Sunday, 29 April 2012

Are parents responsible for the actions of their adult children?

It's late at night when the front doorbell rings. Your husband groans, rolls over, and stands up sleepily. "Who on earth can it be at this hour?", he mumbles. He clicks on his bedside light, pulls on his robe and heads for the stairs.

You lay quietly in the warm nest of bed, listening, hoping it's just someone lost, asking for directions. In a moment, your spouse calls your name. You know from the tone of his voice, that something is wrong.

When you join him at the door, a uniformed police officer informs you that your son Bobby has been arrested for driving a stolen car, trying to rob a gas station, and threatening the attendant with a gun. The officer doesn't call him Bobby, he refers to him as Robert Fife, the accused.

You try to explain: "Bobby is twenty-three years old. He left home after he dropped out of high school. He accused us, his parents, of being too controlling. He objected to the house rules. He had some friends we didn't like, in fact, they actually scared us. When we told him they weren't welcome in our home, he stormed out, saying he preferred their company to ours."

You continue, eyes shining with unshed tears, "Bobby was eighteen at the time- an adult. He said we couldn't tell him what to do, or who to hang out with anymore, and he was right. He got a room in a motel and we believe he's been paying his way ever since with odd jobs. We've seen him occasionally in the past five years, but he's always been very secretive about his activities and his friends."

Are these parents responsible for their son's behavior? Of course not. They have two other daughters and a son, all of whom are hardworking responsible citizens like their parents. Bobby was raised in the same environment, attended the same schools, and was treated the same way as his siblings. Why has he turned out so differently from his brother and sisters?

No one can know for sure. He may be carrying a recessive gene from a distant relative, one which made a sudden reappearance the current generation. He may have been influenced by bad companions at a vulnerable time in his life.

Why did Bobby drop out of high school? Did he foresee that he wasn't going to pass? Did he fear being embarrassed before his peers, parents, and more successful siblings? Perhaps he was on a frantic, hormone-driven quest for independence and freedom. Maybe he was looking for a circle of companions where he could fit in under his own terms. There are many possible reasons why Bobby's life ran off the track. None of them are his parents' fault.

In the majority of cases, parents do their best to raise their children well. Most of their lessons are delivered by example rather than by formal instruction. When parents have lived a good, moral and responsible lifestyle while raising their children, it is expected that the youngsters will model the behaviors they have watched during their formative years. Every now and then, one young adult will veer away from the family's pattern.

Whatever the cause, and there are countless possibilities, it should not automatically be assumed that it is the parents' fault. Very often they are the ones suffering most of all from the misdeeds of their grown-up child

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