I don’t like to think of myself as an overprotective parent, but I certainly haven’t allowed my kids all of the freedom that I had growing up. I have often chosen to give my kids the academic life experience over the experiential. I hoped they could safely learn about the dangers in life by my personal stories, newspaper articles, books and health class at school. Did they really need to get their hearts broken, get drunk, hitchhike home from concerts, and drive all over town before they had their driver’s licenses? In my heart of hearts, I know that experiencing life is the best way to learn, but I couldn’t encourage the curfew-breaking behavior I’d indulged in years ago. My need to keep my children safe—as opposed to letting them experience life—won out or so I thought.
I take pride in the fact that my kids get themselves up and off to school with no help from me and come home at night by their curfews. My daughter, who just graduated from high school and was accepted into a college honors program, was no exception. By her senior year, we gave her what we thought was a reasonable curfew of 11:30. She did well in school, held a job, and was a huge help at home. One evening this summer, she arrived home on time, set the house alarm, and went right up to bed. My husband and I—comfortable that everyone was safely ensconced in the house—turned out the lights. But for some reason I couldn’t sleep; something wasn’t right. I ventured up to my daughter’s room to check on her and found an empty bed. I’m that one parent who’s a step ahead of her kids, I gloated to myself. I texted her:
“Where are you?”
“Out walking with Lauren.”
“How’d you get out?”
“Basement window, but I’ve never done it before.”
“Come home now, same way you left.”
She was barely through the window before I began my rant.
“What if something happened to you? We’d think you were up in bed. You left a window unlocked in the house! How about the safety of your little brothers, of us?”
She complained that her 11:30 curfew was ridiculous, that so and so doesn’t even have a curfew and everyone else is allowed to come home at 1 or 2 a.m.
My sweet daughter swore up and down she’d never snuck out before. I texted her older brother at college and asked him if he ever snuck out. He said he wanted to but was too afraid of getting caught.
A few days later, I was still uncomfortable with what happened. I figured I’d practice some interrogation techniques to try and get more of the story from my daughter. Like my parents before me, I didn’t want the full story. That was too scary. But I did want to know how naive I had been. So I did what any savvy mother would and served my underage daughter a couple of lovely champagne cocktails (which by the way is legal in my state if done at home and with a parent present). She broke after the second drink:
“How long have you been sneaking out?”
“For the last year.” Translation: for at least the last two years.
“What kind of stuff were you doing?”
“Partying. Breaking into the swim club.” Yikes! I don’t even want to think about that combo!
“What time did you come home?”
“Usually by 4 a.m.” Wow. Gutsy. Her Dad and I are often up by 6 a.m.
“How long did you wait before you snuck out each time?”
“One time I made it out in four minutes.” Impressive.
“I can’t believe that I had no idea. I feel so stupid.”
“Mom, you were a bit smug and thought you had everything covered. Honestly, why would you suspect? I had a high GPA and high ACT. I did all of my activities and never missed work. I was helpful at home.”
“You’ve always been so sleep-deprived. I thought it was from staying up to do schoolwork.”
“Mom, have you ever heard of the three S’s?”
“In high school there are three S’s—study, socialize and sleep—and you can only do two. I chose the first two.” I’m not sure about her rational but okay.
Here was my beautiful, smart, and accomplished daughter who had been leading a double life for years! This last year I worried about sending her off to college without having learned street smarts, without experimenting with drinking and boys as I had done decades before. I was so concerned that I had someone come in to teach her and her friends about safe drinking.
“You must’ve thought that was a big joke.”
“We did have to keep from laughing at certain parts.”
While I’m still in shock to find that I have a daughter whom I didn’t really know, I’m glad that she was able to get herself the education and experience that I refused to encourage.
I was telling my sister, who has younger kids, the story. She was incredulous:
“Did you let her go to Lollapalooza?”
“Yes. She’s leaving for college in three weeks.”
“You need to punish her, and she needs to build up your trust.”
“Hell, no! It’s a little late for that. Anyway, I’d trust her with my life, and she’s just earned my admiration!”
Even though my daughter lied to me, which I’m told most teenagers will do, she didn’t do anything I hadn’t done during my high school years, except she got better grades and was accepted to a better college. Now that she is there and happy, I feel like we both did our jobs to get her ready for her new life.