Let's Go Fly a Light

Saturday mornings are meant for sleeping late, not being awoken with the phone ringing at 5:15 a.m. Our phone announced the incoming party’s name, the parents of our second daughter’s best friend. The friend wasn’t at home and the parents didn’t know where she was. The father called to find out if she was with our daughter. Which she wasn’t. First thought in my mind, “Oh, no, not another runaway!”

In the past month, my eldest daughter’s friend ran away from home. The police came to our house to interview both of the teenagers about if they knew of the girl’s whereabouts. Which they didn’t. The girl finally surfaced five days later at a friend’s house.

Just for the record, I’m a terrible mother, according to some of the comments I hear third-hand from parents of my daughters’ friends. Some of the terrible things I do:

*Allowing the kids to choose, once they’ve been confirmed, whether to go to church with us (unless they’re on the schedule to acolyte, in which case it’s non-negotiable)

*Allowing my middle daughter to wear shorts and skirts to school which the other parents think are too short
*Allowing my children to get their learner’s permits without tying the privilege to a certain level of grades
*Allowing my teenagers to take public transportation and/or walk all over the city to shop, eat, and watch movies
*Teaching my children at a young age about human reproduction
*Telling my young teenagers about oral sex
*Offering my children wine with meals at home and tastes of other alcoholic drinks when their father or I order them in a restaurant

But in my defense, my children

*Won’t have a resentful attitude about church as adults
*Will have a respect for alcohol and know their limits before getting to university and the “real world”
*Understand that sex is a normal part of life and, as girls, won’t allow a boy to insist on certain activities without a reciprocation on his part
*Call adults Mr. and Mrs. rather than by their first names as a sign of respect and the boundary between childhood and adulthood
*Know that our home is a haven, a safe-place, not only for them but for their friends as well

Once I insisted that my eldest daughter sit in on an adult education lecture at church. The lecturer was a young female chaplain from the local church-run school. She described the differences in parents by comparing us to tractor beams (à la Star Trek) or lighthouses.

Parents who insist that their children do and say and think and act the way the parent wants the child to are like tractor beams, pulling the child into them. This action is enough in drive the children away or to make the child rebel in ways harmful to the child. Not what we should be striving for.

But lighthouses weren’t designed to draw anyone TO them. If a ship goes TO the lighthouse, it crashes on the rocks. Lighthouses are designed to show ships the way to safety by keeping them away from danger. Parents should strive to show their children the dangers that exist and let the children go. My eldest daughter now refers to herself as the lighthouse to her friends. She’s proud of that fact, but understands that it’s a huge responsibility for someone her age.

Even though some parents may think I’m too lax with my rules, I know to pick my battles. I do have street cred with my children, as when I kept our eldest from going on an exchange program because she didn’t keep up her end of the bargain which was an improvement in her grades. (She’s now taking four AP classes and going on a different exchange trip.) And the middle daughter (who infamously was thrown out of the church children’s choir and was asked to leave the church youth group) knows what it’s like to live under house arrest. (The jury’s still out on whether she’s a lighthouse to her friends, but I suspect she might be heading that direction.) I’m just saving the big guns for the big infractions.

As for the friend whose parents woke us at an ungodly hour on Saturday, she is safe at home. I bet she’s grounded for life. And while I don’t want to cast allegations on the parents involved since they are friends of my husband’s and mine, rather than having a helicopter parent the girl needs a lighthouse parent.


  1. I'm always so amazed at parents who have their heads in the sand regarding their own children. Get real for heaven's sake. Case in point: My own sister kept telling me that HER daughter would never have premarital sex. I said ANYBODY would under the right circumstances and pressures, especially one as naive as her's. One out-of-wedlock baby later and my sister "almost" admitted I might have a point...

  2. I had a lot of freedom while growing up. Much more it seems than more children these days. I do not feel as if I suffered because of it. It taught me a lot about self responsibility. I do believe there is a balance that may be hard to find but I know it is not found in micromanaging one;s children.

  3. My father believed if you taught your child well, they have to be able to prove it. We had a lot of freedom.. and sometimes abused it, but we paid the price, too.. ala' second daughter's house arrest!!LOL We drank as teens, (a little) and I never felt the need to go out and get plastered in college. I think keeping them too close hampers their learning and they go nuts when released..