The Parent Trap: keeping your cool when the kids pull away

As the saying goes – the more things change, the more they stay the same. We go from children clinging to our parents, to teens who think that they know everything, to adults out to change the world, to older adults who know that change doesn’t happen that quickly. Then we look down and see our children clinging to us, knowing that in a blink of an eye, they pull away.

My 16-year-old son is nice enough to tell us that he is leaving the house, and we trust him to go where he says. I understand this. When my friends would pick me up in their cars, my parents had enough trust to believe that when I said that I was going to Bob’s house in Somerton, that’s where I went. Perhaps this makes me a dull person, but I never lied about my destination. Of course, I was often a bit fuzzy on our activities.

So I trust my son, to a point. But not long ago, he put that trust to the test. It was a beautiful Saturday, a great day to ride your bike around the neighborhood. After dinner, he did just that, telling us that he was going to the local highschool to ride around the parking lot, and maybe go to the playground. Since once falling off his bike and breaking a car’s rear light, the boy feels better riding where no motor vehicles are present (The experience cost me $75 for the light and one bandage for his cut knee). And that’s just fine with me.

But as the sunshine turned to dusk, I started to worry. Then when the sky got darker, so did my mood. And I began to drive. I drove past the highschool – no boy on a bike. I drove past the nearby playground – no boy on a bike. Worry brought a cold sweat behind my neck, as I frantically slowed down for each group of kids walking past. “Hey – did you see a boy on a red 10-speed?” I asked, and I wasn’t pleased with the answer.

Then, on my third trip around the neighborhood, while gripping my cell phone and contemplating calling 911, a figure waves to me from the playground. “Hey, Dad,” he says with a casual nonchalance. “I’m just talking with the guys (and quite a few girls, I noticed). I’ll be home in an hour.”

The conversation ended quickly, and the boy on the red 10-speed got home to his equally troubled mother in quick time. But while the experience was worrisome, it was also illuminating. I trusted him, and other than the time frame, he gave me no reason to doubt him. Now what more can you ask of your kid?

So sometimes, kids pulling away can be a good thing. Now all I have to worry about is him hanging out too much with the girls…

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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