When I first held my son in my arms, I thought he could do no wrong. I saw only perfection and dreams of future happiness.
Much later, when he started having problems in school, I barely noticed or blamed it on poor teaching. When he told me his homework was done, I somehow knew better, but felt helpless to follow through or to challenge him.
When he reached 15, he began to listen to heavy-metal music. It was loud and aggressive, but I gave it little attention until one day he asked me to listen to a new tape. I was shocked. I couldn't believe the words that I was hearing, nor the hate-filled messages.
This incident started my awareness that our son was engaged in a world that I could no longer deny, agree with, nor hide from. As one discussion after another turned into an intellectual debate, I realized that my place as an authority figure had never been established.
I watched our son walking around the house with headphones that remained in place day and night. One day, while riding in the car with me, he slipped a tape into the player. The loud drums interrupted the once-peaceful atmosphere.
I'm not sure if it was the blatant challenge to my values or just that I had reached the summit of my coping capacity. I stopped the car, punched the eject button, and threw the tape out the window. I can still hear plastic crunching under the tire, and I can still feel the utter conviction that we both had had enough.
Our son was in shock, but to my surprise he did not react in anger. I think he knew it was long overdue. He didn't even complain when I went upstairs to his room and confiscated all the tapes and CDs that contained this kind of music. I told him that he could have them back when he was 18.
Last year, I found the tapes at the bottom of an old filing cabinet - right where I had left them 10 years earlier. I felt free to throw them in the garbage - where I should have put them in the first place.
I'm not saying that our problems ended with my confiscating the tapes, but I will say that it was a new beginning. Someone had to take a stand. Our son did not have the maturity or discipline to do it himself.
I was suddenly freed from the fear of making him unhappy. I was no longer intimidated or afraid to assert my sense of morality.
Today, when I think of him, I can't help but smile. I've learned a lot. The pain in the lessons opened my thought and life.
If I had to do it over again, I would have learned the lessons sooner. I would have realized that my responsibility as a parent included the sacrifices of leadership and the ability to assert authority. I would have honored our son with realistic expectations and alert, consistent consequences for misbehavior.
We came through the experience somewhat battered but whole. I cherish the words that my son, now 25, spoke to me the other night: "Thanks, Mom. You did everything right."
I didn't. But I learned, and that made all the difference.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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