Dear Donagh, I have grown abruptly, last Saturday when my 14 year old brought a boyfriend home. During the hours he was at home my mind went into all the things I've said to my daughter and all the things I have not, like what do I believe about honesty, love, self respect, our bodies, sex, drugs, alcohol etc. We have talked about this issues in the past, in a general way with the reply on her side, I know it all ...She took him to his room, I panic, was not sure myself what I do believe about it, we had a long discussion with my husband in the kitchen, and we both believe different things, my instinct told me I should intervene, so leaving an unfinished conversation I rushed upstairs went up and ask him if he could make the fire. Those hours went so slow, because of all my background thoughts. He was polite, and actually I admire both of them to have the courage of coming, neither me or my husband would have done it. Despite that I strongly believe in the importance to meet my daughters friends and parents. it was a bit of a shock. When his father came to pick him back, he told us that my daughter has been to their house. My heart was sad because she hasn't told us, and my thoughts went further what other things 'I've not been told? Later with new eyes I became aware she's got new clothes, a mobile phone, that I've not bought, all will be fine but the problem is that we don't give her pocket money. Maybe we should start giving to her. What all these things and others are telling me is that despite our conversations, our church going, key things are not there. Can I still inculcate some values to my children? Is it too late? I personally need a crash course on this issues, I am not quite sure what are the key issues one need to address children nowadays, where would you start if you were in my situation. How could I guide my children (I've got 4 girls) and ourselves through this stage of life. I need to refresh my own thoughts on all these issues, I am a catholic, but being honest with you, my beliefs are there, but not deeply rooted either and to make matters more exciting, my husband is agnostic, this in the past has enrich our lives, every christening, holy communion and confirmation has been exciting discussion, but as you can see it has not gone very deeply. On the other hand my daughters are lovely children, and I would just like to say the right things, and sometimes anger and frustration and ignorance on how to deal with these issues makes me say the wrong things, and hurt them. Sorry, I think I have touched lots of subjects in not a very organised manner.
Many thanks for your letter, and congratulations on having four "lovely children" as you described them. The fact that they are lovely would make anyone even more anxious to protect them and help them to turn out right. Having no children of my own, I can only experience that anxiety indirectly. So I'm a by-stander in that respect! A by-stander's angle will never replace that of the players themselves. Still, it's an additional angle, even if it's only a secondary one. What occurs to this particular by-stander is that your four lovely children are living proof that you have been doing something right! You are being successful parents. Look at everything that's positive and good in them, and be thankful for it. There's no indication that you have any special reason for alarm. Yes, a little bit of secrecy on the part of your 14-year-old, but where's the 14-year-old girl who doesn't love to have a few secrets?! For 12 years I used to give retreats to teenagers, and I noticed that that was always a normal ingredient! If she has no pocket-money she must feel rather isolated from her friends, and it's not so surprising that someone has come to her aid. In itself it doesn't sound sinister to me. The fact that the boy's father came to pick him up indicates to me that they likewise are a caring and responsible family; and I can't imagine that they would be careless about what happens in their house. Why not have a chat with them if you are still anxious? Why not invite them over for a visit? It would make the young people feel very affirmed and very adult; and they would be correspondingly less likely to feel that they inhabit some sort of separate and secret world of their own; they would be safeguarded by the feeling of a shared family environment.
The nearest I've come to a parental role (though it is still light-years away from it, probably) is when I was in charge of novices here for 4 years. They were teenagers, too - some of them, anyway. I found that there was no alternative to trusting them. They will never become trustworthy unless they are trusted. And when I trust them, they grow a little every time.
I'm sure there are millions of parents around the world who know the special kind of anxiety you have, Judith. You're not alone in that feeling. The miracle is that so many young people grow up into decent and fine people, despite all the dangers.
So, God bless the great work that you and your husband have been doing, Judith. And God bless your beautiful children. Sincerely,