was, “I love you, but I don’t like how you’re acting right now.” That comment covers a world of ills. It says to the child, “I will always be here for you, but you need to clean up your act.” It sets a boundary, which we all need, but assures that their love endures. Conversely, by turning our backs on our kids, we send a message that ultimately says,
“You are unworthy of my love.”
The world is tough enough without saddling our kids with a sense of failure as they launch into adulthood. Especially when that failure is ours.