For 23 years, I have worked with teens and parents in multiple capacities – speaking engagements, television, life coaching, intervention, and coaching. It’s been an honor and a privilege to have found myself in this field of work.
Over the past 10 days, I have had the opportunity to sit back and read the sad and unfortunate circumstances in regards to the loss of Leelah Alcorn, the transgender from Ohio that committed suicide. I sit back and reflect as a parent and think who am I to judge. We all have opinions.
I certainly am not and haven’t been a perfect parent or role model. I’ve made my mistakes and have been judged. I’ve had my successes and been applauded. As I age, I continually learn so much and look back and learn from the lessons I’ve lived knowing what I did wrong and how I could have done better. Being healthy and balanced in my heart and head has been a journey with counseling and my relationship with God. Everyday, I try and be a man that lives a positive life and supports and loves unconditionally my inner circle of people and my family. What exactly does that mean though? Through anything will I love unconditionally? Through anything will I support unconditionally? My opinion depends on the circumstances and personally, I have dealt with many circumstances to have learned from and to where I now teach from. Life’s lessons have certainly made me who I am and who I am today is a much better communicator and motivator as a result of experience and age. I think this is the case for us all.
When I look at the situation from Leelah Alcorn and I think, “What if that were my child?” First, I want to hope that I would have been closer to “her”, and to know that my son, “Joshua”, that I brought into the world was having emotional issues that I needed to understand. Then, regardless of how I felt or how I thought, I wanted to do what is right as a parent and what is right and best for my child. In this circumstance, I would unconditionally love and support my child, “Leelah”, and embrace her. No question! When it comes to sexuality, my child being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, this is my child and I will love and support my child. I would act from my heart even if this challenged my faith.
Where does that love and support change? What if my child was addicted to meth, heroine, crack-cocaine, prescription drugs, or alcohol? How would I respond then? Completely different situation because now I am dealing with an addiction that is different than an emotion. Having dealt with addiction and seen it firsthand, I have come to learn that to enable a behavior is to hurt the person more than you could be helping the person. I am not one to enable anyone. Personally, I think we’ve become a society that is failing our children because we are trying to hard to protect them from failure and mistakes. We can’t shelter our children from the real world. I feel that we as parents, teachers, coaches, and counselors it is our responsibility to teach our youth and children about personal responsibility and accountability. Teach them that life isn’t easy. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. Life will never be fair. Tough love? Perhaps! Put the responsibility where it belongs. This doesn’t change the fact that I love my child unconditionally, it just changes that I am not going to support the behavior which is a result of the addiction. This is choices versus consequences.
If my child chooses to get help, I am supportive and there through the process every step of the way. If the addiction is stronger than the desire and my child isn’t getting help and tearing apart the family – stealing, fighting, disrespecting, etc. I will not tolerate that and I will put boundaries on the relationship. I will let my child hit rock bottom. You can’t over parent addiction. Addiction needs the help of professionals and in my opinion it needs to be dealt with in residential care. I am not supporting the behavior, but this doesn’t change my love which still is unconditional.
The point I am trying to make is that as parents we need to look at every situation differently and deal with the situation at hand. Many families have issues within the walls of their home. Don’t let your neighbors influence your parenting. Don’t try and be the almighty perfect family because you’re living a life protected by a facade. You brought your children in the world and society has an influence on them – the music, media, marketing. Nature verse nurture, too. Your faith has an influence on your morals and values, but is that more important that the circumstances at hand? Sometimes we need to change and pray about it, but what is important here is that our child knows we unconditionally love them no matter what. The support may never be understood, but that is parenting. Parenting everyday is never understood.
In the case of Leelah Alcorn, I think the demise of her death is very sad and didn’t need to happen. She didn’t feel love nor she didn’t feel support. That is sad. She left saying, “Let my death mean something!” I want to honor that. What does her death mean to you as a parent in how you love and support your child? Whether it is grades, sports, friends, sexuality, drugs, or anything else. How are you going to show your child your support and love? How are you going to parent and teach? What message do you want your child to get? Parenting is about being a part of your children’s lives and knowing who they are and being there for them in the good times and the bad times. It’s being their inspiration and the disciplinarian. It’s listening and offering advice and support. It’s correcting actions and behaviors, too. Parenting isn’t easy. Nobody every said it was. You will fail and cry, because you did things wrong. You will laugh and applaud, because you did things right, too. To judge yourself daily as a parent is to be expecting too much of yourself and trying to be the “Perfect” parent. You are a family and that is what is most important.
In the end, I want my children to know I love them and I’ll support them. I may not support their choices and decisions, but I will listen. They need to know that I will give tough love when I have to. I will not enable them because enabling is setting up our youth, whether our children, our students, our athletes, whomever, for failure and a life of hurt. I want to be a role model and let my actions speak louder than my parenting. I want them to be happy, but what does happy really mean? I want them to be good and to do what is right, but who is to say, “What is really right?” I hope in the end, my children grow up and become young people that that live a life of meaning, live a life of fulfillment, and are rewarded for who they are, how they live, and in the manner in which they’ve lived – as a result of what I may have taught them.
Just my thoughts . . .
Who is Jeff Yalden
Jeff Yalden is a Teen and Family Communicator. A Suicide Prevention Specialist and a Teen Motivational Speaker. He is the author of “Your Life Matters.” Jeff is the Host of “The Jeff Yalden Show”, on WMRC 1490 Radio and his Podcast for teens and parents can be found at www.JeffYalden.com/itunes. Follow Jeff on Social Media @JeffYalden and visit his website at www.JeffYalden.com.