Parents do the best they can
One of my sons’ friends is stuck at home this summer, sharing a room with her two sisters in a small two-bedroom apartment in a concrete complex. She doesn’t have a job and can’t apply anywhere beyond walking distance: She doesn’t have her license because she can’t afford driver’s ed. She told my son that her father doesn’t believe that her stepmother is mean to her.
Hearing this makes my heart ache. This girl is a lovely young lady with hopes and dreams like any high-school junior, plus she already has college plans and a career goal.
I don’t know that I can do anything to help without overstepping parenting boundaries. All I can do is lose sleep over it, pray for her, and make suggestions for my son to pass along.
“Can she spend time at her grandmother’s house?”
“Go to church. Find an adult mentor there.”
“As soon as school starts, schedule time with the guidance counselor.”
And one thing I haven’t suggested yet, “Join a sport.” Cross country would be the one with the lowest barrier to entry. (I can’t say enough about sports as a way to build self-confidence, be part of a team, and get out of the house.) I can already imagine that she’ll be forbidden to do so; that she’s needed to watch her youngest sister, her dad and stepmother’s bio daughter. Or perhaps the reason will be that the fee is prohibitive.
I wish I could do more.
I remember when I was in middle school, my mom took a couple of my friends under her wing. One was the youngest of 10 kids whose parents were pretty much done with parenting. My mom got us into dance and soccer (each of which lasted one year as we learned that we were a decade too late compared to the other kids). Another was a friend whose parents were nuts. Seriously, that’s the best way I can describe them. For one thing, they kept their shades drawn because they believed sunlight begat dust. For another, in an effort to save on their water bill, they never flushed their toilet until it was filled to the brim. They smoked like fiends and my friend always smelled. My mom gave her a journal and permission to dream, adding hope and light to her life.
Then our circumstances changed and we moved. My mom, brother, and I shared a small (and shabby) two-bedroom duplex apartment on the second floor. I remember carrying our boxes in as the neighbors across the street looked at us and held their noses, indicating that we stunk. (Okay, I don’t actually remember that – I read it a couple of years ago when I was trying to decide what to do with my trunk full of handwritten journals – but I could easily recall the feeling of shame nonetheless.)
Walking up the front stairs in that apartment, the first thing you would see is the bathroom. To the left was my brother’s room. To the right was the eat-in kitchen, off of which was the living room where my mom slept (if she wasn’t sleeping in my room, which was down a short hallway parallel to the stairs). That was it, except the back door to the kitchen led out to a rickety set of back stairs and a small landing where you could fit one chair if you wanted to sit (not lie) outside in the sun with your baby oil and Kiss Double Platinum album (to reflect the sun for a more even, all-over burn).
I didn’t have friends over much anymore. I hated being trapped in that little apartment — and the next one, too. (We moved four times during my high school years. Miraculously I stayed at the same high school, even when we moved out of town.)
I can imagine just how my son’s friend feels. My heart breaks not only for her but also for the girl I was. I, too, had hopes and dreams like any high school girl (though the career part was vague and took a while to get sorted out). My father had not been involved for several years, and then my mother got cancer. Life was hard and scary. To escape, I read a lot of books (we didn’t have cable or the internet back then) – and ran cross country.
Running in races helped me leave my problems behind temporarily. (Later, alcohol and drugs would do that, and that’s a story for another day.)
I grew older and eventually became a fully functioning adult, before becoming a parent, which is essential in breaking the chain of addiction and dysfunction that tends to continue generation after generation.
Parents do the best they can, whether or not we or anyone else thinks it is good enough. And it very well may not be good enough. Kids need more than food, clothing, and shelter to thrive, but last time I checked, that’s about all parents are required to provide. And even if they can’t provide that – they are still doing the best that they can.
- My mom did the best she could.
- My dad did the best he could.
- My friends’ parents did the best they could.
- My son’s friend’s parents are doing the best they can.
- I am doing the best I can.
- We are all doing the best we can.
And most kids grow up in spite of their parents. The journey may have more twists and turns, but as I told my son, “Sometimes the people who have the greatest adversity wind up being the most successful.”
And then, if they become parents, they may repeat the patterns they learned as children or, as Guns N’ Roses says, they may “just keep tryin’ to get a little better. A little better than before.”
Whatever they do, it will be the best they can.