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All She Wants Is a Little Respect for Parents

Her boys had a fondness for heavy metal. Marilyn Anita Dalrymple can’t remember all their favorite bands, except that one was Kiss and another might have been Megadeth. She hated the music, hated the lyrics. This mom warned her boys that if they brought such albums home, she’d destroy them.

The teen-agers tested her. She grabbed the records and tossed them in the blazing fireplace, further stoking the boys’ rebellion.

“The kids had been warned. I’d told them,” recalls Marilyn, whose sons are now 28 and 27. “And I still don’t think that was wrong. But I’m sure other people will think it was.”

No doubt. And no doubt some would think she was right. And maybe more people would wonder how parents would allow such a dispute to escalate into ultimatums. “You had to be there,” Marilyn says. Parenting is such a demanding, difficult and delicate task.

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All of which is why the 50-year-old Lancaster resident, from 1989 until 1994, published a newsletter called “Parents Care, Parents Count,” distributed outside the juvenile courts. And it is why she has now launched a modest crusade to proclaim Aug. 1 Respect for Parents Day.

Today is Father’s Day. Mother’s Day was a few weeks back. But Marilyn doesn’t think it’s enough. She’s gotten local politicians to sign her petition and she’s trying to recruit celebrities to her cause. A cynic may wonder whether she works for the floral industry, or maybe Hallmark. But Marilyn says she just thinks that society should give parents a little more moral support.

Marilyn knows she sure could have used some, back when her kids were having so much trouble and she wondered if she was the worst mom in the world.

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It was never easy. Pregnant with her first child, a daughter, Marilyn married at age 19, but the relationship soon dissolved. “I married again, more to give my daughter a father than myself a husband.” That relationship produced two sons before the divorce. Neither ex-husband, she said, was active in raising their children after the breakups.

Marilyn said her own self-esteem had long been fragile, that she’d “always been the fat kid in school.” Now she was a twice-divorced 26-year-old single mom with three small children--and she could sense and sometimes hear judgmental attitudes. “I felt I was a total failure,” she recalls.

She would remarry at 29, this time to a sheriff’s deputy. He was a strict stepfather, but Marilyn thought he also was a fine role model. Their marriage has survived the turbulence of their troubled children.

When her daughter was still in elementary school, Marilyn says, the girl started to hang out with “a rough crowd” and ditch school. Marilyn says she sought help from a counselor, but was told not to interfere with her children’s choice of friends. Everything would be fine. But her daughter also started to tell lies. When a camera, some antique jewelry and cash disappeared, it became apparent the girl was responsible.

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The arguments escalated to the point where Marilyn’s daughter, at age 12, told school officials that she’d been beaten by her mother and stepfather. Marilyn says a physical exam showed that she hadn’t been physically harmed. But child protective agencies decided it was best that the girl live with foster parents.

“Children have to be protected,” Marilyn says, “but we have to be careful not to break up a family where no abuse has occurred.”

Her boys had troubles too--truancy, drug and alcohol abuse, petty street crimes. They were in and out of juvenile court, with their mom at their side.

Something good happened there. Marilyn, who had always thought every teacher, counselor, minister or therapist held her responsible for her kids’ troubles, encountered a court commissioner who “was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.”

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Commissioner Victor I. Reichman “gave me just that tiny bit of consideration. He said, ‘What do you think needs to be done? And tell me your side.’

“I just went out walking on air. That’s all it took. It was the only positive feedback I got.”

Marilyn allows that maybe some of the therapists tried to offer her support, but perhaps she was just too down on herself to hear it. Looking back, she knows that she was never satisfied with people who had framed certificates on their wall.

They would tell her everything was fine--when she knew everything wasn’t--and they’d leave her feeling that it was all her fault. To her it seemed that therapists care deeply about the children’s self-esteem, but they spent time “tearing me down.”

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“My experience isn’t uncommon. The child gets all the support and the parent gets all the blame. Tearing the parents down isn’t helping anything.”

She found support when she met other struggling parents in the Antelope Valley. Their stories helped inspire her self-published bimonthly newsletter, which reached a mailing list of 300 and was circulated at community agencies as well as the court. Last year, when the newsletter became a financial drain, she dropped that project and decided to put her energies into creating Respect for Parents Day.

It’s a modest but ambitious idea. Whether she succeeds may be less important than the message.

“I don’t ever want another mother to call me and say, ‘If I killed myself, my children will be better off.’ That’s the worst thing in the world to hear. My heart just breaks.”

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Marilyn says she knows what it’s like to feel that way.

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These days, Marilyn’s daughter, 30, lives in Washington state and her sons, ages 28 and 27, reside in Northern California. Marilyn describes her relationship with her younger son as excellent, with her daughter as good, and her older son as “rocky.” He is still struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, she says.

Her daughter now has three children of her own. She and the children’s father have been together for many years, but haven’t married.

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“I don’t fault her for that. If she’s afraid of marriage, I don’t blame her. . . . She’s a very good mother. I’m very proud of her.”

Mother and daughter write letters and talk on the phone. But Marilyn says they haven’t talked much about those years when her daughter left home. As Marilyn tells it, her daughter had decided that she’d rather live with her foster parents than obey the rules that had been established by her mother and stepfather.

Maybe someday they’ll inspect those old wounds. When, Marilyn says, is a decision for her daughter to make.

Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

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