• Haim Omer

The Return of the Parent

One year after his divorce, Maurice started noticing changes in the behavior of his son, Gabriel (17). When he slept over at his father’s, Gabriel would often absent himself for hours or come back very late without notifying his father. Maurice felt this was the result of a weakening in his parental function, a process that had been aggravated by the stress of the divorce and his fear of losing his son's affection. Maurice decided that he had to change his attitude, if he wanted to keep Gabriel from getting into trouble. When Gabriel next returned at two o’clock at night, he found his father waiting for him in the hall. Maurice said: “Tomorrow we'll have a talk about the rules regarding your outings.” Gabriel began raising his voice in protest, but Maurice told him: “I don’t want to talk now, because both you and I are not in condition to have a good conversation. We'll talk tomorrow when I come back from work.” In the morning, Maurice called Gabriel from his work place to remind him of their date. When he came home, Maurice asked Gabriel to sit down with him. He told Gabriel that in the last year there had been a slackening of the rules, but now a change was needed because of Gabriel’s disappearances and late comings. From now on, he would ask Gabriel to inform him every time, where he was going, with whom and when he was coming back. In case Gabriel for some reason could not return at the agreed time, he should call and explain the reason for his delay. Gabriel protested, claiming that his father was depriving him of his privacy, and reminding him that in a few months he would be 18. Maurice answered calmly: “So long as you answer me those simple questions and keep the hours we stipulate, I won’t bother you. But as things have developed, I have to ask you those questions! I know full well that you're a big boy already, but I won't stop being your dad also when you are 18!” In the following weeks Maurice asked Gabriel every day about his plans for the evening. He would also call him from work, to enquire when he was leaving. Maurice avoided interrogating Gabriel at length, keeping the conversations short and to the point. When Gabriel protested again and went into a prolonged sulk, Gabriel's uncle, James, who had a positive relationship with him called him, told him he knew about the new rules and added: "Gabriel, that's a very reasonable demand! What do you want? That your dad give you up? He'll never do that, neither will I!” After a halting start, Gabriel adapted himself to the new rules. Maurice felt that the shaky family situation had begun to stabilize.

The passage from open attention to focused questioning is not spontaneous. Therefore tha parent should plan his moves with care. Usually, however, this is not a difficult transition. The parents' difficulties are usually due to their feeling that focused questioning is uncomfortable and invasive. Those parents tend to think that focused questioning signalize a breach of trust. However, focused questioning is needed precisely when a breach of trust has already taken place, that is, when the child hides, denies or lies about her acts. In such cases, partial trust is much better than blind trust.

Something surprising happens when a parent changes her habits and begins asking a child to report on his or her activities and plans. Teens tend to eschew the parents' renewed involvement in their lives. However, in the depth of their souls, they also feel good about it. That's because most children know that without parental involvement they may get into trouble. In one sincere moment, a 14-year old girl said to her widowed father, who had decided to take a decided interest in her activities, after a period of abeyance: "I thought you were finished! When you started asking me those questions I couldn't believe it! It was like the return of the Jedi!"

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Haim Omer \\ Founder of the NVR