Their kids are all right

Flawed lives don't necessarily lead to flawed parenting.

click to enlarge HAPPY TOGETHER: Even unconventional parents can raise healthy kids. - Flickr/mem45414
HAPPY TOGETHER: Even unconventional parents can raise healthy kids.

I knew a woman who, as a young single mother, took a job as an exotic dancer to make sure the bills got paid. The bills did get paid, and the lights stayed on, and the car was almost always running to get the kid first to day care and then to school, and there was always decent food on the table. The woman's child grew up healthy and sensible and well-adjusted; now grown and married, the child is as capable and headstrong as the mother.

I know another woman who went the same route to ensure that her child never went hungry. She and her youngster have a supportive circle of friends and loved ones as devoted as any blood family could ever hope to be.

I've got a friend, a smart friend whose brains often couldn't seem to keep him out of trouble when he was younger; he's got an impressive arrest record and an even more impressive backlog of brawler's tales. He's also got a wonderful wife, and a little one so imaginative and intelligent it's terrifying.

There's one couple I know, she's a devout Christian and he's an avowed atheist. They have a couple of daughters, both thoughtful and level-headed for being at such curious ages. These little girls will be exposed to both the faith and the pragmatism of their respective parents, and their lives and experiences will shape their own perspectives on spirituality and the nature of life — they'll be allowed, with guidance, to find their own satisfactory answers.

Another friend of mine is in recovery, and sharing custody of a child, for reasons which have nothing to do with the program; he changed the course of his own life well before becoming a parent. The kid that eventually came along is unbearably cute, always has a family member nearby and displays a heart-melting predisposition toward smiles and high-fives.

None of these people has led what mainstream America might judge a completely conventional or even acceptable lifestyle. And yeah, I imagine they've had and will have their share of problems with their kids — lagging grades, or an empty bedroom with an open window at midnight on a weeknight, or a wastebasket full of beery puke in the bathroom.

But none of them has or will ever leave their toddler in the summer-hot car while they pop into the local dive bar for a couple of beers and a dime bag, or live for months ignorant of the photos of their kid posing with a gun on the Facebook page they weren't aware of, or go to and come home from work oblivious to the depression that's slowly driving their teenager toward murderously suicidal impulses. I've seen how engaged they are in their kids' lives, how excited they are about inspiring their children, and loving them, and helping them form their worlds and attitudes in a constructive and capable way.

And I know that none of these unconventional parents will ever feel the need to blame a teacher for not being able to repair some damage that was already done to his or her child. None of them will ever have to explain to a reporter or another kid's parent that it wasn't their fault — that it was the educational system, that it was the culture.

Because they're committed to raising their children, however difficult and time-consuming and inconvenient for them it might be.

Because they're not just accepting the responsibility.

They're embracing it.

Scott Harrell's "Life As We Blow It" won first place in the Blog (Individual) category at the 2011 Alternative Newsweekly Awards. Read more at and

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