by Kent Sterling
Sending a child to college is hard on the psyche of a parent. The little nugget of fear that is planted in the soul of parents when a child is born grows a little like the Grinch’s heart at the end of the animated Christmas classic.
All parents put themselves into the place of the parents in movies like “Without a Trace”, or real like stories of kids who are missing like Natalle Holloway or during any Amber Alert. There are innocuous moments with a child that prompt that panic too.
When my son was three, we went to Illinois Masonic Hospital to visit my wife and his mother. As we walked by a bank of elevators, Ryan darted into one and the door closed behind him before I could get there. I had no idea whether the elevator was going up or down, or what the right play was for me, so I kept hitting the up and down button until the elevator Ryan ran into stopped on my floor again. Thank God he was still in there when the elevator returned.
I never let go of his hand when we were outside, but thought we were pretty safe inside a hospital. Not so much.
Lauren Spierer is a student at Indiana University, and she was out late Friday night – really late. She was last seen at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, and half the city of Bloomington is continuing to search for her. The parents hold out hope for a positive resolution. With every passing hour, the odds of finding Lauren alive diminish. The parents know that, and every minute passes like the longest hour of their lives.
When parents send kids to college, there is a grim acceptance that there will be occasional missteps and mistakes. The kids will likely do what most college kids do – drink like idiots, challenge rules, and put themselves at a greater risk for harm.
Knowing what I knew about my behavior in college made me wretch when I thought about my son’s pending collegiate experience. He’s always been exceptionally responsible and mature in his decision making – that gene must skip a generation or two – but every weekend, I would hope that Ryan was doing the right thing often enough to get through school unscathed.
That’s what we focused on when he was young. Holding Ryan responsible for his actions and levying serious consequences every single time he stepping beyond admittedly arbitrary limits were our marching orders as parents throughout Ryan’s childhood.
If Ryan was one minute late, he lost a privilege. Late is late. Good grades were expected, not rewarded. Curfew was early. Driving was allowed, but treated like a responsibility not a right. And we said no – a lot.
I had no problem saying no, and continue to have no problem saying no despite Ryan turning 23 in two days. He can move out, and tell me to go to hell, but while he lives here, I don’t care if he’s 38, he plays by the rules of the house.
Giving a kid freedom to make life altering mistakes was not in my game plan.
That’s not to cast any blame for what has happened to Lauren toward her parents. Bad things happen to good people now and then. No doubt that more bad things happen at 4:30 a.m. than at 10 p.m., but that doesn’t mean anyone should feel responsible for what has happened. They shouldn’t. But there are lessons here for other parents.
- Giving freedom as a rite of passage that will help kids develop and mature is a dangerous myth.
- Giving into the pleas of kids for a curfew beyond Midnight is weak and idiotic.
- Giving kids the tools to make responsible decisions – including saying no and meaning it – is good parenting, not overbearing authoritarianism.
My Dad always said, “Nothing good happens after Midnight.” I challenged that axiom hundreds of times, so from a relatively massive catalogue of experiences, I can confirm that he was correct. I can’t think of a single time that I benefitted in any way from staying out until closing time.
All of us hope and pray that Lauren is found safe. We pray that her parents find the strength to persevere through whatever lies in front of them. Their reality is our nightmare, and whatever needs to be done to limit the chances for this nightmare to become ours is well worth the fleeting pain of our children’s disgust with us.
This morning, parenting for Lauren became her mom and dad offering a $100,000 reward for her safe return.