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Your Kids Confide in Me–Here’s What I Want You To Know

Dear Parents,

You may know me; I’m the hippie mom. My house is free-spirited. We don’t have bedtimes. We compost. The music is always turned up loud. And I’m always marching for some cause or another, often dragging my kids with me. I also drop the F-bomb. A lot.

There are always teens running in and out of my house and four cars in the driveway. I don’t freak out about mess on the carpets or the lyrics to the latest rap sensation and I don’t care if pizza gets ordered at one a.m. during a sleepover.

The result of my laid-back parenting style is this: Your kids tell me things.

I have been a mom of four, foster mom of six, mentor and tutor of too many kids to count, and grandmother of three. I’ve also had a lot of my kids’ friends pass through my door. Kids dealing with bullying, peer pressure, eating disorders, and depression. Kids with questions about their sexuality; kids with parents and family members who are dealing with addiction, domestic abuse, and more. As a new mom rocking my first baby, I never envisioned any of this.

Sometimes kids come to me with problems that aren’t so big. Wondering if they should color their hair pink or worried that they aren’t good enough to try out for basketball. But adolescence magnifies everything. To them, every problem is a big problem. My kids—and yes, your kids—tell me pretty much everything. And they knew my rules.

When kids first started treating my house as their safe place, I let them know I would do my best to keep and respect their secrets. With a few exceptions. If a child was self-harming, or I feared suicide, abuse, or another dangerous situation, they had two choices: Tell you, their parent. Or prove to me they had reached out to a counselor or other professional.

Don’t get angry, and don’t mistake me for that house. No, I’m not buying your kids alcohol or having raging keggers in my garage. I am not their friend. I don’t care if they like me and I’ve yelled at them over the stupid stuff they’ve done. But I try to listen, without judgment, because I know the teen years are brutal. They have times when they are confused, angry, and frightened. And I’m there for them.

If you’re lucky, your kids’ mistakes are going to be minor scrapes.

Something a bandage and a kiss, or the adolescent equivalent, will help make better. But sometimes they have scars that run deeper. You have to decide if you want to know the truth about those scars, or if you want the keeper of those truths to be your kid’s friends—or me, their friend’s hippie mom. Kids think I am a good listener, but what I really am is askable.

Before I ever got my first period, my mother’s “birds and bees” discussion amounted to her leaving a book on my pillow to discover when I got home from school. Nothing more was ever said. When I became a parent, I wanted to be someone my kids could ask anything. I’ve always kept to that goal, even if sometimes my insides churned a little.

I’m going to keep being the askable parent with the nonjudgmental home where secrets are told and kept. But you don’t have to be a hippie mom to get your kids to confide in you, too. Just listen without judgment and make sure they know your door is always open.

Erica Orloff

Erica Orloff is freelance writer and novelist based in Virginia. She is mom of four, a fanatical Yankees fan, and a collector of Buddha statues. Follow her on Twitter: @ericaorloff.