When my kids were smaller, I dreaded having their friends over. They were usually obnoxious, messy, and always hungry. Really hungry. The girls always wanted to start “craft projects” or make cookies (which promised that my house would be subsequently trashed) while the boys seemed to gravitate toward things I labeled as “dangerous” such as climbing trees, backyard Airsoft wars, or riding bikes to faraway lands (i.e. the convenience store down the road to buy candy). But as they grew older, things got weird for me. Sure, the friends were still hungry and made messes, but I actually began enjoying their visits.
While some people find teenagers worrisome, bothersome, or even threatening, I find them funny and interesting. Even the ones some parents in our community label as “troublemakers.” I do have a low tolerance for certain behaviors, but for the most part, I find these young people highly entertaining and enjoyable to be around.
Most of the kids that have come over grew up in stable homes – they have a decent family, were held accountable for their occasional idiotic behavior, and lived a pretty “average” American life. But others have come from troubled families and a normal life for them involves an alcoholic parent, emotional or physical abuse, the death of a family member, an incarcerated parent, tragic accidents, with horrific injuries, a painful divorce, and the list goes on…
I sniff this stuff out pretty quickly. Maybe I ask too many questions. Maybe I hear things from other parents. Maybe I just key in on worriesome behavior. Regardless the situation or how these kids have been labeled, I have always tried to make them feel welcome in our home (except one kid that was banned from my house after what I will call a few too many “incidents” that crossed my tolerance threshold).
Since Stella’s friends have always been mostly boys, we’ve had a lot of them coming and going from our home. At first, my husband, Ron, and I had very different ideas about how these kids should be handled. Ron had received advice from a friend that the boys that visited our daughter, Stella, should be “scared” a little bit with some unfriendly behavior from ”Dad” when they came to our home – even if the boy was simply her buddy. The intended goal for this action was to frighten the boy so much that he’d be to nervous to “try” any funny business on our precious girl. The advice-giving fellow even went to far as to say that whenever a boy knocked on his front door looking for his daughter, he made sure he was holding a shotgun.
Stupid, dumb advice …
For a while, Ron tried the rough, gruff, and unfriendly act on Stella’s male friends but he didn’t wear it well. And I knew where a lot of these kids came from and what kinds of lives they had been subjected to. I certainly didn’t think they needed more of what had become their version of “status quo” when they came over here.
“I really think we need to serve as examples to these kids and maybe…just maybe our house can be a place where Stella’s friends can feel safe,” I told Ron. It took a little bit of doing, but eventually I retrained him and he became a kinder, gentler dad toward Stella’s buddies.
Me? I always wanted to treat these kids with respect and really strived to talk to them just as a friend would. When they were here, I tried not to judge them (although I have always doled out generous helpings of advice). Many called me “Mom” (and one even called me “Grandma”…but we won’t talk about him) and a few even came to me for help with rides, family problems, or when they needed help with a issues at school – mostly because they had no one else to turn to. Our house became a hangout of sorts…and it was fun!
When Stella graduated last year, a lot of the kids disappeared. She grew away from many of the ones she hung with throughout high school — kids that I loved and worried about so much. I wonder where many of them are today. What are they doing now? Are they staying out of trouble? Continuing their education? For the ones that never graduated from high school, will they work toward their GED? Have they realized how special they are and how much potential they have in their young lives? Are they okay? There were so many kids I never wanted to give up on and I wished I could just sweep them into our family and give them a loving, stable home. A safe haven. But honestly, I sincerely wondered if what we did or how we acted actually impacted one of these kids.
That is, until a few weeks ago.
One of Stella’s friends returned. He was a boy that caused a lot of heartache for Stella – and for the rest of our family. And like many of the others, he’d had a difficult childhood. He was the product of an alcoholic father and parents that had divorce and remarried. This boy had a habit of lying — something he probably mastered from his own father — and would flee a confrontation or emotional situation rather than face it head on.
We hadn’t seen Brad for almost a year and I figured we’d never see him again (and quite frankly, I was okay with that). But that night a few weeks back when he came to our home, he apologized for the pain he’d caused us over that last few years and thanked us for showing him how a family “should” be. Over the course of a few hours, because of some recent circumstances, there were tears and hugs –and even though my heart was still extremely guarded because of the countless disappointments this boy had caused us in the past, I was touched.
I know Brad’s got a long way to go, I know he has much to overcome, and I know he’s got a lot of learning ahead of him…but what his visit taught me was that maybe, just maybe we had made a tiny difference in someone’s life, just by treating them with kindness rather than rejection.
Since I will always be a mom to my kids, whether they like it or not, I will never stop parenting them. And this weekend as I celebrate the Hallmark holiday we call “Mother’s Day,” I will remember to not only be a mom to my own children, but will continue to embrace their friends – regardless of what they look like or what their life circumstances may be. Because who knows if I may be truly making a difference in a young life.
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