Written by Phoebe . . .
I just read this saying this week: Raising a teen is like nailing JELL-O to a tree. Truly made me laugh out loud…I can seriously see me trying this with ooey-gooey red JELL-O…and making an utter mess of it. Sometimes that is how I feel as a parent. One of the most challenging aspects I face is being a parent in a family with a registered citizen. I am the wife of a registrant. We have a child who has become a teenager. As if raising a teenager isn’t challenging enough on its own, add all the registry restrictions by which our family has to live. As a younger child, we were able to shield our child from the stigma of the registry. However, our child is now at an age where every friend, parent, teacher, coach, and neighbor have access to online information revealing our situation. Our child is at the age where kids are starting to ask questions. Imagine being a teenager and questioned if your parent is on the registry because they ran across something on the internet. People tend to sensationalize everything. People love drama. People love gossip. People forget there are real people behind the gossip. We are NOT those kind of people. We understand that there’s a deeper side to people’s stories – that there are deep wounds that open up every time someone recounts your family story.
My family has entered the age of teenagers and dating. There’s no handbook on navigating this space. Do you have a sit-down with the girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s parents and share your family situation? Do you just remain silent? Do you just wait it out, knowing that high school relationships are often short-lived anyway? Do you worry that your story will spread like revenge wildfire if your teen and their significant other ever breakup? Do you let your child date “outside” the home so that the significant other is never at your house or in your presence, in order to keep your own family safe? How is your child supposed to handle it when their significant other asks why they never hang out at your house? Is your teen more vulnerable to accusations simply because a family member was accused? These are the situations we face daily and I do not have the right answers. I am not sure if there are any “right” answers.
As a parent of a teenager, there are things I have learned along my journey. I have learned to be honest with our child, no matter how ugly the situation is. It has always been age-appropriate level of information we share, of course, but always the truth. When he was young and asked questions, we always answered. He knew he could ask. Sometimes the answer may be that it’s not really age appropriate right now but we will tell you more as you age. We have worked on trust since he was very young, and that has been our greatest bond as a family. As our child has aged, he has had to learn to manage the curiosity of others. I am not there every time someone asks a question of him, so he has to be mature beyond his years and be ready to respond. We have practiced “scripted” responses so that in the event he is questioned, he has an answer ready that is true but allows the conversation to turn in a different direction.
I do hate it for our son – he has to live two lives. He is not ready to share our life story with every person in his life, as trust is difficult to come by. He has already seen those, who were his best friends, turn into different people seemingly overnight. The teen years often do that. He has come close to sharing his story, then pulled back. This is something he has to gauge and it is a natural part of growing up. He struggles because he is a true friend to others, very compassionate and sincere. It is a challenge for him to not share his story – for that makes him feel dishonest. But, he has had to grow up faster than most kids and find a level of maturity that others don’t have. We are so proud of him. I need to say that again – we are SO proud that he has navigated this ugly path along with us and been an emotional support for us when we aren’t at our best. As much as I can complain about the absolute ridiculousness of the registry, I have to give credit in one thing. It has made our son the man he is growing into, and we are beyond blessed. He is finding his voice. He is extremely protective of his family. He has learned to be a true friend who others can trust, because he more than anyone understands the need for true friendships and trust.
So here’s to all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors of those on the registry. It’s a tough road but it is not impossible. We live in a much different world than when I was young. The conversations we have with our son have to reflect that. I always heard it was more difficult to raise daughters than sons. I disagree. Any kind of parenting is a challenge, especially when the legal system continues to make laws which make living as a family so challenging. Families do things together – but the registry is so limiting towards family-oriented activities. Yet another thing we face daily – but we do our best. So get creative in your family. Surround each other with love, trust, and encouragement. And when you’re struggling, remember….there are NCRSOL members who are walking a similar path. You’re never alone.
Let it be said – Parenting ain’t easy!
As I always remind you, you must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Be a change agent…