Thursday, September 24, 2009

When Roles Reverse

There comes a time and a place when a daughter has to realize that her mother is now in her charge. Unfortunately, as I have experienced, the mother may be a little slower to realize or accept it than the daughter and the rest of society is, but that won't change the fact of it, just how easy or hard it may be to accomplish. Hopefully, it will come at a time when you have lived your own life for a while, raised your kids, had your career and have the maturity and patience to face the task at hand. Of course, things do tend to happen. Illness or an accident, for instance, can cause the timing to accelerate. But, when the roles reverse before the daughter has hit puberty, then that's a real problem. And it happens. You know it does. If you think about it, you probably know a situation that fits the bill. Maybe it's not a mother-daughter scenario, but some situation where at least one of the children is taking on tasks that are above what most of their peers are doing. You may even admire them for it and say something about, "Little [fill in blank] seems so grown up, how she takes care of the dishes and the laundry." Or, "I saw [fill in blank] cooking dinner for her family. Her mother says she does it all the time." Don't get me wrong, having chores and responsibility is a good thing. But, judge it based on where the parent is in that scenario. If the parent is there teaching the child to cook side-by-side, or close by doing another task keeping an eye on things so the child can feel a sense of accomplishment, then awesome! If you saw that child cooking dinner with no adult in sight because that's the only way the family is going to get something to eat that doesn't come out of a bag with Lays on it, then it's not so awesome. And, as I write, there are children all over this country doing just that. When you read that, does your mind leap to children of parents living in some inner city housing project, who are on crack or alcoholics? Probably. At one point, that's where my mind would have taken me, envisioning a scene straight out of Hill Street Blues, not Round Rock, Texas. But, look a little closer to home. It happens to perfectly "respectable families". Sometimes it happens because there is a trauma in the household and the parent(s) collapse under the stress. Sometimes for no other reason than the parent just flat out isn't around. Maybe it's both.

That's what happened to Marissa. As we began the long journey with Kelsey and chaos began to reign down, we didn't respond well. Top that off with a demanding career, and the fragile order of the household tipped upside down. Marissa stepped in to pick up the pieces. I remember one day in particular when I had to pick Kelsey up from school because she was stoned out of her mind on some pills she got from somebody. Marissa was home when we got there. I was livid and scared all at the same time. Kelsey tripped on the way up the stairs, so Marissa helped her upstairs. I collapsed on the couch. So Marissa came down and made me some tea. I was proud of her for being so grown up. She was 11. This is just one story of many I could tell. The youngest, smallest person in the house was the only one for a while who was big enough to try and keep us going.

I know better now. I have no statistics to back up my view, but I can tell you as sure as I can tell you that I love the Steelers that kids who are forced to grow up too soon will suffer for it. Growing pains, you might say. I had a responsibility to parent my children, not the other way around. For a while, I lost site of that. Marissa has paid a pretty large price for that over the years.

Think about some of the other, larger than life stories that we all know if you're still not convinced. Michael Jackson was the big money ticket for his family. He certainly wasn't the picture of normal. Lindsay Lohan carried her family, and she seems far from well adjusted. The Hollywood stories like that go on and on. Bottom line is that if children are not allowed to be children and mature naturally and in the due course of time, something will go awry. They will grow up and try to capture a lost youth, like Michael Jackson seemed to do with wild, bizarre excess. Or, the pressure of trying to handle scenarios way beyond their maturity level will cause them to break apart at some point. I've seen children in similar situations to Marissa act out when they've had enough, sink into deep depression, look to drugs, alcohol or engage in risky behavior. Or, worst case, all of the above. They aren't ready to be adults, and at some point they're going to show that to the parents who have left them in that role. Trust me. I don't have a study to back it up. There is not a Ph.D. behind my name. But, on this subject, I am completely solid. I cannot repeat it enough; your minor child cannot be your parent. It is a major mistake if they are.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I have recently been talking to friends that I knew when I was in my teens. They filled me in on the lives of two of my friends, Sue and Donna. Both of them were the only girls in their households and they were expected to do everyone's laundry, clean the house and prep or make dinners and lunchs. Sue, because her mother treated her like she hated her (she may have been just sick enough to think of Sue as competition) and Donna because her mother was recently divorced, depressed and suffered from psoriasis. Both women became drug addicts (and according to my friend, still are). One went to jail for dealing. Both had several bad marriages and children they could not possibly care for. Very sad.