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posted: 9/5/2013 7:47 PM

Teens surprise dad by surviving first try at independence

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By Kent McDill

Our family dynamic changed somewhat this summer.

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After five years as a freelancer, I got a full-time job this summer. It's a daytime job that requires me to be out of the house, just as my wife, Janice, is, during "normal" business hours (whatever that means these days).

That leaves our four teenage children in charge of their lives for nine hours a day. And you know what? They have survived.

So has the house. Go figure.

Until 2008, I worked for 19 years for the Daily Herald as a sports writer. My job required me to be out and about, covering practices and games, but I was rarely in the office. I did some of my work at home. I was around to keep an eye on the kids.

In the spring of 2008, when I went full-time freelance, I had several jobs, including a couple that required me to be out of the house for several hours at a time. But it was not daily, and it was not eight-to-10 hours in a day. I was around.

Now, I drive Janice to the train station and drive myself to work. The kids have to get themselves ready to go to their sports practices on their own. They have to make their own lunches, and enjoy their summer activities, without a constant parental presence.

And it has been OK.

Honestly, I expected trouble. With Haley (19) home from college, and the twins (17 and 17) going into their senior years in high school, I imagined all sorts of ugly emotional scenarios. Kyle, our youngest, is doing a fine job himself learning how to be a difficult teenager, and I could see his social needs butting up against the social needs of the others.

But if there was turmoil, they didn't tell me about it.

Because of texting, they had ample opportunity to communicate with me. But more often than not, it is me doing the communicating. I want to know what they are up to, or I want them to rat out their sibling as to what he or she is up to.

I am probably a nuisance.

This job situation probably came at the best possible time in terms of raising the children. The kids are old enough to be on their own, and certainly are old enough to want to be on their own. They are also respectful enough of their parents to know that misbehavior will not be appreciated.

I feel sympathy for parents of younger kids who must both leave the house from 8 to 6 and worry all day about their children. Whether in child care out of the house or in the house, it's hard to be away from them when you know they want you to be there.

I don't have that problem with teenagers.

I usually get home in time to check out the house before picking up Janice from the train. I go first to the kitchen, and I hold my breath. But, other than taking a sponge to the kitchen table and a quick rinse of the sink, there hasn't been much to do.

Occasionally, the kids even do laundry, mostly because they want their laundry done and that's the only way it is going to happen on their timeline. Necessity is the mother of getting a fresh set of clean clothes.

It hasn't been perfect, but a lot of that has to do with Kyle. He hasn't mastered making his bed (mainly because he hasn't tried to master it), and I stopped asking about his eating habits when Janice and I are not around, because there are some things better left unknown.

From a personality standpoint, I think this change has been good for the kids. They have been able to grow as independent people, and I feel like they get along better without Janice and me around than when we are there.

Whether it has been good for Janice and me, I will let you know after we leave the kids at home and take a vacation without them.

Don't hold your breath waiting for that report.

Baby steps.

• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.

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