It's not easy being a parent. All too often parents get caught trying to be the hip, older friend of the child rather than the one who ultimately has to teach him or her the differences between right and wrong.
Take as an example this story of a fellow Glendale resident.
In early August, this fellow had sent his three children a letter, carefully defining and detailing their less-than-considerate behavior. The father, who sees his children every other weekend, had been reluctant to discipline them because he only saw them every other weekend.
As is the case with many divorced "weekend parents," the time to discipline constructively is often over-ruled by the strong desire to make the short amount of time as fun and conflict-free as possible. But a series of events had reached a boiling point within the father's house, and he could not abide by the general disrespect among other things. It was time for his children to know it.
In his letter, the father cited different behavioral, age-appropriate issues with each child. He reminded them of the simple rules of conduct of his house and let them know, as a result of their actions, they were not going to be traveling with him to Catalina to attend a wedding.
This was an agonizing decision on his part. The trip was to be their first real vacation since the family was divided by divorce six years earlier. It was a milestone, marking the end of many years of turmoil. Even so, after consulting with his family and close circle of friends, it was agreed this measure of consequence for the children's actions was appropriate to restore order within his home.
That said, the father left the door open for each of his kids to make some kind of atonement or acknowledgement of their actions. If they did so, they would be allowed to go to Catalina.
He sent the letter to his children, who upon reading it, were upset and angry their Catalina adventure had been taken away as a disciplinary action. The son called and screamed expletives at his father. The two girls flatly refused to discuss the matter. There was no contact from any of his kids for a couple of days. And so, with equal amounts of resolve and heavy heart, the father went to Catalina without his children.
On the first day in Catalina, the father's girlfriend received a number of calls from the son. He wanted to make things better and wanted to find a way to apologize for his behavior and for yelling at his father, but he didn't know how. The girlfriend made several suggestions, one of which was for the boy to reach out to his father.
The father and son talked, each expressing his opinions openly and honestly. The father explained that if the son had handled the situation without anger and indignation, he would have been in Catalina, but that ship had literally sailed.
For the father, there was a considerable amount of anguish. He had desperately hoped all three kids would want to make amends and honestly discuss the issues, thus affecting a different outcome for the vacation. Now, with the son having done so, there was a different problem — how to get the boy to Catalina and reinforce the son's positive steps in resolving the matter proactively.
It took several calls and the cooperation of the boy's mother to get him to the San Pedro Harbor, but the boy was able to get to Catalina and be reunited with his father.
The two girls never called to discuss the letter. They never apologized for their behavior. And as a result, they did not attend the wedding in Catalina. But the father remains hopeful a tough lesson learned will someday resonate within them.
Perhaps it was the sister of the father who summed it up best: "The decision to write that letter, call out their behavior and let them know your serious intent to correct it was a tough decision, but it was the right thing to do. You can't always be your children's best friend. Sometimes you have to do the right thing for them, even if it is difficult and you end up the bad guy."
She also pointed out to the father that this one-time discipline was not going to fix everything. The key was to be consistent in not condoning poor behavior just for the sake of wanting the short time he has with them to be fun and free of issues.
"That is where you went wrong. But if, as a result, your kids learn you are serious about their behavior and your expectations, you will make them better people," she said. "They may hate you for it in the sort term, but they might just thank you for it later in life."
Like I said, it's not easy being a parent. It's a balance between friendship and leadership. And as we parents know, being a respected leader isn't always a popularity contest.
GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is senior manager of communications for DirecTV and a copywriting professor at Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.