When my son was about fourteen or fifteen his social life grew and he was allowed out at weekends as long as he came home by a certain time. One evening he phoned me before his curfew, sounding concerned. Meric had nowhere to sleep. His mum had locked him out and he had nowhere to go. Could he sleep at our house? When they arrived I questioned Meric; he was in the same class as my son but I hadn’t met him before. He looked cold, tired, frightened. He said he lived with his mother and sister, and he had quarrelled with his mum and she had locked him out for the night to punish him. He didn’t seem particularly surprised at her behaviour, but steadily refused my offers to talk to her or go to the police. My son organised a sleeping bag and the two boys retreated upstairs with bowls of cereal. The next morning, Meric left early.
Reflecting on this the following day, I questioned whether I had done the right thing. Meric had seemed shocked and upset and it appeared to be the first time it had happened. But at the same time he clearly did not want any fuss and seemed to be protecting his mother or his sister. Eventually I decided that if it happened again I would have to report it, but in the meantime I would respect his wishes.
My heart went out to this young teenager, locked out for the night, and my son seemed very concerned for his friend. Neither of us could have refused to help but it was very difficult to know where to draw the boundary, how much to interfere. Meric was a minor and deserved protection but as I knew, 14-year-olds can be exasperating. I decided that my choice was to provide a safe house rather than throw doubt and destruction on a single parent family that I had never met.
Later I tried to put myself in the role of Meric’s mother. What if he had been quarrelling with her all evening – about his homework or some such typical issue – until she was so exasperated that she grounded him – and he defied her and still went out? Maybe she had locked the door for an hour or so and then unlocked it, expecting him to come back? Surely she was suffering horribly not knowing where he was, however angry she had been when he left home that evening? I imagined her guilt and anxiety, which would be so much worse if the police came knocking on her door.
Trying to see the situation from someone else’s point of view can be really helpful in a reflection. When I first heard that Meric had been locked out, I felt a lot of indignation and anger towards his mother, thinking she was unfit to be a mother and must have an alcohol or drug problem. Trying to see the situation from her point of view made me a lot more sympathetic towards her and reduced the picture in my imagination from a gothic melodrama to a typical teenage drama.
However, I still needed to have an action plan. I settled with myself that if it happened again, I would report it, perhaps talking to the class teacher first. But in the meantime, I would respect his wishes and say nothing.