The last time I told a parent their child was misbehaving, I stood outside their house and listened, horrified, as the father I told tormented his son. I heard the boy crying while I listened to his mother as she explained that her son would never harass my son or anyone’s child online again.
All I really remember about that night now, nearly four years later, is that I wish I had never told. When I saw the boy the next day, he looked broken and defeated. He came to our house with his father, who stood behind him, arms crossed, still fuming with anger. The boy apologized with his head hanging low and tears in his eyes. He seemed terrified.
Yes, that boy would probably never do what he did again, but at what cost?
The lesson for me was that involving parents in issues like this can lead to unintended consequences. The truth is, parents, I simply don’t trust you with your own kids.
I know that sounds shady, and if someone said that to me, I would probably be offended. But over the last 18 years of my motherhood, I have watched too many children suffer at the hands of their parents in the name of discipline.
Before this had even occurred, I’d seen a young boy completely humiliated by his mother at my son’s birthday party and shoved into their car because he’d acted out and I’d called her to come get him. Another boy that same year was beaten by his grandparents for cussing, for which I called CPS — only to have them do absolutely nothing for the child. I’ve even lost friends who, when I told them that their son had shown my sons pornography at their house, denied it and stopped speaking to us.
Each encounter taught me that the parents of children who are misbehaving are probably the ones least able to provide effective discipline in the first place.
I know, I know — I’m making a ton of generalizations and assumptions. Ass out of me. Sure, I’ll take it. But I just can’t be the mom who listens or watches as another child is harmed because they made a poor choice. I can’t.
Sorry parents — but I’m choosing to protect your child, because I can’t be sure you will.
That’s why when I discovered that a teenage girl was texting my son nude photos, I dealt with it myself and didn’t involve her parents. I received quite a few hateful online comments about that decision after I wrote about it, but I don’t regret what I did. The girl left my son alone and moved on with her life. I do wonder what was going on in her home to make her think that exploiting her body was a good way to get attention.
Ten years ago, before I’d ever decided firmly against informing parents of their children’s wrongdoings, I’d made a decision to keep a secret a teenage girl told me. The secret was that the year before, when the girl was just 14, she had become sexually active. Since then, her family had moved across the country and the girl no longer had contact with the young man. I told her that it was important to make healthy decisions about whom she had physical intimacy with, that she didn’t have to rush into a sexual relationship with a guy just because she liked him, and told her my own story of being a teen mother. I encouraged her to practice safe sex, and I also told her I would keep her secret as long as it didn’t cause her harm. About six months later, she began another intimate relationship with a young man six years her senior, and I decided it was important to bring her parents in on the discussion, if only to protect her.
The mother, who I had been friendly with for years, was enraged. Mostly, she directed that rage at me. She asked me, “If your sons came to me with this kind of information, how would you feel if I didn’t tell you?”
My answer to her then is the same now: “I would be OK with it as long as you gave them the kind of love and advice that I gave your daughter.”
The reality is that our children will interact with many different people. We cannot control nor be present for every conversation they’ll have with other adults. Nor should we. Part of our children’s development involves filtering experiences and information and using it to shape the person they will become. While you may not like that I won’t run to you the minute I find out your child is doing something wrong, you should know that I will always do what I believe is best by your child. If circumstances feel beyond my control, such as drug abuse, violence or self-harm, I will definitely reach out to someone, maybe even you, for help. But otherwise, I’m going to handle it on my own, without coming to you.
In the old days, neighbors, friends and even teachers disciplined children without bringing the child’s parents into it. I, however, am not disciplining other people’s children — that’s not my job —but I am talking to them, I am letting them know when their behavior is out of line, and I am setting clear boundaries for them. Like it or not, I’m that mom, and regardless of how you feel about it, I’m going to stay this way.
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