Monday, June 2, 2014

To the Woman With The Raised Eyebrows: I did not abandon my son

To the Woman With The Raised Eyebrows,

“How’s your son doing?”  You posed this question to me in the middle of a Walmart aisle even though you are merely an acquaintance.   It didn’t surprise me though.  When you live in a small town, a town in which you grew up and now live and work, news travels fast whether it be true or false.  It was no secret to many that my son had been in lots of trouble for the last year; getting kicked out of school (from the district in which I teach), being put on probation, using drugs, as well as many other parental nightmarish things.  I was used to the questions and had gotten pretty good at being vague, or so I thought.  

“Pretty much the same,” was my canned answer.  This is the answer I give to those who don’t really deserve an answer.  These words help me to replace my anger at the audacity of the asking by those who have no business doing so.  And so, it was the answer I gave to you as well,  “Pretty much the same.”  

Usually that ends it.  That phrase is a signal that there really is nothing to talk about.  It’s a signal that I really don’t want to say much.  It’s usually a signal to change the subject which is what I tried on that day we ran into one another.  

“How’s your family?” I asked.  But you didn’t want to let it go.  For some reason, a reason that I may never know, you pressed forward saying,  

“Oh dear!  How do you handle that when you have a small child in the house?  How do you keep her from all of the things he’s doing?”   

And I don’t know why but I instantly felt defensive. I am ashamed of myself.  I shouldn’t have felt that way.  But I did.  So I answered your question when I should have been strong enough to tell you that those logistics were really my family’s business and not yours.  

Instead I blurted out, “She doesn’t see him. We don’t see him. He doesn’t come to our home.  So she doesn’t know about ‘all of the things he’s doing’.”  

And that’s when it happened.  Your eyebrows raised to the ceiling  and out of your mouth came what I am sure is the reaction that many parents would have about our decision to not see our son.  “What do you mean you don’t see him?  How could you abandon him? If his mom won’t help him, who will?”  

I felt my neck get hot and an iron fist begin to clench in the very center of me.  Angry words began to line up like soldiers in my brain.  But I took a deep breath and I reminded myself that you were ignorant.  Your questions proved that.  You had absolutely no information about my son and our relationship and so instead of letting those war words fly, I chose to forgive you.  Right there in the middle of Walmart...I forgave you, wheeled around you, managed a “Yes, I guess that is one way to look at it,” and pushed my cart heavily laden with groceries and guilt down the aisle away from you.

But I want you to know...I want parents who haven’t experienced the things that I have experienced with my son to know...that the decisions that parents with troubled teens make are personal and agonizing and made with unconditional love and aren’t to be judged by anyone.  You don’t get to do that until you have lived with each and every one of us, until you have seen the backroom deals, the pleading, the letter writing, the bargaining, the visits to the hospital, to the principal, to court, to the police stations, the days of crying and the nights full of terror.  

Our decision to use “tough love” on my son came after every other method had been exhausted.  At the end of our rope, we spoke to a therapist who suggested what we knew all along; that my son, whom I love with all I have, will only change, will only seek help when HE thinks there’s a problem, when HE is ready and not a minute before.  She also helped us to see how necessary it was to tell him that as long as he continued living the lifestyle he was living, we couldn’t allow him in our home, that we wouldn’t pretend that all was well because to us and FOR him, all wasn’t well.  

Make no mistake, my son knows we love him.  Part of “letting him go” was to also tell him that when he was ready to live a different lifestyle, when he was ready to get help we’d move mountains to assist him.  We’d be his biggest cheerleaders. We’d use every resource and walk every step of the difficult journey with him.  But until then...until then...we just can’t support the life that he was choosing.  Loving someone unconditionally doesn’t mean that we don’t set boundaries. Had we continued to accept his behaviors as if they were alright in our world, we would have been sending a message to him that he could keep on walking down that dangerous path.  
So, my dear  Woman With Your Eyebrows Raised,  don’t ever make the mistake that being tough means we’ve abandoned my son. Tough love is just that--love that is tough--on BOTH the family AND the individual.