Saturday, July 29, 2006

Cool parents

For some reason, we got our Sunday Post inserts on Friday (they usually come on Saturday afternoon), so I got to read Marc Fisher's feature on "toxic parents" last night. The "toxic parents" he refers to are desperate to be thought of as "cool parents," so much so that they will cave in to all their kids' wishes, throwing parties with alcohol or looking the other way during co-ed sleepovers.

The odd thing is, among my friends growing up, we all agreed that my mom was the "cool mom." And my friend A's dad was the "cool dad." And it's not because they plied us with alcohol (we never would've even asked). And it's not because they were hands-off about our whereabouts (I always had to let my mom know exactly where I was, and she would always call the parents of the kids whose parties I was attending to make sure they'd be there, supervising).

But still, she was the "cool mom." She took me and my friends to concerts. She took me and my friends to soccer and baseball games (as did A's dad, which is partly why he was the "cool dad"). She took me and my friends to amusement parks (and let us wander off by ourselves, so long as we met back at a designated place and time). She let me and my friends go downtown by ourselves for the afternoon.

Did she let me drink while I was in high school? Occasionally. She and I both like the taste of good beer, and every now and then she would offer one of her beers to me with dinner (this was not till I was 17, as I recall). I would never ask, but if she offered, I would sometimes accept. I drank because I liked the taste, and definitely not to get drunk. (At my dad's house growing up, we would all occasionally drink wine with dinner on special occasions, but I hardly ever finished my glass--still not a big wine drinker today.)

I don't know that there is one tried & true solution for parents of teens. I think a lot of it depends on the teen, and how much responsibility he or she has earned. My mom gave me and my friends a lot of freedoms, as I saw it, because we were good kids. We did well in school and, more importantly, didn't abuse what freedoms we had. We didn't stay out later than our curfews (and if we were running late, we always called). We didn't try to sneak alcohol at parties (well, one party excepted, but that was a blip on the radar, and we were all so paranoid about being caught that no one got drunk).

I fully intend to be the same kind of parent. When AB goes over to friends' houses, I will be speaking to their parents ahead of time. I will not be providing AB's friends with alcohol at my house. If I smell marijuana or alcohol on my child, you can bet your ass I'm not going to shrug and say, "Kids will be kids."

Despite my good parenting role models, though, I am still apprehensive about what the future will bring for my kid(s). I know that there's really only so much I can do. I cannot always be there to supervise, nor would I want to be. I realize that I can only stick to my plan, and then pray that everything works out OK.

Those of you who have raised teens (YT, jo(e) and others), have you had to deal with "toxic parents"?

15 Comments:

Blogger Songbird said...

Both my boys have made a conscious decision early in high school to keep away from the homes where parents either look the other way or actively promote partying by being "cool" about it. The first time #1 Son went to a party and had a drink was New Year's Eve of his senior year. All the kids were staying overnight. He told me up front what would be happening. These were mostly girls, and he anticipated a fun evening, not a brawl or an orgy. He asked if I would feel okay about his going, and was prepared to stay home if I objected, naturally. I told him, "Honey, in 8 months you will be at college and having to make your own choices. I trust you."
That night they went to the fireworks downtown (on foot and before any wine had been consumed), and he was not envious of the classmates they saw who were messed up already.
This is a long way of saying keep the communications open and maintain the sort of sane approach you describe in your post and you and your children are likely to be fine.

4:02 PM, July 29, 2006  
Blogger BernieRA said...

As an educator, I have seen the results of parents who try to be 'cool' parents. They come into the building and defend their children, denying there might be any responsibility or problems.

I have had conferences with parents where I have told them that children, parents, and staff all agree that their children are getting high prior to/ after school. They flatly deny it, and are offended by the idea that we would even suggest it.

This blindness is what leads to a lifetime of heartache and poor performance. For now, however, it makes the rest of us look stupod and overbearing, and threatens the balance in our world. Bless those children who see through this attitude and distance themselves. They will surely grow to be marvelous adults.

4:54 PM, July 29, 2006  
Anonymous Lex said...

One of the worst stories I've ever had to cover was the fatal stabbing of a middle-school girl, right in the middle of a class, by her ex-boyfriend, whom her parents had (quite properly, IMHO) insisted she dump because, among other things, he was coming to their house at night and trying to get her to sneak out with him. She apparently didn't like him enough to go against her parents' wishes.

That night, I got the perp's mother on the phone. While she was sorry her son had committed a crime, she said she understood that he was "in love with" this girl and simply trying to win her back.

In 22 years of newspaper journalism, in which I've crossed paths with Jerry Falwell, the Nation of Islam and more than one murderer, no one, and I mean no one, has ever struck me as crazier.

And you know something? Because the kid stabbed the girl while a juvenile, he's out on the street today.

So's his mom.

4:58 PM, July 29, 2006  
Blogger susan said...

I've got a young kid, so no advice to offer, but I do think about these issues. Seems like the general approach you have in mind makes sense. And the successful teenager stories--like songbird's comment, or any number of jo(e) stories--all come down to families where communication and respect are open and constant.

My friends and I were incredibly good and cautious kids (although I did end up (accidentally--not sure what was spiked) getting drunk at our senior picnic, something my parents had to have noticed but never mentioned to me. Generally speaking, I never had the sense that my parents fully trusted me, something which bugged me to no end, since--senior picnic aside--I was really a rule-follower. That little sense of not-quite-trusted never sat well with me, and I hope it's not a dynamic that will reappear in my own family now.

I think about this a lot, so I'mm glad you're writing about it (not to make your post all about me, of course!)

10:00 PM, July 29, 2006  
Blogger pink letter law said...

I'm glad people are talking about this! I have no kids of my own yet but I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend's 13 year old sister (I'm 28). I'm gradually learning to be tougher and set clear boundaries - I had to, especially when studying for the bar exam! Now I have to stay tough and keep the boundaries. I used to be concerned about being "cool" - with late night walks together and excess ice cream and stuff like that - never alcohol or cigarettes I hate all that stuff! The definition of "cool" that I have developed is the one that I'm going to stick with -the "cool" adult will go to events that matter to you, like your softball games and practices as often as possible, listen to you as you talk about stuff that has been going on in your life, set a good example by dressing appropriately and avoiding negative talk, encourage you to pursue your hopes and dreams, and love you no matter how much you say you hate them when they say you may not have or do something your way. Wow, now that I've written that out it seems even more definite and may give me even greater strenght to stick to it - she may not be lovin' it now, but in years to come she'll be thanking me just like I have been finding myself thanking my own mom and dad lately for having set clear boundaries and making sure that all the freedom that I had was well deserved. It resulted in my becoming (in my humble opinion) a darn good adult human being :)

2:55 PM, July 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Underage drinking is against the law period. I don't care if Mom offers a a "taste" it is against the law, like drinking and driving is against the law. My parents would serve alcohol to the adults in their home but never to those underage (not even a sip of beer). The law is the law and if parents break it on some occasions the children learn that it is all right to break it or "stretch" it. No way!

3:40 PM, July 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous... that isn't necessarily the truth. Some states (Wisconsin, for instance) allow parents to give their minor children alcohol under the law. This includes taking your underage children to the bar with you and having them served or giving them a sip at home. It isn't necessarily illegal.

5:20 PM, July 30, 2006  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

I don't mean to derail the thread, but for anonymous and anyone else who cares, this link offers a map (scroll down to the bottom) that graphs which states prohibit alcohol consumption by minors, and which states prohibit only the purchase of alcohol by minors. Or you can see a more detailed state-by-state breakdown here.

6:15 PM, July 30, 2006  
Blogger jo(e) said...

I haven't had to deal with toxic parents because my kids and their friends hang out at my house. My home is where the party is. I prefer that my kids be where I can supervise, and luckily, they seem to prefer to be here. It means a drum set and piano and a million amps in my living room, but that's a small price to pay.

I am very casual about some stuff. I will let the kids do fun projects like tacking blankets over all the windows for an extra dark game of hide-and-seek. I don't mind our house taking a bit of damage. And I do stuff like snowboarding with my kids and extra kids so I suppose in some ways that makes me the cool parent.

But I am actually kind of strict about stuff that is important to me. I didn't serve any alcohol at either of the high school graduation parties we've had -- not even the adults drank. (That seemed fair to me.) Kids who bring CDs to the house with misogynist lyrics have learned that playing that CD will lead to a big discussion of sexism. Kids who come here and make a racist or homophobic remark soon find out that such behavior will lead to a big discussion of why those remarks are inappropriate.

I am really strict about enforcing standards that are important to me. Other stuff -- like how clean the house is -- I let that go.

I do talk about sex and such with my kids pretty often -- and I've always said, "It's your body. You are going to need to make these decisions. I will support whatever decision you make, but I just want to make sure you have thought it through." At this point, neither of my older children (18 and 20) are sexually active; they are choosing to wait until they are older and can handle it better.

It had never been my goal to have my kids think I'm cool. Adolescents are supposed to rebel against their parents, aren't they? So I doubt any of my kids would describe me as cool but their friends probably would. That's just how it goes.

7:38 PM, July 30, 2006  
Anonymous Justine said...

(I don't have kids yet)

I feel --kind of you, I think-- that being a good parent is a balance between knowing what your kids are up to & being involved in it, and giving them *some* independence/autonomy. (Emphasis on the "some.") :)

3:23 PM, July 31, 2006  
Blogger Jessica said...

This is something I feel passionately about....about being a parent and not a "friend" to your child.

I erroneously get pegged as the "cool mom" because of my age (I'm 32 and my son is almost 16). Whenever he makes an unreasonable request that I refuse, he'll sometimes beg, "Aw, c'mon...don't you want to be the COOL mom?!" To which I always reply, "No thanks. But I appreciate the opportunity."

In the end, he respects me more.

5:17 PM, July 31, 2006  
Blogger DaniGirl said...

What? You mean it doesn't get easier when they're potty trained?

Interesting discussion. I'm very grateful that my mother offered me a shoulder and advice and a leg up when I needed it when I was young, but still had clear and invioable boundaries. It made me a better person, and now that I'm an adult we can be friends. I'm not sure it would have worked out so well the other way around.

9:16 PM, July 31, 2006  
Blogger Libby said...

I like jo(e)'s comment here. I like for ours to be the house where the kids hang out, too, and it sometimes is, but there are others as well. And one is a house where the kids do drink, and the parents know it, though there's no explicit permission given. My 16 yo is too uptight to join in, and is often the one whom the "messed up" kids call when they need a shoulder to cry on, a voice of reason, etc. So far we have kept the lines of communication open, and that's the main thing for me. I care much less about being "cool" than about being someone my kid will talk to. She gets teased about it, I have recently learned, but she seems happy about it nonetheless, as am I.

BTW Peggy Hong's column on Literary Mama, Far from Cool, gets into these issues now and then. http://www.literarymama.com/columns/farfromcool/

8:55 PM, August 03, 2006  
Blogger Killer Kitten 12 said...

If I say it's cool it's cool, otherwise it's pretty damned pathetic. That's all he needs to know.

1:57 PM, August 18, 2006  
Blogger Jenevieve said...

When I was in junior high and high school, my friends definitely though my mom was the "cool mom." She was younger and hipper than other moms, looked and dressed like a French supermodel, and was very lax. She never gave us a curfew, never asked any questions, and never talked to us kids about drugs or alcohol or sex, except to say it was "our call" and to "be careful."

As a result, my sister was sleeping around by thirteen, my brother wound up in a mental hospital, and I did a variety of stupid things until I realized (at 14) that I would never be a veterinarian if I was in jail for posession or whatnot. I cleaned my act up so much that my mom teased me about becoming a goody-goody. Ironic, no?

What I'm trying to say is that kids of "cool" parents like the ones you mentioned are screwed up and have no sense of boundaries. My future children will have clear lines drwan, even if that makes me uncool.

(stepping of soapbox)

10:00 AM, August 20, 2006  

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