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Bethany St. James  Headshot

A New Model for the American Family

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I have always heard it said that parents cannot be friends with their children and as newlyweds, my husband and I got a crash course in parenting 101 when my 17-year-old daughter came to live with us. We got plenty of advice from friends and family on how to effectively parent our "new addition." It surprised me how many people were ready to jump in to give their input and their opinions about our daughter. We heard a lot on how to discipline, how to say no and how to handle behavioral problems. We did not however hear much about actually being a parent.

My husband, a US Marine Corps officer who bravely served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan has been diagnosed with a very high level of PTSD. Like so many service members who have experienced the stress and horrors of war, he came back a different man and each tour strengthened its grip on his mind. As a former adult entertainer with a long history of physical, mental and sexual abuse, I also developed a plethora of coping mechanisms.

Recognizing the signs, my husband urged me to get help. It wasn't long after that I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. Our pasts have certainly been heavy and we have the scars to show for it. We listened to one another, we made communication the priority and most importantly we kept in mind the source of the real issues. We saw that our relationship bond became unbreakable. We also saw the quality of our life increased and the severity of our symptoms reduced.

Having been separated from each other for the majority of her life, my daughter and I were working with a clean slate on a lot of areas. But, we were also dealing with a lot of baggage from the past, as well. So, my husband and I decided to use the same techniques that had worked so well for us in dealing with our PTSD. We made no bones about the paths we had walked in life and how we got there. We shared our stories of a rocky past and how long the road to redemption was and continues to be. Although painful and often as hard to tell as it was to hear, we shared the ugliness and the beauty openly and honestly. Not surprisingly, we met with a lot of criticism.

For example, many people were surprised that I allowed my daughter to get tattoos. She can explain in descriptive detail the reasoning for each one. Honestly, the depth of her heart never fails to move me. I see the beauty in her ink but, many people do not. At her age, I was already out on my own and working a job in the adult industry. I also had tattoos. Most anyone from my age group can attest that tattoos were thought to be reserved only for bikers and punks back then. I am covered in tattoos and in fact, I plan to get more -- a lot more. I love my tattoos and just like my daughter, I see them as a rose garden carefully planted over a conservatory of reminiscence.

But many parents of more "straight laced" teenagers don't see it that way. They see the ink and the scars that cover our family. They then see the close knit relationship we have and immediately assume there must be a little too much friendship and not enough discipline. When in fact what I have begun to notice is, the parents I have the most respect for and that seem to have the best relationship with their children have utilized this same honest approach. They were not afraid to share their mistakes and how those mistakes had affected their lives adversely. On the same note, they also shared how thinking for themselves had often opened doors that may have stayed closed had they followed the pack. Although not perfect, their children are level headed, well behaved and driven to succeed.

It seems that many parents who instill values to their children based on their own experiences and who revere complete honesty are criticized. The irony here is that many of those same parents who were so eager to offer their opinions regarding discipline don't even know what really goes on in their own children's lives. Many times they are the same teenagers who come to me seeking advice. They feel completely unable to open up and share their lives with their own family. The ideology that a parent cannot be anything other than a disciplinarian has seemingly backfired on them.

I feel that if more parents were to engage themselves in their children's lives they would find that their children are eager to learn from their mistakes. Having a family put together from a broken home, we have found that an open honest form of communication is the best form of parenting. That is not to say that discipline does not play a role but with an open forum for discussion the need for discipline will fall by the wayside. This may not be true in all cases but for ours it has been the standard. We have seen very little need for it. With an understanding of life comes wisdom. With wisdom comes very little need for discipline.

Furthermore, tattoos and a checkered past do not automatically make you a bad example for the younger generation, just as a blemish free life and ink free skin does not automatically make you a good one. Chuckle if you wish but I see fit to quote the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here. He stated, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." I am sure Dr. King would agree those colors also include the ones made by choice, as well.

With that said, our daughter once asked me, "Don't you think parents should be friends with their kids?" I answered her with my usual honest approach. I said," I don't think that parents should be friends with kids. Parents should be trustworthy, loving mentors available to listen and to give input into any situation that should come up in their child's life without judgment."