Yes, you have to clean your room. No, you can't go to the party. Yes, you have to ride the school bus. GET UP!
Patricia Lorenz knows how hard it can be raising teens, and she knows it four times over.
"They fray the apron strings by being obnoxious little twerps," said Lorenz, whose brood is now grown, out of the house and doing great. "But that's their job. I don't ever remember wishing I could drop them off somewhere."
In Nebraska, that's exactly what's happening under a safe haven law that has stressed-out parents abandoning children as old as 17 without fear of prosecution. While the intent of such laws is to allow desperate mothers safe options for unwanted newborns, safe haven in Nebraska has gone awfully wrong, or is it terribly right?
Raising teen-agers — still kids in some ways, but old enough and big enough to think themselves full-in-control adults — can be a frustrating experience far different from any other, parents say. And unlike the baby years, where there are new parents' gatherings, and relatives eager to come over and help out, the teen parenting years can feel isolating and scary.
Some experts say the parents of teens who have turned their kids over to the state probably made a tough choice.
"In some ways what they're doing is an incredibly noble thing to do," said Betty Londergan, author of the new book "The Agony and the Agony: Raising a Teenager Without Losing Your Mind."
"You can get so sideways with your kids and to actually reach out for help is an incredibly valiant thing to do, as opposed to hitting them, or worse," she said.
Londergan, with a 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, and her husband, Larry Schall, moved to Atlanta from Swarthmore, Pa., three years ago. That made it difficult for Schall to spend regular quality time with his three kids from his first marriage. His son, then in ninth grade, grew increasing defiant and difficult to control.
After the teen disappeared for nearly two weeks, and faced other problems, the family spent thousands of dollars and months in agony for the teen to live for two months in a therapeutic wilderness program, followed by an alternative boarding school earlier this year. Schall says his child, now 17, is in a far better place.
"I know I am in a very small group of parents that could even consider doing this kind of intervention," Schall said. "And now (the teen's) college savings are gone. I would do the same today as I did a year ago. The experience has been transformative for all of us."
Those parents and others around the country have been closely following the saga in Nebraska. The state, the last in the nation to enact a safe haven law, didn't specify an age limit for child abandonments, making it the broadest measure on record and opening the floodgates for children as old as 17.
'I can't do it anymore'
Since the law went into effect in July, 30 children have been dropped off at state-licensed hospitals. Many are teens and nearly all are older than 10, with some from as far away as Georgia, Michigan and Iowa.
Several parents or guardians to leave children in Nebraska reported out-of-control behavior. The parent of at least one said she was trying to "scare" her son. Unemployed widower Gary Staton had, simply, reached the end.
He left nine of his 10 children, ranging from a year old to 17, at an Omaha hospital in September. Staton told Omaha's KETV: "I didn't think I could do it alone. I fell apart."
"Those people are saying, 'I've done the best I can and I can't do it anymore,'" said Dr. Jason Stein, a family therapist in Los Angeles. "That is a very telling piece of the story. It goes to the humility of being a parent. It's easy to judge and chastise these people, but they're actually making a very proactive decision, albeit not necessarily the best one."
Londergan and Schall, both 54, along with other parents of adolescents, empathize with the relentless pressure and frustration that come with the territory. The stress, they said, can be an isolating experience unique to the age.
Lorenz, 63, remembers it well. She divorced her husband after three kids and seven years of a troubled marriage. She remarried and had a fourth child, only to divorce again. Never earning more than $28,000 a year, she struggled alone, living in Wisconsin far from relatives.
Now enjoying life on the flip side in Largo, Fla., Lorenz said she had kids in college every year for 17 years while making it as a writer, supporting her family working on radio commercials and renting out bedrooms to airline pilots passing through.
"It wasn't easy and it hurt twice as much when one of the kids rolled their eyes at me in disgust," she said. "Yes, you have to ride the bus to school. You can't go to your friend's house until your room is clean and your piano is practiced. You promised Mrs. So-and-so that you'd baby-sit, so, no, you can't go to the party."
Little support for parents of teens
While sympathy runs high for a parent dealing with a colicky infant, a towering teen screaming at a parent in a public place is more apt to bring on annoying glares over soothing condolences from onlookers.
"Parents are almost always blamed," said Dr. Norman Hoffman, a family therapist in Ormond Beach, Fla., and author of the book "Bad Children Can Happen to Good Parents."
"It's like, `What did I do wrong?' But there's hope in every city and every state. It's just a matter of understanding the ways in which to work with the system. You have to fight, you have to scream and shout for services."
Stressed-out parents with meager finances, little education or language barriers may have trouble navigating often complicated procedures and paperwork to seek help, either through government agencies or private organizations, Hoffman said. And shame may hold some of them back, allowing defiant, drug-using or otherwise troubled young people to spin out of control.
Yet Hoffman considers the notion of abandoning an older child under safe haven "barbaric" and "primitive" when free or low-cost treatment and intervention is available. Parents in a variety of life circumstances agreed.
Doris Montano, 40, is a single parent working three jobs to support herself and her 15-year-old daughter in Baldwin, N.Y. Her divorce after 13 years of marriage was finalized two years ago and was rough on her child.
"I get a lot of mouth. A lot of temper tantrums when she doesn't get her way," Montano said. "It's designer everything, the trends. She's a little prima donna. But no matter how angry she makes me I can't see life without her. She and I were meant to be together."
At 43, Robert Blodgett owns his own marketing and public relations firm in the San Diego, Calif., area. He calls himself a "father in the trenches" with a 14-year-old son and three younger boys.
"Sure, there are times where I'm just completely exasperated on how to communicate with my son," he said. "Sometimes I wonder, `Who's home?' His room's always a mess. He forgets things constantly. Many times he's flat out lazy and can never, ever wake up on his own. It drives me bonkers. But I can't ever imagine a situation wherein my stress level would get that bad."
It's up to the Nebraska Legislature to decide how to deal with the state's safe haven controversy during a special session the governor scheduled for Nov. 14. Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood said he'll introduce a bill setting a 3-day-old age limit for child abandonments.
Lorenz, Londergan, Blodgett and other parents hope the loophole that led to the dumping of older kids is closed.
"It's a tightrope that we walk for 18 years," Lorenz said. "Click your heels and say hallelujah because your struggles are going to make your children more capable and more interesting."