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Rough Patches on the Path of Parenthood

Voices / A Forum For Community Issues

May 17, 2003|Stuart S. Light | Stuart S. Light is a writer in Santa Barbara.

Children are terrific when they're little. How they look up to you. When you paste that bumper sticker on your car to advertise her mammoth academic achievements, you're proud. "Dig my gene pool!"

You become a master videographer of school plays, birthday parties, even baths. Each developmental stage is recorded and celebrated with a small circle of friends and family who might actually care and a larger circle of acquaintances and strangers who don't.

About the time your little precious has you convinced you can walk on water, something changes. It begins with the "eye roll." She can't control this reflex. It occurs whenever you say something you think is funny, important or parental. Eventually it occurs whenever you say anything.

As time goes by, the eye roll is followed by sarcastic remarks. "Dad, that's the lamest thing I've ever heard!" You can't believe what's coming out of the mouth of your No. 1 fan. It's only the opening salvo of a barrage that will last many more years.

Between the ages of 11 and 13, embarrassment becomes your major contribution to her life. It has become your full-time job. In short order you've taken embarrassment to a new, higher level: humiliation. Ultimately your very existence humiliates her. You find yourself being begged to take her to the mall, yet not "permitted" to be seen dropping her off.

You're a good person and a caring parent. You love your daughter and hope the spaceship that took her brings her back soon. Meanwhile, your love feels unrequited. Once, you were always right. Now, you're always wrong. Every decision is questioned, everything's unfair. You've become hyper-vigilant; ever on the lookout for body piercings or tattoos.

You're tempted to listen in on phone conversations. You succumb and listen. You now possess "shocking" information that could only have come from "spying."

You can't confront her with your ill-gotten evidence, so you repress it by dragging out the video of her fourth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.

You bury your angst in nostalgia. When she comes home briefly to borrow money, you inadvertently call her "Twinkles" for the first time in six years. She screams, "I hate you" and storms out crying, clutching the $20 you gave her in her trembling hand. Do not despair. Everything you're experiencing is normal. You're grieving. It will pass. Not right away perhaps, but surely by the time she's had children of her own. Remember that the parents of your daughter's friends are suffering too. Form a parents' support group.

Just about the time your support group has grown large enough to be held at Staples Center, another change occurs. Ages 18 to 20 introduce a young adult to the world who has begun to shed her adolescent skin. She has zero practical life experience but possesses intense, intractable beliefs about how things should be. You are now an object of pity. "Mom/Dad, poor misguided thing, if only you knew what life is like in the Third World." Huh?

A fascinating juxtaposition of responses takes place. Now, when your daughter speaks, your eyes do the rolling. You're no longer ridiculous and irrelevant. You're naive, behind the curve.

Fortunately you have means, because your dead-broke daughter will be skipping her first year of college to live in a remote village in Mexico with Trevor. She'll need some pesos to finance her quest to make the world a better place. Give her the money!

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