Chapel Hill: Opinion

Mary Carey: Unilateral decisions

Let me begin by saying I am a fan of the unilateral decision. I didn’t realize this until my husband and I became parents.

When my kids do something I am not happy with, I am a kneejerk, fly-off-the-handle responder. I take everything away. I tell them, “That’s it, no more phone, video games, TV, going out with friends, or anything you else you think is fun!”

I have added a caveat in response to my husband’s refrain: “I would have appreciated being included in this decision. There are two parents in this household.” Now I say this at the end of my diatribe: “Your father and I will discuss this, but this is how I feel we should handle it.” There is immeasurable relief on my sons’ faces when I say this.

Unintentionally, I have also made unilateral decisions when other children have come to my house. The slaps on the wrist I have received have altered my behavior. Comments like “I didn’t know you let your children play with guns” (toy guns) and “I didn’t realize they would be having so much sugar” have prompted me to ask parents’ preferences when they have entrusted their children to my care. (One parent suggested she look in my pantry for approved snacks. Comments like, “You let your kids have trans fats???” when she saw the Oreos, have caused some embarrassment for me.)

When my kids were in the tween years, I’d sometimes get asked if my son could watch a PG movie while at a friend’s house. I appreciated this request. It allowed me to be included in the decision.

I have seen the error of my ways, and now stand before you as a recovering unilateral decision maker. At least, I try to be mindful that not every family shares our family’s beliefs, values and diet.

There is, however, a new unilateral decision I am dealing with as the parent of teenagers, and I would like to ask my fellow parents to be mindful in making it.

I have learned there are two important questions to ask parents if my teenagers will be going to their home.

The first is the obvious, “Will there be parents home?”

The second one I have learned from my fellow parents of the high school set: “Do you allow kids to drink or do drugs in your home?” Communication between parents would help a lot here.

Apparently there are many “social hosts,” as I understand they are called by local police, among us. These are the parents who feel teenagers are going to drink or do drugs anyway, and they would rather have them do it under their own roof.

If this is you, please hear my plea.

If your son or daughter was staying with us on a Saturday evening, I would ask you before taking your child to our house of worship on Sunday morning. It just wouldn’t feel right to slip this one by you. Other items worthy of a mention might be coed sleepovers or allowing them to leave the house at 3 in the morning.

Allowing high school students to drink or do drugs in your home is something definitely at the top of the worth-mentioning pile.

Regarding drugs and alcohol, you might get varied responses from parents. Some might suggest you take some of the kids’ stash and share in it with them. Some might ask you to take their children’s car keys. Some might OK the alcohol, but not the drugs. That might involve more policing than you are up for, and you could tell them that. Some might make alternative plans for their teenager.

Either way, I would guess most parents would appreciate the consideration.

So if you are a social host, please know the students in your house represent a wide variety of families. We have all worked very hard at this child-raising thing, and we are near the end of our term as full-time parents. They will be leaving for college, jobs, the military, etc. in a few short years. Please let us have a say in what they will be doing in your home, especially if it is illegal, while they are still in high school, living with us.

I’d hate for you to be embarrassed like I was. If you promise to let me know if drugs and alcohol are allowed in your home, I promise to let you know about the Oreos.

Mary Carey lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, two sons and two dogs. She can be reached at