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It's never too late to make poor parenting decisions

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:47pm

Sometimes, just when you think you have successfully raised your children to adulthood without leaving too many deep-seated psychological scars, you do something that proves the challenges of parenting are a lifelong battle.

Several weeks ago, our youngest son, a 22-year old college student, called to let me know he was coming home for the weekend. I suggested, if he had some time, he might want to accompany me to a local casino. I had never been there before and didn’t really want to go alone. He said sure, if I paid his way. Of course. No surprises there.

This particular son is a college student dedicated to both of his jobs in the communications field. He is an academic genius in that he has figured out the bare minimum of school work it is necessary to do before you might fail your classes. And he is squeaky clean.

By “squeaky clean” I don’t mean his personal habits – his bedroom at home is a registered health hazard. I mean that he is straight as an arrow. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke and certainly doesn’t do drugs. He is, in fact, so straight he sometimes makes me feel guilty.

Deep down I knew he had to have a vice, because I’m pretty certain everyone has something. I just assumed his was something no mother wants to know about – internet porn and squandering the rent money on cheap hookers were my top two suspicions.

But it never occurred to me that it could be gambling.

On the way to the casino that morning, I felt it was my duty, as the wholly unqualified instiller of life lessons, to warn him of the possibility of “beginner’s luck” . I told him it could happen, but he shouldn’t assume winning was something that would always happen. Because it wouldn’t. There. Motherly advice given, subject forgotten.

So we went, we had a good time. He judiciously played one quarter at a time in the video poker machine. I won some money. He didn’t. We went home. End of story. Or so I thought.

Friday he emailed me to let me know he was coming home for the weekend again and asked what my plans were for the weekend. I said, “Ironically, I am taking that money I won and going back to the casino.”

And he said, “Ironically, I want to go with you. You have ruined me.”

I thought the possibility of destroying my son’s life had passed. But there you have it. At age 22, I’ve ruined him. He will forget all the good in his childhood and this is what he will remember years from now when he is lying on a therapist’s couch. Or while he is smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, telling me about his most recent Gambler’s Anonymous meeting.

To you parents of young children, I will leave you with a caveat: Don’t be too quick to rest on your laurels; it’s just never over.

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