Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, January 16, 2008
This week I read a story online about a mother who calls herself mean. Some of us have another word for her: Hero.
Jane Hambleton of Fort Dodge, Iowa, gave her 19-year-old son only a couple of rules about his new car—no alcohol and always keep it locked.
Checking the car one day, she found liquor. Her son explained it belonged to a passenger. Nice try, kid. It may even be the truth. But according to Hambleton, the rules were going to stand.
She promptly acted with creativity. Here’s the ad she placed in The Des Moines Register:
“OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don’t love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet.”
Hambleton says she’s getting calls from all over the country congratulating her moxie.
Too many parents are busy trying to be cool with their kids. I understand this mentality. No one wants to be despised by a son or daughter. But here’s the deal—at some point, teenagers are probably going to say they hate you no matter what you do.
I have to keep reminding myself to not take it personally.
Remember when your kids were little? Their tiny worlds revolved around parents. They ran to you when you came home and they cried when you left. They wanted to be with you all the time and followed you wherever you went.
In a frantic effort to keep that innocence alive with older children, parents often capitulate, compromise and even bend or break established guidelines concerning the health and safety of their kids, all in the name of remaining forever popular.
Trouble is, that doesn’t work—at least not for long. As much as they balk, children, especially teenagers, want and need authority figures. Trendy role models can be influential, but no-nonsense adults who aren’t afraid to come off as strict are essential.
I’ve never had to go as far as Hambleton, but I would.
The sad part about Jane Hambleton’s interesting story is that it’s remarkable. It shouldn’t be. It should be the rule rather than the exception. But parents are the only ones who can make that decision. We are the ones who can choose to be uncool in the name of choice and accountability.
Things won’t always end up like we want them to. Children make poor decisions even when they’re armed with the best information and reinforced by caring adults. But when responsible parties look the other way and dismiss boundaries, kids don’t stand a chance.
Parents have to decide what the deal-breakers are and then be prepared to act. However, we have to thoughtfully choose the hills we’re willing to die on, because with teenagers, it seems like we get to climb a different mountain every week.
Hambleton says that so far, nobody has called to give her grief, just praise. The only exception is her son, whom she refers to as “very, very unhappy.”
Thank you, Jane Hambleton, for checking up on your son and then following through with serious consequences. Thanks for choosing inevitable unpopularity and then sharing it with the rest of us.
Thanks for daring to be “mean” in a world where it seems like so few parents are.