Would you let your teenager have sex in your home?
As a parent, I was at my best before I had children. I looked at what other parents were doing and knew I would have better answers come my turn. Then I had kids.
Suffice it to say parenting-on-the-job humbles one a little. Cue my screaming toddler-son in a ferocious tantrum all up in the frozen food aisle of Tesco. (My children were never going to have supermarket tantrums.)
That was my first experience of blind parental panic, of being unsure of what to do for the best. I found out that day it was possible for even old school, black-and-white parents to feel moments of terror — and the weight of third-party judgement as onlookers tut-tut their way around your out-of-control child.
The decision I took that day was to take a deep breath and leave my child screaming in aisle 11. He would soon come to his senses without my blind panic as his hostaged audience. It worked, and the balance of power was restored. This point would be important on our parenting journey together.
Similarly, before my children were teenagers I believed there were some non-negotiable, black and white issues — like teenagers having sex in your home.
Our family first faced this sticky issue when my husband Bronnie was on a trip overseas and our 15-year old brought his girlfriend home for the weekend.
On knocking and entering his room the Sunday morning, he let me know that his girlfriend had not been well in the night.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Where is she now?” “Here.” “Here, where?”
He then pulled back the covers to reveal his sleeping girlfriend.
“Oh. Okay. Umm…”
And with that insightful and stupefied response, I closed his bedroom door and went downstairs trance-like, wondering what had just happened. (In hindsight, my son was equally surprised at this easy victory over his normally old-school-take-no-prisoners mother.)
The balance of power had shifted.
And has shifted for many parents and caregivers caught in this situation. Yes, even in spite of the oft-quoted edicts of age of consent, statutory rape, pregnancy and STD sermons. They may all have right on their side, but form little protection for those of us caught with our parenting pants down in the moment.
Faced with my moment, I didn’t have a ready answer — or any answer — amidst blind panic of not really knowing what to do for the best, yearning for the easy days of supermarket tantrums. But with that memory, my common sense kicked in and I went back upstairs and kicked open my son’s door.
“You, in my room, NOW!” Miss, please get dressed and join us.”
In talking to the young people, my internal surprise was the lack of righteous indignation I felt. I was more anxious that my son understood the ramifications of his actions. The effect it would have not only on himself and his girlfriend, but the messages he was also sending out to his younger siblings. The disrespectful message he was sending out to me.
To the young woman, I explained how her actions undermined my position as temporary caretaker and proxy parent while she was in my home.
Further, that I would be happy to discuss negotiating the rules of the house at any time — but before it’s inhabitants tested them — and that final rulings were to be respectfully observed.
Interestingly, my son’s concern in assuring me “that nothing happened,” was suddenly and absolutely beside the point. This wasn’t about sex. This was about respect in all its forms, and ensuring the balance of power resided with the experienced caregiver in the home — not inexperienced teenagers.
Again, something which became important the years following Bronnie’s death when my young daughters started bringing boys to the house. As a single, female parent, it would have been easy for strong, male energy to take over. Actually, as a single parent, for the energy of a ‘couple’ to take over the balance of power in the home.
Invariably, the next question is what happens when I’m not around?
When I’m not around, my children will have to rely on their inner compass and their training. They may break the rules, but they would do so knowingly without ambiguous parental messages to hide behind. I can at least give them that when I am not physically there to guide them. Decision-making and the consequence of those decisions is after all part of growing up.
But even as an old-school parent, what I took away from the experience was that as children become grown in your home, some of the balance of power has to shift to these emerging adults. However, I also know I have to feel comfortable in my home, and that stating my non-negotiables will not irreparably harm my relationship with them since non-negotiables are a fact of life for all of us.
And even parents who take a more relaxed stance on this issue can retain their position as head decision-maker in the home. Something it is difficult to do if we feel rail-roaded, intimidated or frightened by our teenagers into submission. I know, I know, teenagers can send us screaming to that path of least resistance or for that illusive ‘quiet life.’
Again, this issue when it came up for us was not one of sex but one of respect and the household balance of power. And typically I find my home runs along smoother lines when the balance of power continues to favour the most experienced member of the household. Me.
HMS HerMelness Speaks
Originally published at post40bloggers.com on February 19, 2015.