How to Handle the Embarrassment
Dr. Bradley, My husband and I are huge fans of your book. We have given it to at least 20 friends with teens and now we all just refer to it as "The Book." I keep reading it over and over. It's like talking to a friend who makes me laugh when I really want to cry. I have a hardback copy and I just keep changing the cover on it, so I can carry it around without my kids knowing that I'm trying to figure them out.
I just want some feedback about some of my feelings regarding our middle son. who is 16 1/2. His older brother (19) was not perfect, but he bought into the wholeacheivement thing. He did well in school and excelled at swimming also. Our middle son is much more "anti-establishment." He is a fair student, never wants to go the extra mile to acheive. He is a gifted athlete, but just never puts forth the effort to be outstanding. He hates to ask for help in anything. He has had the same group of friends since elementary school and they are very important to him. We have followed the advice in your book and kept "the relationship" as our primary goal in dealing with him. This has worked well, and he often opens up and talks with us when we express our fears about things. He has a lot of freedom, but he is obediant to the rules we negotiate.
Okay, here's my issue. We live in a suburb where it's really a small world. His dad and I are very involved and well respected in the community. For the last year our son has grown his hair out. Long hair is popular with the "anti-establishment" crowd at his high school. We followed your advice and never made his appearance an issue, hoping he would soon come to his senses and get a reasonable haircut, but instead this summer he has decided to grow dread-locks. He got his 13 year old sister to help him put wax in his hair and get it into these dirty clumps. He looks hideous! We have been trying so hard to do like you say and just support him. (We keep reminding each other of that line in the book : Bad break, son, about your tech teacher not allowing you to wear kilts into the auto shop. The world is full of these kinds of silly rules.)
The fact of the matter is that we are embarrassed to be seen with him, or for anyone we know to see him. Do you have any tips on how to deal with these feelings? There have been other times when he got in trouble for things where we have had trouble with the "What's everone thinking" issue. We love our son very much and value the relationship we have with him, and we understand that he is "crazy," but we would love some words of wisdom or even some encouragement about how to handle these feelings.