“A Lesson in Love: My Change of Heart toward My Wayward Son,” Ensign, Aug. 1983, 28
Where was Mark? Our son had promised to be home by 4:30 to take his younger sister to soccer practice. But he was late again. He was also supposed to stop at the store to pick up a pint of sour cream for the beef Stroganoff. Hurriedly, I scooped an armful of soft, warm clothes from the dryer and made my way to the kitchen. The phone rang. Irritated, I slammed the clothes down on the table and reached for the receiver. An unfamiliar voice inquired, “Is this the Scott residence?”
“Yes, it is.”
“This is Sergeant Miller from the police department. Is this Mrs. Scott?”
My heart leaped into my throat as I visualized my husband or one of the children in a terrible accident on some crowded freeway. My hand began to quiver as I sank down onto the kitchen chair for support.
“Yes,” I managed to breathe into the phone, “this is Mrs. Scott.”
“Your son is being held at juvenile hall,” he answered, “and you are advised that he is ready to be released into your custody.”
“What’s happened to him? Is he all right?” I asked, confused and shocked.
Sergeant Miller, ignoring my distress, continued. “A party at which your son was present was raided by our vice officers, and we’re holding him on charges of alleged possession of drugs.”
“But you must have made a mistake, Officer. Our son is coming home any minute to take his sister—”
Before I could finish, he interrupted, “There is no mistake, Mrs. Scott. We will expect you or your husband to come down to pick up your son as soon as possible.”
The line went dead and I automatically hung up the phone. I desperately felt the need to talk to my husband, to draw from his strength. I was not prepared to face this crisis alone. I looked at the clock and realized he had already left the construction site and was on his way home—a two-hour drive. I would have to go to juvenile hall alone.
Numbed, I found my wallet and car keys and headed for the garage. As I slid behind the wheel, I felt as though I were caught in a nightmare. Mark had no reason to get involved with drugs, I told myself. And he would never want to humiliate his family by placing himself in such a situation. Why then was he at that party?
I slipped the key into the ignition and started the engine. As I drove down the street, I had difficulty collecting my thoughts and had to swerve to avoid hitting a neighbor’s dog. Shaken, I pulled the car over to the curb to gain composure, telling myself that I would soon be able to make sense out of the officer’s exasperating mistake.
Methodically, I examined every detail of the situation and came to what seemed to be a rather simple conclusion. If Sergeant Miller was right about our son, all we had to do was confront him and take disciplinary action. The whole thing would soon be over and forgotten. Confidently, I pulled away from the curb and continued on my way, my mind racing again with mixed thoughts.
Hadn’t we always tried to teach our son correct principles: to believe in God and to obey the law? No life is trial-free, I realized, especially with a sixteen-year-old son, but Mark had always been obedient. The officer who called must be mistaken!
And yet, recently I had found myself harping at Mark about his personal hygiene. He had always understood the importance of cleanliness, so why the change? He had usually done well in school; but according to a couple of reports we had recently received in the mail, his grades were slipping. He had always been reliable, yet lately, at times, he had been difficult to locate. I didn’t know what to think.
In a short time, I arrived at juvenile hall. By then, I had accepted the fact that our son had been overtaken by change. But I did not know why. Fear of the unknown almost overwhelmed me, and I refused to accept the idea that Mark would take anything harmful—especially drugs. I think I had known subconsciously from the very first when Mark became involved with drugs, but I could not bring myself to even think about it. Both his grandfathers had died of alcoholism. Certainly, I had concluded, their lives were example enough to keep him from any kind of drug abuse.
Inside the hall, I found a foyer with worn-out fluorescent lights flickering wearily, half-filled cups of coffee, overflowing ashtrays, and piles of disarrayed papers covering a deserted reception counter. I sat down on a tattered office chair. Sounds of clanging steel doors and steel locks butting into latches echoed down the hall, and I grew tense, feeling that my own freedom was somehow jeopardized.
Long moments later a green-uniformed man saw me and shuffled over to offer his help. The lump in my throat swelled as I replied, “I’m here to pick up my son.”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
My first impulse was to use any name but my own. Then, ashamed of my reaction, I muttered, “Scott.”
“I’ll get an officer to get the papers ready. Then I’ll try to roust that kid of yours.”
In a few moments, an officer met me and explained that my husband and I would have to appear in court with our son on an assigned date. He made every effort to make the releasing quick and simple.
As I stood by the desk receiving his instructions, I heard the horrible echo of clanging steel doors and footsteps again. Turning, I saw Mark. Once handsome and self-assured, he now had a shattered look. His clothes were wrinkled and dirty, his eyes were bloodshot, his hair was tangled.
We left the building quietly and walked to the car, great tension between us. Silence became our escape, and I decided that before any confrontation took place, I would need the support of my husband. I knew how much Mark hated to hurt anyone. Was he aware of how deeply I hurt, I wondered. Never again did I want to experience this kind of pain. In the middle of my thoughts, I glanced at Mark and noticed that his cheek was wet as he stared out the window.
Though I did not realize it at the time, this experience was only the first of many that would try the very core of my mettle and become a most important lesson in love.
Until this time, I had handled problems by control and domination rather than by persuasion and compassion. In keeping with this negative approach, during the next few months I became obsessed with reforming my son. I policed his whereabouts, driving him to and from school, to football and basketball games, and to school dances. I even instructed my family about the telephone: if a caller wanted to speak to Mark, I was to be called to the phone first.
Yet the more I fought, forced, and insisted, the more I seemed to fail. Mark kept dodging my attempts to reform him. When I would take him to school or to a game, he would go in the front door and out the back before I had left the parking lot. When his friends called and I answered, they hung up. Consistently, our battles ended in frustration. Mark seemed helplessly caught up with drugs, and I was experiencing a subtle deterioration of my health.
With the passing of time, Mark’s behavior became more serious. Our family, all emotionally affected, was caught up in a maelstrom of contention. And then other troublesome things began to happen around the house. The grocery money disappeared, and no one could locate our cassette recorder. While rummaging through my jewelry box for a pair of earrings, I discovered that my husband’s class ring and my own were missing, and that a gold coin my husband had treasured was gone! I was stunned. The coin had been a family heirloom handed down from father to son for three generations. Heartsick, I was reluctant to mention this latest development to my husband. He was a hardworking, honorable man who had already calmly endured too much.
One Wednesday morning, like a time bomb ticking away, the truth blew up in my face. Our family had spent the previous three months raising money for the ward building fund. Our daughters baked and sold cookies, I baked bread, and my husband contributed generously from several paychecks for this worthy cause.
The night before we were to turn in the money, my husband and I totaled our accumulation. He instructed me to deposit the cash and to write one check to the Church. Just as we were finishing, our son returned home and came into the kitchen for a glass of milk. He watched me roll the bills and stuff them into the pocket of my robe.
The next morning after everyone had left, I made preparations to go to the bank. I flew through the necessary housework and quickly dressed. Taking my robe from the closet hook, I reached into the pocket. The money was gone! Frantically, I dropped to my knees and searched the closet floor. As I groped around on all fours, I realized with a devastating clarity that Mark had taken the money.
I felt hatred flood my body. I could not tolerate the injustice of his behavior. Then tears, mercifully, brought a measure of calm as I realized Mark could make restitution for his acts.
And we insisted that he did. Working for his father during the days that followed, he paid off the heartbreaking debt. I realized, however, that this restitution would not solve his larger problem—nor would it solve mine.
In my turmoil, I began to reflect on my relationship with this special son of ours. I had always had a great love for Mark. He had been a pleasure: affectionate, obedient, and inquisitive. When he was a toddler, many times I had to rescue his shoes or our alarm clocks from drowning in the bathroom. Then, as he grew, how proud I was of his intelligent mind, his handsome physique, and his beguiling smile. He had a way of melting my sternness with that smile.
His father and I had taken special care, we thought, to nurture Mark with moral principles of right and wrong. When he was seven, we marched back to the drugstore together with a stolen toy. Many times Mark and his dad did the paper route despite the rain and cold. We thought we had instilled in Mark a love for the Lord and a commitment to the commandments. The sum total of these experiences was the very foundation of our relationship—our ability to love and to communicate. Now I felt that our deepest feelings of trust had been shattered. How could I cope? How could I reach out?
Exhausted, I arose from the closet floor and lay on the bed. Depression soon overtook me. I felt like such a failure as a mother that I wanted to close my eyes to my son and all my responsibilities toward him forever. But my maternal feelings were not to be denied, and when they returned, I began to wonder how Mark felt. Were his feelings of failure as great or greater than mine?
I spent the next few weeks masquerading. I functioned as a wife, mother, and Church member, maintaining a normal facade. But inside I felt empty. One morning, a perceptive neighbor encouraged my husband and me to attend the Saturday evening session of stake conference with her that night. I was reluctant; I didn’t want to hear of other parents’ successes when I considered myself such a failure. But I agreed to go.
The uplifting and inspirational talk given by Elder Marvin J. Ashton literally saved my life. It marked the beginning of a change of heart in me. Elder Ashton reminded us of the true value of free agency given to us by our Father in Heaven. He also taught us three powerful seeds of truth that I could take home and cultivate: First, we never fail until we stop trying. Second, we should treat others as we want them to become, because positive reinforcement builds while negative destroys. Third, and perhaps most important of all, all things are possible through faith.
I left the meeting fortified with new energy. Once home, I gratefully knelt in prayer and thanked my Heavenly Father—it had been so long! As I prayed, I realized that I had no right to force others to my will. Persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned would be more appropriate and beneficial. (See D&C 121:41.) My son still had his God-given freedom.
I also realized that I was not a failure—and wouldn’t be unless I stopped trying. New faith buoyed me up. As my tears fell, a deep sense of peace swept over me.
I realized that our basic difference was that I believed drugs to be the problem; Mark believed drugs to be the solution to his problems. With this major discovery, I then knew what had to be done: I had to accept and love Mark. Though he had not yet demonstrated signs of change, I knew I had to look beyond his obvious problems and find the good, the strengths within. I had to learn to put his dignity before my pride. I had to rebuild our communication and trust. I could begin by not driving him everywhere and not answering his telephone calls. I had to allow him to make decisions and to suffer the consequences of his actions, and then stand by him no matter how painful. I had to love him enough to let him go.
Thus humbled, I was prepared to learn a more personal truth: while I could support and love and pray for Mark, I could change only myself. I did not know where to begin or even in what direction to start. I only knew I wanted to be different. For longer than I cared to admit, I had not been comfortable with myself. I had always believed it was right to reason logically and then insist that everyone do things my way. I was quick to recognize flaws and faults in others and see how they could improve. Yet my plans never seemed to work. My rewards were small, and I often lived with confusion and frustration. Satisfaction and self-confidence were elusive blessings that always seemed just beyond my reach.
For the first time, I looked beyond my son’s problems and everything else in life that frustrated me. I looked at myself. Finally, I was able to see that many of my problems were really of my own making. My own fear and pride and critical attitude were destroying me.
I began living by a new spirit—a positive spirit of loving concern for Mark. I put aside my disappointment and guilt and began giving him positive responses. When he came home for dinner I told him how glad we were to see him. When he returned home after disappearing for a week at a time, I told him how afraid we had felt for his welfare, and that we had missed him and were happy to see him safe and well. I rose above the temptation to ask him where he had been, why he hadn’t called to let someone know where he was, and what he had been doing. I refrained from asking him why he didn’t think of anyone but himself.
Yes, I felt devastated to have a son using drugs. I was helpless as a mother. For the first time I could not protect my child. And I felt a guilt that was overwhelming and defeating. I felt hatred toward the drugs and Mark’s new-found friends.
But when I released the negativity, faith replaced fear, love replaced hate, and patience replaced anger. And finally I had hope—a hope born of faith, a hope that still sustains me and whispers that one day Mark will overcome. But above all, I felt love—a deep, abiding love—for my son, for myself, and for the Lord.