Parents can be Hurt by Their Offspring in More Ways Than One

              Thirty-year-old Margo Steines wrote an achingly personal essay in the October 27, 2013 Sunday Review section of The New York Times. “Recalling Painful Lessons in Forgiveness” begins with Margo ministering to her mother’s wounds after Margo’s Rottweiler attacked her. Apparently, Mom had reached her hand into the car and the dog bit it, but good. The result was a bloody mess. This incident is a lead-in to the daughter’s guilt over the pain she caused her mother through the years, triggered in the present by her failure to warn her parent “not to reach her hand into the car.”

            By her own admission, Margo was a problem child.  She recollects a “scrap of loose-leaf paper” on which her mother wrote “You were our dream,” during a family day at one of her rehabs.  Far from being a dream, the list of Margo’s nightmare behaviors is daunting:

  • Stealing from her mother before the age of 10
  • Running away from home at age 17, leaving no trace
  • Hanging out at New York’s  S-and-M clubs with “hookers,” “johns,” and “addicts”
  • Becoming a drug addict and alcoholic
  • Attempting several drug overdose suicides

            It’s clear in the essay that this Marlboro-smoking daughter is conscious of her own wish to have a “beautiful child who will love me and grow strong, proud and capable. . .  .” Isn’t that every would-be parent’s vision?  Things do not, and will not, always work out that way, however. That is a message we promulgate in our book, Enough of Us.

            Having a drug-addicted, acting-out child is a “smasher” as Steines describes it. She remembers her mother searching for her in downtown S-and-M clubs; at home on her hands and knees “scrubbing up my messes, wondering if I’d ever be O.K.”; dealing with the frustrations of the insurance system related to “the fancy Connecticut rehab center she sent me to”; and her mother arriving at the hospital “while I was getting an overdose pumped from my stomach … knowing I had tried to throw away the life she had given me.”

            This story is not uncommon. Considering the most recent statistics, more youngsters seem to be turning to drugs and therefore to some seriously dysfunctional behaviors.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported this development in the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of 2012 in the article, “Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends.” The report states: “Marijuana use by adolescents declined from the late 1990s until the mid-to-late 2000s, but has been on the increase since then.  

Kid smoking pot


           “6.5 percent of 12th graders now use marijuana every day, compared to 5.1 percent in 2007.” Furthermore, 22.9 percent of twelfth graders used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, compared to 14.2 percent in 2007.

            Nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter medication is also on the rise among teens and contributes significantly to their drug problems. The most commonly used prescription drugs by young people are Adderall (stimulant) and Vicodin (pain reliever).

            And while fewer teenagers smoke cigarettes, other forms of tobacco used in hookah water pipes and small cigars continue to raise concerns about high-schoolers. More than 18 percent had smoked a hookah in 2011 and almost 20 percent had smoked a small cigar, both of which exceed the percentages of those who smoked cigarettes.

            What does all this mean? The underlying message is that bearing and raising children can cause great strife, especially in an age where drug use is common; and especially during a time when medical marijuana, although helpful for the sick, is not great for young people whose brains are still developing. Would-be parents who believe that bearing children will make their dreams come true should think twice, and then think again. While their kids are likely to bring more pleasure than pain, the odds are not overwhelmingly in their favor. They need to ask themselves: Am I really up to the task?



  1. I know that many feel guilt for what they put their parents through,, as I do, to some extent. What’s missing is the “why” of Steines’s problems in her youth, because often enough parents are the ones who should feel guilty, and do (or not). I certainly am aware of poor parenting, from outright abuse to over-control with too much sheltering,which causes kids to act out. I know this is a bit contrary to your message, and that awful things can happen to good parents, but this article left me scratching my head a little. Also, I found myself asking what her father was like.

    • Actually, Jane, your point is not at all contrary to what we’re saying. Whether or not caused by poor parenting, the misery that kids can inflict on their parents is still always looming. We know of several instances in which our friends dropped the ball as parents and had their kids wreak downright misery on themselves and their parents. But part of the parenting gamble is that the parents may not be up to the job. It amazes us how many losers think they’ll make good parents when in fact they are clueless.

  2. Rachel Tyrel says:

    Let us not overlook the fact that parenting is held up in our Western culture as the be-all, end-all of accomplishment. Young people who have nothing else of value to offer society are vaunted, fawned over, and congratulated for becoming parents, whether they exhibit the necessary skills and aptitudes toward raising productive members of society or not. The next time you’re invited to a baby shower, ask yourself if as much hubbub and fuss would be made over the same young person if they had, for example, attained a college degree, a technical certification, purchased a home (or sold one they had fixed up for a substantial profit). You’ll find the answer to all of those is no. We no longer reward merit and actual achievement, but give attention and trophies to those who place themselves in positions to be more dependent upon government and “the system.” The mistake of rewarding bad behavior (through positive reinforcement) while ignoring good behavior is the underlying root cause of this social dysfunction.

    This is a feature, not a bug, of our overly pronatalist social conditioning, in which all of our social institutions and agents of socialization tell us that young people who are “too wild” or “party too much” will “settle down” once they have children, and become responsible citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    In point of fact, the private prison corporations are in collusion with Big Pharma to criminalize even the smallest drug possession infractions, precisely so that they will have more inmates to lock up, thereby enhancing their bottom lines at the taxpayers’ expense.

    Of course everyone should soberly consider the long-term implications of bringing another human being into the world. However, it is extremely important to recognize that the very act of doing that sober evaluation runs contrary to every conformist advertising message our society programs us to act upon from the time we are old enough to watch television.

    • Wow, Rachel! We couldn’t have stated it better ourselves.
      You are so right. We live in a society that treats triplets like a gift from heaven but pays little attention to their impact on their own generation, on society and on our natural world.
      Thanks for your input.

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