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An open letter to my kids about suing mom and dad

My dearest son and daughter,

The story of New Jersey high school student Rachel Canning suing her parents for child support and high school tuition after claiming to have been booted from their home inspired me to write you a little letter. 

Sure, you are not yet in preschool, but it's never too early to find a "teachable moment." 

Let me just put this out there: The only way I expect to see you in a court is as an attorney or a judge.  

I must admit that my first reaction to this story included a lot of neck-circling, finger-wagging and "don't even think." But as I started writing this for you, I found the whole issue deserved a far more nuanced response than "take me to court and you'll get a bill, not a check." 

Even without all the specifics in this family's situation, there are three things about this that seem to me to be simply courting disaster. There will be trials as you grow from children to adults, but they don’t need to play out in a courtroom.

First, it’s natural for parents and children to argue. I can guarantee that we will disagree, often passionately. One or both of you will, at some point, scream at the top of your lungs the various ways you hate me. And I won't always like you either. (I recall a four-year period bridging high school and college that tested my mother's resolve and blood pressure.)

But know this better than you know anything: I will always love you and do everything I can to keep your best interests as my focus, even when I'm so angry I can't see straight. 

We are family. That means we are as much a part of one another as the marrow in our bones. And we all should ponder very deeply before ever thinking of jeopardizing, let alone breaking, that bond.

Second, beware of friends bearing lawsuits.

The father of this young lady's friend has "kindly" foot the bill for an attorney -- though the lawsuit seeks compensation for lawyer's fees.

A true friend would urge family counseling, not court.  

And third, there are many things you can't take back. But possibly more damaging than harsh words and missed opportunities is the viral story.

In this world you are part of, impetuosity is rewarded with a lingering record, be it unfortunate selfie, raunchy post or status update and, yes, dubious lawsuit.

This young lady will for quite some time, if not forever, be recorded as "the girl who sued her parents." Even if they forgive and forget, the Internet doesn't. That story remains. 

I'll be honest, no matter how far apart we are on your life choices, including a seriously questionable mate, your father and I will most certainly pay everything we can for your higher education. It's that important to us. But that doesn't mean you should push the boundaries or take that for granted. To be clear, that is a privilege we happily extend to you -- not a birthright or entitlement.

And you will have to work hard to earn that privilege, through your academic commitments and full participation in our family. That will include rules, expectations, discipline and boundaries you might not always agree with or like. Growing up is hard work. 

My most important job is to help you become the best version of yourself. We both have hard work ahead.  

If I do my job properly as your mother -- and you do yours as my children -- you would sooner dig in, get a job or two, get a grant or scholarship and find a way to make your dreams come true than go to trial over what you think you're entitled to. 

Now, let's start work on getting you that J.D.

Love always, 



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What would you say to your kids? Share with us in the comments or tweet me (@mmaltaisLAT).

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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