I’m not a parent, and at this point I’m not sure if I ever will be—which is something I had to come to grips with last year, and mostly did. It still pains me every once in a while. I’m really glad, though, that I didn’t have children when I was married. It would have made getting divorced and moving to a city that I was made for much less probable. But much more than that—much more than anything I might have felt like I was giving up for myself—I would have been a terrible parent. I would have been frequently angry and frustrated at the situation I had gotten myself into, and, instead of confronting the real issues and people I was facing, I would have taken it out on people weaker than me: my children. I would have yelled and screamed at them. I would have hit them and felt justified in doing so, because at the time I believed in spanking and forcing those with less power than I have to do what I wanted. I very well might have crossed the line into abusive. I would have been needlessly strict just because I didn’t want my children to inconvenience me or because I thought certain (harmless) behaviors were embarrassing or bad. My children would have resented me. We would never have had a good relationship.
What brings this to mind is an article that a friend shared: X-Plan: Giving Your Kids a Way Out. It’s a genius way the author helps his children out of difficult situations. If one of the children finds himself in a situation that’s over his head—with drugs or sex or alcohol or anything else—the child texts “X” to his parents. His parents then call him, tell him that something has come up and they’re coming to get him, and then come and pick him up. That way he has a way out of a potentially dangerous situation.
The genius part of the plan is this.
However, there’s one critical component to the X-plan: Once he’s been extracted from the trenches, Danny knows that he can tell us as much or as little as he wants … but it’s completely up to him. The X-plan comes with the agreement that we will pass no judgments and ask no questions (even if he is 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be). This can be a hard thing for some parents (admit it, some of us are complete control-freaks); but I promise it might not only save them, but it will go a long way in building trust between you and your kid.
No judgment. No berating. No “I told you so.” No “I thought we taught you better than that.” No yelling. No grounding. Even if he’s 10 miles away from where he’s supposed to be; even if drinking has obviously been going on. Even if the kid himself has been drinking. No making him feel worthless or stupid or sinful or bad. No condemnation. And no telling anyone else about the kid’s mistake, either—not the parents’ friends, not the kid’s friends, not even in a rueful “You know, my children make bad choices sometimes” way.
Some commenters on the original article don’t like this part—they think the child “should face the consequences of their actions.” This makes me furious. It misses the whole point of the plan. When a child has the good judgment to enact the X-plan, she’s showing that she recognizes she’s in a bad situation, and she almost certainly feels none too great about having gotten herself into it. The fear and vulnerability the child feels are already consequences of her actions. What child, knowing that her parents are going to make her feel even worse about a mistake, is going to ask for help? And if her parents reward this kind of humility—because admitting you’ve gotten yourself into a bad situation takes a lot of that—and complete vulnerability with yelling or a lecture, that child is never going to open up to them again, and their relationship may never recover. The child knows she’s done something unwise; she doesn’t need her nose rubbed in it. And treating her like a criminal will only push her toward more unwise decisions.
I have a lot of strong feelings about this because… well, Reasons. I hope that if I ever have children, I’ll have the kind of relationship with them that makes an X-plan possible. And if I don’t ever have children, I hope I can be the kind of adult who can show unconditional love to my nephews or my friends’ children if they ever need a way out of a bad situation.