Lianne Best, who writes a weekly newspaper column about the challenges of a working wife and mother, weighs in with the alternative point of view regarding my post about a friend’s handling of her daughter’s boyfriend’s deception. I was afraid someone was going to write this, because I find the argument persuasive and it makes me doubt the wisdom of my advice. Still, I think I support my friend’s decision not to blow the whistle on the boyfriend, primarily because he’s 17, not 15. By 17, a child is engaged in an ongoing controversy about autonomy, trust and boundaries; the boyfriend is accountable for defying his mother, but it is his life and I would grant him the right to make his own mistakes, if mistakes they are, without my active interference. Lianne is persuasive, however…and she has a teenage daughter and son of her own:
“I like the advice … but because the horse has already left the barn far behind.
“I am actually pretty horrified that Julia is actively participating in and abetting the subterfuge. Even if she doesn’t agree with Ishmael’s mother’s rules (and let’s note they could be his father’s rules too; and maybe his church’s rules, and his culture’s rules), that doesn’t mean she should be actively plotting to subvert them.
“In this instance were it my own daughter, I would NOT take the decisive action of contacting Ishmael’s mother, but NEITHER would I allow him to spend the night there, and help my daughter make up stories and situations to enable the relationship. She’s happy? Please. Teenage female happiness is tenuous and temporary at best. (Has anyone on here LIVED with a 16-year-old girl??) It’s one year, probably less, until Ishmael is 18. So much can (and will) change in that year! Until then, group get-togethers (movie dates and parties) should be fine.
“I knew a mother who disagreed with another mother’s “silly” rules and allowed teenage boyfriends and girlfriends unrelated to her to go into bedrooms in her home and shut the door, and remain in there for some periods of time. Sure, I’m sure everything was platonic, the kids were just looking for privacy for their deep, soul-searching conversations. But as the mother of a teenage girl (and a teenage boy), I have strong and solid reasons for my rules, and others may find them silly and counter-productive, but they’re still my rules, and I do not in any way appreciate another “smarter” mother helping my kids to get around them. And to make them happy? Guess I’m old fashioned, but that’s ridiculous. My kids’ happiness comes way, way after their health and safety and character and responsibilities.
“Parents need to back each other up, and waiting to date is nothing that can really hurt anybody.”
11 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Two Mothers, Young Love and Deception””
The troubling problem, as I see it (and I only had sons, no daughters), is the notion that a third party, albeit with the best of intentions, is interfering with the parental right to raise their child as he and/or she sees fit. Even though the third party in this case is a private one, I see all too often that third party being the government stepping in when it thinks someone is not doing the job appropriately. So where does the line get drawn? I say that, unless there is something inherently dangerous or harmful to the child, third parties shuld honor parental wishes. What is this 17 year old being taught? That he doesn’t have to obey rules he doesn’t like and that he can find willing partners to help him get around them. That does not auger well for his future, either, when he gets out into the real world, where there are mostly likely many rules (called laws) with which he does not agree, beacuase they interfere with what he preceives to be his enjoyment of life.
Well, Jack, as a mother AND as a former 16-year-old girl (really, I was!), I agree with Lianne, who makes wonderful sense in her explanations. As I read your original post, I found myself squirming in my seat at the rationalizations you were making. When my son was a teenager, I found myself in the position of backing up the mother of his then-girlfriend on a not-too-dissimilar situation. My son was so angry with me, he screamed at me that I was a f*** ing whore. Nice. But I stood my ground. Unless the other parent is criminally abusive or neglectful, I can’t imagine going against their wishes. If a child needs to be protected from a bad parent, you get The Law involved. Otherwise, if I had the kind of relationship with the other parent where I could have a friendly conversation about the pros and cons of both sides of the argument, I would do that. If they continued to hold to their rules, I would mind my own business then. It’s what I would expect and demand from another parent who disagreed with my rules.
The problem is that its a zero sum game. From what Julia says about the mother (via Ishmael, of course), I think she may be clinically depressed, has a substance abuse problem and is emotionally unstable. I think a 17 year old kid has a right to make some choices about how he chooses to deal with that without a parent siding with the parent. I think there is a lot of vast space between criminal mistreatment and responsible parenting. You are saying that because a parent has rules, every parent is obligated to help enforce them no matter how unreasonable they are? I think, for example, banning a normal 17 year old boy or girl from dating until they are 18 is the equivilent of keeping a dog chained in the back yard. It’s not healthy, and it is asking for trouble., and most, if not all, child development experts would agree with me. Why should Julia help a mother harm her child, especially when it will harm her own daughter and their relationship? How would you define the nature of the duty to the mother? Solidarity?
Solidarity? No, just common sense. Also, I think I said that I would try to engage the parent in conversation about the issue. The problem here is that we — The Adults — can’t be sneaking around, acting like a bunch of Friar Laurences in aid of Young Love. Please. What about the group get-togethers that Lianne mentioned? Dating takes all kinds of forms. If this mother kept the boy chained in his room, then it would be the equivalent of keeping a dog chained in the backyard. I doubt that these seemingly arbitrary rules will ruin the boy for life. Really.
Is “ruining his life” really the test? How about “letting him take some charge of his life”?
Dogs do much better chained in the back yard than children. I think the analogy is not letting a kid go beyond the emotional boundries delineated by an overprotected mother.
By the way, I checked: group dates are out, if girls are involved. The boy apparently can take her to the prom, because its chaperoned.
Do I agree with the mother’s rules? No. But from an “ethical” standpoint, I just don’t see the justification for undermining another parent’s rules, no matter how much I disagree with them. There are laws with which I disagree, and I might be inclined to engage in peaceful civil disobedience regarding some of them. But civil Disobedience is one thing; interfering with bad child-rearing practices — when it is NOT MY CHILD — is something else entirely, because we are talking about human relations not political movements. I would try to change her mind, but failing that — I just can’t see the “ethical” justification for interference.
“By 17, a child is engaged in an ongoing controversy about autonomy, trust and boundaries” … when a child is 17, a parent does no less parenting than when the child is 7. In many instances, as an involved and I hope respectful parent I do more thinking and hard decision-making now than I did then. It’s easy to figure out the “right” rules for crossing the street and bedtimes. Lines are less solid for teenagers, at an age when consequences are increasingly lasting and dire. HOW rules are laid out is as important as WHAT rules are laid out. “Because I said so” doesn’t work at all, and real explanations are required, especially where ethically based choices are made.
The best thing about that comment (which was the best on the article) is that it introduced what a lot of the others ignored: the availability of compromise. Group dates, parties and other non-exclusive activities would allow an atmosphere of compliance without curtailing their relationship.
Well heck, I should hope it was the best comment—after all, it was THE COMMENT OF THE DAY! What, you think I pick these things out of a hat?
Are there enough daily comments to fill a hat? Do you often wear beanies?
It is not Julia’s role to enforce the Other Mom’s rules on the O.M’s teenager. If the O.M. explicitly tries to enlist Julia’s help in enforcing O.M.’s rules, Julia owes it to her to be straightforward and say she is not comfortable doing that. Whether Ishmael follows O.M.’s rules or breaks them is between the two of them.
They are not 8-year-olds on a play date. Julia did not agree to monitor them or agree to abide by O.M.’s rules.
Still, she definitely should NOT be acting as an alibi or purposefully deceiving other parents.