In May of 1997 I evicted my nineteen year old son from our home with only a roll of bus tokens, $5.00 (or was it $10.00) and whatever he could carry from his bedroom. That was the day that I exhausted all of my spiritual and emotional resolve to trust that the Universe (God) loved my defiant son as much as I did.
Often, as a single mom, navigating my children’s tumultuous teen years, my own mother’s voice bruised my fragile ego:
“The God that loves and strengthens you is ever-present to your children.
Stop trying to fix ev-er-y-thing for them and get yourself out of the way.”
I still live in West Pullman, a part of Chicago’s south suburbs that had experienced a sudden spike in gang conflict and increased drug activity. My neighbors and I struggled to keep our children safe, out of gangs and away from the drug trade. I knew that without a high school diploma my children would suffer and my sons in particular, would be sucked into the school-to-prison pipeline or worse — a coffin. They deserved better.
Our house law was, “You must graduate from high school and then go to college, join the military, get a full-time job or some combination of the above; but no high school drop-out can live in my home.”
My adult daughter had completed high school in Africa. My eldest son would be our first U.S. high school graduate!
I was concerned about him. In elementary school, he was hyper kinetic, taller than his classmates and labeled a troublemaker. I negotiated his assignment to male teachers, who unintimidated by his height, saw him for the big goofy kid that he was. This got him safely out of grammar school.
He spent his freshman year at Christian Fenger Academy. They had a well-intentioned staff, but the rapid decline of our community, the increasing prominence of the gangs and related rivalry made education a near impossible task. Somehow, in the final semester of his freshman year, my son made the honor roll.
Sophomore year I sent him to his father in DC, but he was homesick for his siblings and we missed him terribly. After making the honor roll in DC, I brought him back to Chicago.
I started losing my son during senior year. Six weeks before graduation I was summoned to a meeting with his homeroom teacher. She stung me with the news that although my son had completed the requirements to graduate, he’d stopped attending school. Attendance was mandatory or he wouldn’t graduate with the Class of 1997.
Stunned, I talked with him, cajoled and even threatened bodily harm – to no avail.
My male buddies cautioned that, especially for boys, when you make a rule, you’ve got to enforce it.
I prayed, bargained and thrashed against the obvious. Finally, I demanded, GOD send me a sign! The next morning, I got it.
While standing on my neighbor’s porch chatting, her husband, stepped into the doorway, looked me straight in my eyes and said in his Jamaican accent, “Darlin, when you have one bad apple, you have to pluck it out or it will spoil the whole bunch!” Then he walked away.
Two days later, I rendered the dreaded decision which sent a clear message to my children that there were no exceptions to the graduate-or-get-out-rule. Needless to say, they all graduated.
Today that son has earned a bachelors’ degree and works in electrical engineering. In his spare time he’s an inventor, and builds cars. He’s a husband, father and the go-to guy in our family.
Was it easy – NO! Parenting requires a superior kind of strength. Of course, it requires patient encouragement of your children’s growth. It’s also modeling values, building character, loving unconditionally and accepting their uniqueness; but there is no greater or more rewarding responsibility, despite the discomfort, than the ability to make the pivotal, often life altering decisions.
In addition to loving and pampering our children, particularly when we can offer them “better than we had” it’s critical that a child knows that some things are non-negotiable. Because that’s-just-the–way-life-is.
– Susan D. Peters
Susan D. Peters, aka, Ahnydah (ah-NIE-dah) Rahm, brings a wealth of experience gained as an expatriate living in West Africa. Her memoir Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, received the Black Excellence Award for Non-Fiction from the African American Alliance of Chicago and the Mate E. Palmer award for Non-Fiction from the Illinois Press Women’s Association. Broken Dolls, Susan’s second book, represents her foray into the mystery market and is the first of a series featuring Detective Joi Sommers as its heroine. Her work is featured in three anthologies, Baring It All, the Ins and Outs of Publishing, Signed, Sealed, Delivered … I’m Yours, a contemporary romance anthology, and The Anthology of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Buy her books online and at www.SusanDPeters.com.