We live in a neighborhood that was constructed in several phases over a period of about ten years. The oldest homes in our development are about a quarter century old. By my count, about 40% of the homes are still occupied by original owners.
We have watched each others’ families grow up. Our kids have played and hung out together in each others’ homes. We have taken turns working with each others’ kids as school, church, and community volunteers. We have shared each others’ joys and sorrows as we have seen neighborhood children grow up and embark on their own paths in life.
One of the sorrows we shared was when the high school aged daughter of one neighborhood family developed serious substance abuse problems. The dad worked in youth corrections. The mom was a registered nurse. Both had professional training in recognizing and dealing with substance abuse issues. But somehow they failed to see these symptoms in their own daughter until she collapsed in the entryway of their home upon returning from a night of partying.
Fortunately, once the problem became clear, these parents knew what steps to take. Their daughter went into a rehab program. After the initial treatment, she attended a school that was part of the treatment program for many months until she was able to graduate clean. Still, her adult life has been somewhat troubled, although, she is currently a fairly responsible adult.
A few years ago, I was able to have a long chat with the father of this family while we were together at Boy Scout summer camp. He explained that there were many warning signs that he and his wife had been trained to see. But both parents were blind to these symptoms because they were in denial.
After all, their daughter was popular. She had achieved a spot on the cheerleading squad her first year in high school. Her grades had been pretty good going into the school year. She was focused on her goals. Or at least, that’s how the parents perceived her.
The other side of the story was that the girl kept stashes of substances and related paraphernalia in the house. Her parents accepted her lame excuses about this. Her grades slid as she increasingly kept late hours. Her older brother didn’t want to get her into trouble, but sometimes made remarks to his parents of being concerned about her keeping bad company.
These and other warning signs made no impact on the parents. My friend said that there was no other explanation than to say that when it came to their own daughter, he and his wife willingly chose — perhaps somewhat subconsciously — to ignore the obvious. Seeing these same signs in any other family’s child would have caused them to take action.
I think this is a very natural human tendency. We want to believe the best about our loved ones. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid conflict than to bring up uncomfortable matters. At times we tolerate objectionable activities in the name of love, when true love can require these to be challenged. If we ignore problems long enough, we think, maybe they’ll go away on their own. We hate to see our own apple cart upset.
This principle probably has broader application as well. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see where else it applies.