Friday, May 31, 2013

Go ahead, Cut School... It's Fine With Me!

When our kids were promoted up from middle school to high school my wife and I knew tumultuous times lay ahead. We decided to do something  unconventional; we gave them permission to cut school whenever they liked.

The only stipulation was that they call me first.

Now that may seem counterintuitive at first but years of experience taught us that most of the time, if you were able to drill down to where it all started, even the worst offenders started cutting due to an inability to cope. The root cause could be as serious as bullies or as simple as having a thing for the little red-haired girl and not knowing how to process all the new feelings. Or... the problem could be an accumulation of stress and they simply needing a day off. I was amazed at how “fixable” a problem could be if it was caught early. But like a malignant tumor, if left to fester it would be much more traumatic to deal with at a later date.

I reasoned that by the time we become adults we simply trade our teenage problems for grown-up problems (and by comparison our teenage problems don’t seem so bad). What we forget is how BIG those teenage problems seem at the time. My solution: when school got to be too much and my kids were contemplating ditching, all they had to do was go to the office and tell whoever to “call my dad”. I told them I would come as soon as I could and I'd pull them out of school.

Naturally, my wife and I encouraged our kids to try and tough it out when things got rough and most of the time they did. But I think the knowledge that they had another option really helped.

The truth is, I was more concerned they would run into and end up hanging out with "Billy Badass" whose parents didn’t care if he went to school or not. Billy Badass is the kid who seems cool because he smokes cigarettes and cuts class so he can drink beer underneath the bleachers. So, when cutting school and hanging out with Billy Badass actually seems like a viable option… CALL ME.

I didn’t get "the call" very often, so when I did I knew it was something serious. We would talk, go see a movie, or get lunch. Sometimes we would just hang out at the arcade where we often ran into other kids who were ditching without their parents. The difference was we had money to actually play the games (something my kids noticed right away).

Now, some of you reading this will say "I don’t have the type of job where I can just take off at the drop of a hat", but I did... so I would. And some of you will say "I couldn’t do this because my kids would take advantage and call me just to avoid the test they didn't study for." Well... that was never my concern.

I understand that we need to teach our kids to tough things out. Life is hard and as adults we know how important it is to be able to "hang in there" and keep pushing until we make it through. We can’t just quit our jobs because of a setback; we can’t walk away from our family when things hit a rough patch. As responsible adults we need to teach our kids this too… but in stages - not at ALL COSTS. Sometimes the desire to teach them that lesson can backfire. Now be honest, how many of you have ever called in sick to work because you needed a “mental health” day?

I suspected my kids wouldn’t abuse this privilege and they didn't. And if they had I would have come up with something else. Everybody’s kids are different. The trick is to know your kids and then put yourself in their shoes. If you were them, going through what they are going through, what would you want your parents to do? Then take a step back and put your parenting hat back on. You need to try to come up with a solution that you as a kid would have wanted done and what you as a parent know needs to be done.

Somewhere in the middle is a solution that is as unique as you and your child.

So take a deep breath before you hit that comment button and tell me what a horrible parents we were. Withhold your judgment. It won’t do you any good because our kids are already grown and I couldn’t be happier with the way they turned out!

I've made a lot of mistakes in my parenting journey. I've done a few things that I'm not particularly proud of. But giving my kids the "option" of cutting school is NOT one of them.

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