Outcomes Offered

■ Reassurance

■ Acceptance

■ Self-assertion

Can I tell you a true story about a boy I will call Jason? When I met Jason his parents had separated and Jason was living with his mom but spending most weekends with his dad.

Before his parents had separated there was a lot of unhappiness at home. His mom and dad would often yell at each other. Jason hated it, and was scared by it. He would lie in bed at night, listening to them fight and feeling frightened about what might happen. It was lonely in the dark of his room all by himself and, though he wouldn't have said anything about it to his friends at school, at times he cried himself to sleep.

He didn't want his parents to separate, but when they did I think he hoped things would be happier. And in some ways they were—but in some ways, they weren't. Whenever his mom and dad got together or needed to talk on the phone they were yelling and screaming again. It felt bad that this mostly seemed to be about Jason or his younger brother, Clayton. You see, Jason loved his mom, and he loved his dad, and he hated the times when they put him in the position of having to choose whether he spent the weekend or vacation with mom or dad.

Then a test came. Sometime after his parents had separated, his dad had decided he needed a two-week vacation and planned it at the end of term so as not to miss his school vacation time with the boys. At the same time as Jason's dad made his plans, Jason's mom decided to take the boys on a trip for two weeks of the school vacation. That meant a month before they saw their dad and he saw them. Dad was upset. He said he couldn't change his plane tickets. Mom was upset; she had already bought tickets, too, she said, and the boys were looking forward to getting away.

His dad asked Jason if he would like to stay with him instead of going away with his mother. They would do something special, he promised.

Jason felt terrible. If he said yes, his mom would be unhappy and probably even angry. If he said no, his dad would be unhappy and maybe even angry. What could he do? No matter what he did it was going to be wrong . . . and that meant Jason was unhappy.

It was Jason's dad, not Jason, who told me what Jason did. In fact, Jason's answer made his dad stop and think. He said it made him realize that he shouldn't be making his son responsible, that he and his wife needed to sort out the way they solved their problems rather than drag in the boys.

Now, some parents realize this . . . and some don't. Sometimes there are things that kids can say that might be helpful . . . and sometimes there aren't. I have heard it said that there are times when no matter what you do it's likely to be wrong, so you might as well be wrong doing what you believe is right.

Sometimes it helps to let other people know what you think . . . and sometimes it's helpful just to know it yourself. What Jason said was this: "Dad, I am only nine years old."

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