I RECENTLY HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF SPEAKING TO A GROUP OF HIGH SCHOOL BOYS. The topic was drug and alcohol use. When I thought about how I would talk with them I decided I didn't want to just be the mom/parent coach who walked into the room with the usual presentation they may or may not actually hear, I wanted to make an impact.
I began my speech by saying I knew throwing a bunch of statistics at them wasn't going to impress them because I believe statistics can be manipulated to fit whatever point you're trying to make (I got several nods in response to this statement). Then I told them I didn't want to come in with a lecture about drinking because they all have parents who, I'm sure, spend time instructing them on the evils of doing drugs and underage drinking (of course, more nods). And, lastly, I wasn't going to give a voice to "just say no."
I shared with them in the only way I thought I might get heard, and that was to boldly tell the story of my experience as the mother of a teenager who began drinking alcohol (coincidentally, at the same age they are right now) as a recreational pass time, but who then fell into addiction by the time he was twenty years old.
That captured their attention.
Many of you know my story, if not you can learn more about it here, but the experience of having a child fall into an addiction to alcohol has deeply changed me. His birth, when I was eighteen, was the other life event that has really shaped who I am today.
I was open and brutally honest with the boys the entire time I spoke . I shared with them my initial denial about my son's drinking and about how that certainly didn't help the situation. But, again being transparent, even if I'd been more eyes-open I don't know if I would have been able to stop the tumble down my son was on.
That's not an excuse; it's reality.
He and I had a very close relationship while he was growing up, he would tell you the same thing. But that didn't stop his addiction from happening.
After I finished sharing my story, I asked the boys to write down on an index card one thing they took away from what I'd shared and one question they had about my experience or about addiction in general. Though I should not have been surprised, I was amazed at the thought-provoking statements and questions they came back with!
Someone in the group wrote, "What is your biggest regret out of everything you told us."
Of course this made me think.
"Hmmmmm," I said. "I honestly can't think of any regret I have about what transpired."
Do I wish he hadn't gotten a taste of alcohol so young and become addicted to the way it helped him cope with the stress and challenges in his life during high school? Yes. But I understand why it happened.
Do I wish I'd have listened to my gut when the evidence (smells from his room that were not what I wrote off at the time as "teen boy smells", missing alcohol from the cabinet, odd sleep patterns) was right in front of my eyes? Yes. Denial can be a powerful parenting obstacle.
Do I wish he would have felt able to come to me sooner and ask for help? Definitely! But, when he was ready, he did come to me and although the experience got much darker before the light, I supported and encouraged him (as I still do today) into what is a healthier version of the teen who inadvertently got addicted to a substance that became his main coping skill.
Regrets in parenting are a waste of time. If you have experienced a personal challenge with your child it's worth sharing with others so they can learn from your experience; but life is much too short to regret our natural oversights as human beings.
We are parents, not perfect.
We do the best we can with what we know every moment as we raise our children. When we know better, we do better!
If you live with regrets about the way you were parented, or the way you are parenting, STOP. Seek a new approach to developing your most important relationships, don't waste another moment on "what could have been" or "why didn't I do this or why didn't I see this coming?"
My passion and mission in life is to help other parents by speaking, writing, leading workshops, and coaching one-on-one. I don't do this because I feel as if I'm the perfect parent; I do this because I desperately want to see families become happier, healthier, and more functional. OUR TEENAGERS NEED US.
Would you like to learn more about how I can help you? Go here.