When my neighbor called, I didn’t think much of it. We hadn’t seen each other in several months, but we share the kind of casual relationship in which I might pick up the phone and ask for her casserole recipe, and she might call to ask about the best place to buy sneakers.
But she caught me on a busy day, and I’d completely forgotten to return her call. She called me back. But it had nothing to do with sneakers and certainly nothing to do with casseroles.
She asked me what to do about her son, who had progressed from cigarettes to grass to heroin in a startlingly short amount of time, who was already mired in the red tape of social services, alternative educational institutions, and thoughts of rehab. I work in Retorno, a rehab center in Israel, so I was able to direct her to the right people.
But her next question was much harder.
“How could I not have seen this coming?” she asked.
In the past, parents would ask, “How do I know if my kids are using drugs?” And the answer was, “Look at their eyes. Are they red?” But as the kids will tell you with a laugh, every pharmacy sells drops to take the red out.
Today, the answer begins with the understanding that if you have reason to suspect your kids are using drugs, they probably are. If you want to know if your kids are using, the single most effective way of getting a straight answer is to ask a straight-out question.
Sounds simple, no?
It’s not. Because unless we have the kind of relationship with our kids that lends itself to honesty – and more so, openness – why should our children be honest?
I’m not a parenting expert, but between the challenging work I do as an addictions counselor and the even more challenging work I do as a mother of eight, I’ve learned a thing or three along the way.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that no matter what my child wants to tell me, I must listen. I must listen with both ears and both eyes, with an open mind, open heart, and open arms. The parenting gene that makes us gasp when we hear something that shocks, offends, or frightens us must be kept in check. There will be time later to educate, to guide, to express an opinion. Now is not the time.
A calm initial reaction will allow me to deal with my kids in a balanced, thought-out manner. If my children find it necessary to brace themselves before they share with me, they’ll be investing a lot of energy hiding that which makes them fear my rejection. In that case, I’ll be the last to know, and it will be too late for me to prevent them from falling into a bottomless pit; the best I’ll be able to do is to search for life-saving devices to get them out of that pit.
Today more than ever, I need to keep my finger on the pulse of my kids’ lives, to be a “hands-on” parent. As I do, I hope that when my hand touches theirs, my children feel not the clinical touch of a checkup but the loving touch of a loving mother.