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Wherein My Parenting Skills Grind to a Halt

Saturday already? I was hoping someone out there would be hard at work inventing a time machine, turn the wrong screw at the wrong time and we'd either pass right over this day or maybe get stuck in a frozen time zone that would put this day off for a while.

Ok, so I exaggerate a bit. It's really not that much of a horror to have 21 (wait, I think we're at 23 now) teenagers over for a party, right? 14 and 15 year old girls and boys just hanging out, playing DDR, eating pizza, drinking soda - what could possibly go wrong except that I end up eating a bottle of Excedrin Migraine and mediating whatever arguments ensue, because in a group that size and that age, arguments will always ensue?

Honestly, I'm looking forward to seeing what a group of kids this age does when they get together in large numbers. Because I'm remembering the parties I attended when I was fifteen and that's a frightening scenario.

I wonder now if I was a product of my times or a product of the people in my neighborhood, the kids I hung out with? At fifteen, I was already smoking pot. I was already hanging out by the 7-11, bribing the older kids into buying us beer. 40 oz bottles of Michelob, stolen bottles of Boones Farm wine, 75 cent packs of Parliaments and a nickel bag of Columbian were weekend staples. We hung out in the sump by school or in the abandoned house by The Village Green (yes, that village green) and wondered what else it was we were supposed to be doing after we got drunk or high, besides staring at the stars or watching Chris try to get his hands up Marybeth's shirt.

I tend to think it had more to do with the times (mid to late 70's) than anything else. It was a permissive era, a Free To Be You And Me time, when parents were told to just let their kids run free and they would magically turn into responsible adults. The funny thing is, my parents were pretty strict. I had an earlier curfew than everyone else and there were certain people I was absolutely not allowed to hang out with. If anything, my parents were just too naive. They thought making me go to Catholic high school would make the pool of friends I could choose from better than what I had in the public school system. They thought making me hang out with my cheerleader/football playing cousins would set me on the straight and narrow. It was my cousins who taught me how to play quarters.

There was no drug education in the schools then. At least not the way it is now, so pervasive to the point of overeducation. We were just told, in an offhand way, that drugs are bad, mmmmkay, yet we knew that most of our teachers were lighting up as soon as they left the parking lot at 2:20.

Today's student is taught from kindergarten on that drugs, including cigarettes and caffeine, will kill you DEAD. It's the same drugs are bad, mmmkay, thing, but with a bit more oomph to it, including glossy take home pamphlets and lectures on how taking your best friend's Ritalin is not a good idea.

I'm sure that most of my daughter's friends have never seen pot up close, let alone smoked it. Oh, I'm not as naive as my own parents. I know there are kids in the school who smoke pot and drink. I know there are kids who are having sex. And while I know my own daughter isn't part of that, I don't know some of the kids who are going to be showing up at my house tonight.

So I give her the lecture. There will be no cigarettes, no hidden cans of beer. She looks at me like I've lost my mind. Beer? Cigarettes? Who do you think I'm inviting? She reminds me that these are theater guild people. Key Club people. Model Congress people. I say something stupid like, "Yea, well I was in the theater club, too and I know what...." And I stop.

"You know what, mom?" Pause. "Oh! Did you drink beer in high school? Did you get drunk? Did you smoke? Ohmygod, what did you smoke?"

This happened at 11 last night. I told her we would continue the discussion in the morning.

The can of worms has officially been opened, as I knew it would be some day. The question is, how much do I tell without being dishonest? How much does she really need to know? I could use this to my advantage, by telling her first hand experiences of how much it sucks to be so drunk that you don't know what you're doing, but do I really want her to know that her mother once drank so much she passed out in a bathtub full of ice cubes on the senior trip to Disney World? Or do I just gloss the whole thing over and say something like "Oh, I smoked once or twice, had a couple of beers at a party once. Didn't do anything for me." Because I'm certainly not going to say "Holy shit, mescaline was a blast! We had so much fun driving home from the movies that night we forgot our 3-D glasses were still on and that time I thought I saw the Statue of Liberty on Bear Mountain, what a rip!" I need to give an answer that will let her maintain her respect for her mother while getting the understanding that, well, drugs are bad, mmmmkay?

Just when you think you have this parenting thing down pat, they throw you a curve. Hopefully, she won't remember that we were supposed to continue the conversation this morning. Preparing for the army of teenagers coming through here later is going to be a Herculean task as it is, without the added dilemma of explaining away my youth and/or turning it into a morality tale. Or just telling bald faced lies.

I still think kids should come with manuals.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Wherein My Parenting Skills Grind to a Halt:

» "The day I dread" or "When my parenting skills run out" from cinomed.blog-city.com
Michelle is having a slight crisis in parenting over at A Small Victory.Anyone who partied too much and too long, and is now a parent should dread this, unless you are still partying the same, in which maybe you shouldn't be a parent, but that's anot [Read More]

» Blogjam from TigerHawk
TigerHawk is making progress with the recovery from the fluish thingy that hit me Thursday -- the fever is gone, the vicious hacking cough has subsided. Now I just feel lethargic, but not so lethargic that I can't sop up the river of snot running fro... [Read More]

» My Saturday Thoughts from EckerNet.Com
This is why I will never have children. Ok, so I exaggerate a bit. It's really not that much of... [Read More]


I told my kids the truth....that I did some really stupid things when I was their age and it really screwed up my life. And that I expected them to be smarter. I didn't go into detail, just big picture stuff.

If the exchange happened exactly as you descibe it, you should be able to get away with telling her that other people in the theater club, not you, were ne'er-do-wells. Bullet dodged.

Help me out: Your kids don't have Internet access at all? Even at school?

Not a bad idea - don't associate the escapades with seeing the SofL on Bear mountain - it's all about the spin.

Emphasize the 'fun' times heaving your gutys out and feeling like your head was about to 'splode if someone said another word the day after.

If you can handle the trip down memory lane, wax poetic about the consequence of doors closed due to dumbassery - if there are any examples that just scream.

Keep it along the lines of a not too over the top recounting of 'this is the downside, and I know, because, a; b; c...'

Feel free to toss in the examples of others that you saw directly, and ended with pretty bad result - and balance it with a couple of examples of 'didn't take road x, and is now enjoying result y', if you have some of those handy.

I think the track of 'you have a brain, that functions pretty darn well, your choice to make of course, but the choices aren't really that tough if you think about them for more than a couple of seconds, and I know you're smart enough to figure them out, but if you're unsure, I'll be more than happy to offer my advice' works pretty well. Particularly since it seems you're starting from a good point, with good kids.

I'd be honest without quite being brutally honest. Yes, you experimented, yes, it was fun, but there were was a downside to it. I emphasized that it was a lot easier to start than stop, and you can certainly point to your recent cold turkey on cigarettes as an example of that.

girlfriend - you got nothing to worry about - wait till they find out about you and leo sayer.

Your kids are way still too young to tell about your past substance use. Do your kids really need a visual of you stoned out of your mind? I have two grown sons and I don't think they would want to know some of the things I did when I was young. Even in this day and age, kids need to have some reverence for their mother. If you must share these moments, wait until they are done with high school.

Michelle, when our daughter turned 16 she had one of those boy girl parties and my husband decided to surprise her during the middle of it. He got his old accordian out of the attic, a bright red one which he took lessons on as a kid, and came downstairs to the party playing happy birthday. The looks on the faces of the kids, especially the boys, was priceless. They didn't know whether to laugh, their first reaction, or to be polite and appreciative of his talent.

Another approach would be to tell one's underage children that any of your youthful discretions are none of their business, and that you might discuss them once they are grown.

Individual manuals for each kid? Like right after the kid pops out a big heavy book follows?

Glad I'm a guy.

One more, do your kids read this site? LOL

you do, of course, know that your kids prob know of your website and read it over at their friends house. right?


Believe me, if they have read this site already, they would not hesitate to let me know.

Their school surfing is very limited and all their home surfing is done on the computer in the kitchen, under my watchful eye (they don't have computers in their rooms).

And this is why I said I would stop blogging about them, anyhow - or at least stop telling embarassing stories about them.

Just be honest and straightforward about it. Avoiding the subject makes it that more inviting because it is all that more mysterious.

I really like your site by the way!


Believe me, if they have read this site already, they would not hesitate to let me know.

no offense, but THAT is being navie.
Do you not think that none of her friends have blogs? And they have not check out the TLB ecosystem? Remember, you are one of the worlds most read blogs. Why would they tell you? They have ammonition now:-) Kids are sneaky that way.

Because all their friends are on LiveJournal and MySpace.

Seriously, I know my kids well enough to know that if they came across this and recognized it was MY site, they would definitely say something.

Yeah, I believe that, if my parents or siblings found my blog, they'd definitely say something.

***that was not sarcasm.

My parents were very smart in this regard. We heard about their youthful atrocities, but only after we had been busted doing something comparable. I scraped up the car and tossed and turned all night about it, and not a peep of rage from my father. My brother totals the same car on the Adirondack Northway, and we finally hear about Dad wrapping his family's car around a tree on Princeton's Prospect Street in the spring of '57. And so forth.

My wife and I discuss this very question all the time. The critical issue, I think, is to stick resolutely to the point of view that you are not a hypocrite for forbidding "activities" that you engaged in during your own youth. The reason teenagers are not considered adults is that they are incompetent in the most fundamental sense of that word. All adults living today were once incompetent, including all parents. That they did risky and illegal stuff in their own teenager years is neither sanction for their children to misbehave nor evidence of their own hypocrisy.

I know the dilemma - being torn between wanting to give them the benefit of your experiences and not wanting them to go around saying "Hey, my mom smoked her first joint when she was 14 and did every drug known under the sun without needles" - which is what I did.

My sons are 24 and 22 - they both know that I KNOW what I'm talking about when I say "drugs are bad - trust me" because I told them I used them, but didn't get into specifics. I haven't told Anna anything along those lines yet - she just turned 15 (and without a party with 23 other kids....what WERE you thinking, girl?) and I don't plan on telling her, either,not for a very, very long time. She's got the type of personality that causes her to ask incessentally for details, which I'm not planning on divulging even if I could remember them all.

And yeah - she knows of kids in her class that get loaded, and kids that are having sex - she told me about one the other day, a girl she was friends with in elementary school. And that's another area I'm not going to share with her...the age I was when I lost my virginity. I have told her that when it happened, I was too young to understand what I was giving up and that I did it for all the wrong reasons, and I made a case for waiting for a committed relationship and being an adult.

I hope.

Yea, at 15 I was going to Dead Shows and being, well, experimental. In a way, I'm glad I got it out early. That way, when I went to college I didn't blow all my folks money on alcohol and drugs. I looked at those kids like they were a bunch of 15 year olds.

Umm, does she know how to read? Or do any of her friends?

[flashing back to Buffy]

Buffy is scratched by a telepathic demon and overhears people's thoughts.

Joyce: "I've uh, I've got laundry"

Buffy: "Why are you...? You had sex with Giles? YOU HAD SEX WITH GILES?!"

Joyce: "It was the candy! We were teenagers!"

Buffy: "On the hood of a police car?"

Joyce: "I'll be downstairs. You feel better."

Buffy: "TWICE!?!"

I'm gonna lie. Actually, I was a pretty mild teen ... but still. It's none of their business.

As for kids getting it out of their system young- before they go to college. Well, honestly, I'd prefer my kids waiting until they went to college (and risk looking like 15 y/olds). So what?
And if they fail out-or do terribly, because they partied too much, then they can pay their own way for a while ...

I think Jack's take on it is pretty fair.

I'll echo somewhat some of the things that others have said (I seem to recall it as essentially the Bush line too):

When I was young and stupid ... I was sometimes young and stupid. I am not going to itemize the specifics. But I made some bad choices, and I saw a lot of my friends make even worse choices and/or stick with the bad choices. I managed to survive - barely - and some of my friends didn't survive.

I would like you to avoid the dangerous mistakes, and I know enough about them to know that you'll not have missed anything positive from avoiding the dangerous mistakes.

Ha! Ha!

Just teach them the same thing I always try to beat into Wind Rider's head: You don't need morals but jiminy crismas, you gotta at least have standards! Yeah pot is bad, but if you're gonna do it, don't get bad pot. etc etc.

The only other rule we have is: Do what you will but remember there are consequences. Try to predict them and decide if you can live with them before you act.

The problem today is that the penalties are MUCH worse than back in the day, when smoking pot was about as serious as getting a traffic ticket. Today it is hard time, and long-term problems

Many people in the mid-late 70's to early '80's smoked a lot of pot and made to adulthood fairly sane. (Bill Clinton smoked but didn't inhale, and George W. will only say that "when he was young and foolish, he was young and foolish.")

As a father of two boys 16 and 14 I sympathize with you and, yeah, mescaline was a blast.

If I can offer my two cents, I'd like to tell you that my mom told me earlier this year about some things she had done as a kid. These were things I did NOT want to hear from my mom (and the thing is, I'm 31 and my mom is 55). I would avoid any details if you possibly can... not only for your sake, but for theirs.

Bah. You only get one good chance to traumatize your kids...the earlier you start, the deeper it sets in. Now that my second has turned 18, all I have to do is look at him and he jams his fingers in his ears.

It also helps that my wife is a screamer. I get up in the morning complaining about soreness and he just says "Shut up. Just shut the hell up, Dad."

To which I just cackle.

Bill...now that's funny!

Mine are both through - 18 and 23 - so I'll tell you what I learned in retrospect, as in "Dad, I remember when you said X, and here's what I thought."

I guess I am about exactly a contemporary of yours, but had my kids a little younger. My youthful experimentations, 'which I DEEPLY regret,' began at 13.

With the older one I skewed toward the truth: "I know some things about drugs because of things I saw and people I knew, and I tried some myself. But what I really learned was..." blah blah blah about the dangers, suppression of talent, people who hurt themselves, etc. I wanted to tell her about everything I knew for her own good, and I talked about the gradations: The relative differences between pot, and psychedelics, and amphetamine derivatives or coke or depressants, and how some would slow yoy down, and others would scare the hell out of you but others would kill you.

With the younger one, who was a little more volatile, I took a more evasive approach, and did not admit much of anything, but still tried to establish my credibility to comment on the issue with reference to things I saw.

Let me tell you what I learned later. They were both IMMENSELY interested in my personal experience using illegal drugs, and my minimal admission to the older ones led to a shared acknowledgment between the two that I had done lots of drugs. They were hanging on every word for some evidence that Dad had done it, and therefore it was ok for them to do it. They saw that I'm ok now, and I did drugs, and they surmised it is ok to do drugs.

So they both did drugs, and though we had some VERY rough sledding, they both got though it and made it to adulthood.

I don't know what lesson I have for you. If you really don't want them to get involved with drugs, then I really think you need to lie and say you never did it and paint a picture to establish your bona fides to comment on the matter so they don't think that because you never did it you have no standing. Horror stories about other people could help.

Having a happy, secure family life will probably help more than anything (to the extent that is possible with teenagers).

Also, military schools and convents were created for a reason, y'know.

But unless you have kids with really remarkably well-developed senses of objectivity, if you tell them you did drugs they are going to perceive an "all clear" to do drugs. Sad but, in my experience, true.

Good luck! And no matter how the drug thing turns out, try to keep them close, within the boundaries of good taste, even while they are pushing you away. This too shall pass.

Ah, the late 70's. An oz of pot for $40. Cigarettes sixty-five cents a pack.
The big change in the way people looked at drugs came on the day Belushi OD'd in that awful little bungalow with only Hard Kathy for company.
In the book "Wired" the author made the point that Belushi was killed, in a way, by the attitude towards drugs at the time. Everyone knew he was using way, way too much but no one had any idea on what basis they could tell him to stop, or even slow down. Toward the end Belushi was obviously deteriorating mentally and physically from his speedball diet and the best Ackroyd could do was suggest that he join him on a short vaction to dry out. Belushi's OD -- and John Lennon's assasination -- were two of the first nails into the coffin of the 60's sensibilities. It wasn't all tangerine trees and marmalade skies after all.

Never lie to your children. You may omit to tell the whole truth, but honesty is the best policy. My kids know about my drug use because I was an addict (now recovering) and I want them to know how the "experimentation" thing turned out for me. They need to know that they are at risk genetically, that they may not be able to use mind-altering substances recreationally.

My son is now in college and he drinks ( doubt that he drank in high school). I would have preferred that he did not, but I told him the truth about my experiences, especially about the consequences in the hope that he would at least be able to make an informed decision. In the end, it was his decision. Did I fail as a parent? I don't know yet. At least he had honest, first-hand information, and he knows he could talk to me and I would understand.

Oh, and I wield the double standard like a scourge. Yeah, I had a bong in a drink holder on the door of my car, and they know that, but I tell them about the decisions I made which I regret, because I was (as Jack said) incompetent to understand the consequences. Just because we all did it and survived doesn't mean that I condone it, and they know that too.

Honesty and hypocrisy are powerful weapons. Use them unsparingly.

To what Zendo Deb said, and I'd agree, I'd also add that not only are the penalties a lot more severe, drugs in general are a lot purer and thus stronger and more dangerous than they were in the 70's. It also means they're more potentially addictive.

Well, I'm only an Uncle, and the topic has never come up in quite this way, but here's my answer:

First, I didn't smoke my first joint until I was a couple of years out of high-school.

And at that, I did my homework first. I talked with my parents, and with friends who were doing this or that. I bought books; I particularly recommend Licit and Illicit Drugs: The Consumer's Union Report by Edward M. Brecher (sadly, now out of print). I had access to a medical library, and I used it. When I started, I kept a log.

In short, I waited until my brain had gelled (your brain continues to grow up until age 18 or so), I knew as much as possible about how to minimize the risks (not that any drug is ever "safe", mind), and I maintained objective awareness as to how often I was using, and what the effects were.

So, you want my blessing? Show me 5000 words on the benefits/risks of the top three drugs you're considering. Discuss the concepts of set and setting. Review the current legal climate. Cite your (minimum 5 web + 3 non-web + 2 personal interview) sources. Be prepared to present an oral defense, and to deliver an edited final version addressing questions raised during the defense.

Then, when you're eighteen and out of the public school gulag, where you, your locker, and your possessions, including your body fluids, can be searched without probable cause or consent, do whatever you want.

By the way, I am the only adult member of my family who does not regularly use some drug, not even alcohol or tobacco. I have never in all my 50-years-plus had a hangover. And I'm convinced that waiting until I was at least eighteen is about half responsible for that.

Another essential book in the drug library is Andrew Weil's and Winifred Rosen's From Chocolate to Morphine, although I note that the Amazon reader reviews are either five stars or one. Two key ideas: "There is no such thing as a bad drug, just a bad relationship with a drug" and "If you ever try a drug and experience overwhelming pleasure, never use that drug again." (Said in reference to heroin.)

And I have to mention that my original curiosity arose from the anti-drug films I watched in junior high, particularly the one about LSD....

What happened to other party-blogging-post in which you answered the eternal question do you have keep your eyes open when you make out?

damn.... I don't envy that conversation.

I can't wait to have that conversation with my kids. For me, it'll be a little easier.

I never touched drugs, but I hung out with a lot of people that did. I still have the obituaries and the newspaper articles sentencing them to years in jail (sometimes decades) for multiple felonies, too. THAT part will be easy.

The drinking won't.. I drank like a fish in high school... so the "I had a few beers at a party once..." thing won't work for me.

Let us know how this worked (works?) out... maybe make it a little bit easier for one of us.

This I worry about.

I've heard both sides' reasoning, to a) tell them nothing you did, and b) tell them everything, in hopes it will stop them.

I actually remember being 15, and saying, "If my kid ever wants to smoke pot, I'll get some and smoke it with him...Safer at home..." What bullsh*t.

All I know is that I somehow survived through 12 years of catholic school ,wayyyy too much drinking, and enough pot to stone an entire Grateful Dead concrt audience. I even spen a night jail and nearly lost my home over pot. Got busted for possession with intent and the local PD tried to have my home siezed. Cost me $5K to get the feds to go away. It was that experience at 30 that finally knocked some sense into me. I haven't touched it since.

So here I sit with a good job, the big house, the cars, all that, and wonder just how close I came to throwing away my brain and my life so I could get high.

No way in HELL will I let my kids make those mistakes, if I can help it.

I think I'll tell them enough truth to make my point, but not the whole deal, as i don't want them to think that my use makes it OK (Thanks 'John', above). They need to know the damage that poor choices make on your life. Including ending your life.

I've been tortured with this since we decided to have kids. And I doubt I'll stop worrying until I'm dead. I don't want my kids to fall prey to the same demons I have. Let me re-phrase that. I don't want my kids to make the same poor choices i did. I CHOSE to use, and I CHOSE to quit. I don't want them to face that choice frm a jail cell or an emergency room. Or a morgue.

Michele, this blog has been godsend to so many of us to realize that we're all facing the same issues as we mature. I look forward t ASV every day, not just for the humor, biting sarcasm, and obscure music, but for your honest portrayal of parenthood.

Happy VD, Michele.

Jim S, your tale is like mine will be. My heavy drug using next door neighbor (two years older than me), scared me straight before I ever even touched the stuff. He's dead now of course. He had a brilliant musical talent, could play literally any song by ear on the guitar from 7th grade on. Ordinary rock music, Zeppelin, Back Saddath, Rush, ceased to challenge him at all and he sought out more complex stuff. Wasted, all wasted. I watched him destroy himself before my eyes.

That did far more for me than any parental conversation could have. I plan to draw upon it when the time comes. I will however obscure the truth when it comes to my high school and early college study habits. I got lucky, they might not. Perhaps your substance use has a similar paradigm. You were lucky, will they be?