Q. My 14-year-old daughter says I don’t trust her because, unlike her best friend’s parents, I won’t allow her to stay home alone for several days while I go out of town. Her friend’s parents do this at least once a month while they go to their second home, and their two teenagers – 14 and 16 – have thrown at least two raucous alcohol (and most likely sex) parties in their absence. I have tried to explain to my daughter that this is not typical parenting and I am concerned about her and her brother’s welfare. But I am struggling with a way to do this without throwing other parents “under the bus,” so to speak. In addition, my daughter may not even think this is bad parenting and just think I’m making excuses for myself.
A: Your problem is your concern about throwing these other parents under the proverbial bus. As a result, you are mincing words, pulling your punches, avoiding the real issue, and failing to make yourself perfectly clear. For example, you’ve told your daughter this is “not typical parenting.” I give you high marks for your deft use of polite euphemisms, but the bald fact is her friend’s parents are a couple of irresponsible narcissists. They obviously put the satisfaction of their own hedonistic appetites way out in front of their children’s welfare. The upshot of this is that their children are putting other people’s children at significant risk. It’s time the entire community stopped turning a blind eye to this and, yes, threw them under the bus. The next time they leave their children at home alone while they go seek their monthly pleasure fix, someone needs to make a phone call to Child Protective Services.
You need to be crystal clear with your daughter, as in, “I’m only going to say this once, so listen very carefully. It is highly irresponsible of your friend’s parents to leave their children home alone for days at a time while they go entertain themselves. It is also against the law, child of mine, and it is only a matter of time before the authorities step in to this situation. I am not going to break the law, much less endanger your welfare.
“And now, about you, young lady, and your feeling that I don’t trust you. The mere fact that you think your friend’s situation is desirable tells me that if I left you alone for several days, you would definitely throw a party to demonstrate to other kids how totally cool you are. So, yes, I don’t trust you, and I’m not leaving you alone. This discussion is now over, for good.”
And with that, get up and leave the room. Your other problem, I strongly suspect, is one you share with lots of today’s parents: you don’t want your daughter to dislike you. As a consequence, you engage in debates with her, trying to get her to say what no 14-year-old has ever said: “Wow Mom! When you put it that way, a bright clear light went on in my head and I suddenly got it! Yes! I agree with you! Oh Mom, you’re such a great Mom to care so much for me! I love you, Mom!”
Absurd, isn’t it? Now, it’s time for you to shake off those mean old “I want my daughter to like me” blues and be the parent she needs you to be, whether she likes the parent she needs or not.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions at parentguru.com.