MY PARENTING LESSON
Not too long ago, my sixteen year-old daughter Margaret chose to live with me full time. She and her younger sister, Charlotte, had moved back and forth between their mother and me every month for some time. We had tried all sorts of custody schedules, always trying to find the one that was best for them as well as for us. The monthly set up seemed to be working well.
But Margaret and her mother weren’t getting along too well and she wanted to stay with me. Her mother and I agreed to let her make the choice. She sees her mother frequently and there is a chance she’ll change her mind, but for now, I am a full-time dad.
Shortly after Margaret moved in full time, I went out of town for a weekend. I left her in the care of a friend’s family, but I left the door open at my house and told her she could come by if she needed anything.
When I returned, my younger daughter told me there had been a party at my house. This news was then confirmed by the most rapid and reliable news medium, Instant Messaging. My youngest got an IM from her friend who was the younger sister of my elder daughter’s friend. She said there was this big party with beer and everyone came and it was really cool.
I wanted further proof. It wasn’t hard to find. In their meticulous attention to detail, the party goers had carefully hidden the trash bag full of beer cans in the basement by the furnace. I prepared myself to confront Margaret with the evidence. I thought about what punishment I could mete out, how I could ensure this would never happen again.
But when the confrontation occurred, I found myself abandoning that plan. I just told her how sad I was. I told her I felt hurt and betrayed. I told her I had lost trust in her and it would take some time to get it back. She seemed to take that expression of sadness to heart. She admitted having the party and said she was sorry to have betrayed my trust. She said I didn’t deserve this. Maybe six months of grounding would have worked better, I don’t know, but her behavior has improved and there haven’t been any more beer parties.
I have made many mistakes as a dad and made many apologies, but I have decided to let my kids know how I feel. I get angry but I try not to be mean. I believe good parenting is mostly about trying to be a good parent every day, being open and authentic, and being present. My kids think so too.
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