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Can I prevent my child from being unhappy?

The hardest thing about being a mother is having to accept the decisions of someone who was once so much yours

A drug addict injecting himself at 1990.
A drug addict injecting himself at 1990.Gorka Lejargegi

The happy eighties have been narrated from the point of view of its children – our desires, our need to break with paternalism, with our mothers’ domestic lives.

But what did they feel, that generation that had to face their youth as they celebrated the irruption of political activism, sexual openness, drugs?

How did our parents live with drugs on the street? How much did they fear finding their children dead? What did they feel hearing those delightful speeches about addiction?

Aged 20, I would record the voices of the mothers in the neighborhood, a tape recorder on my shoulder.

The mothers against drugs. There they were: desperate but resistant, indignant at their voices being lost while pedants trivialized heroin use as ‘flirtation.’

The words of Tierno [Enrique Tierno Galván], Madrid’s revered mayor, encouraging people to get high if they were not already high, will go down in history along with those television debates in which some radical philosopher defending freedom showed no empathy for the mother of an addict.

There will always be idiots who defend the latest trends at all costs, but if life doesn’t make you more of an idiot, when you grow older you have the opportunity to discard the egomania of youth and admit your parents’ fears were justified. Today’s fathers and mothers live with new fears of addiction, those caused by technology.

When, in a juvenile detention center, you meet a girl who assaulted her mother for removing her cellphone, you realize that all dependencies produce a narrowness of mind, a selfish personality that can harbor only obsession, with no room inside the narrowness to see the pain it causes.

I read, sadly, the unfortunate story of Daniel Auster, son of Paul Auster and Lydia Davis. The young man was charged with involuntary manslaughter when he left his heroin within reach of his ten-month-old baby, he died of an overdose having been granted probation.

They still say it could have been suicide, doing so as if to offer the only possible relief from the evil that that caused Daniel to be so negligent.

It is somehow impossible not to conceive of alcoholism as a disgrace that sinks life and damages creativity, of drug addiction as an annihilation of the will.

Part of the impression that this New York story has made on me is intimately related, I confess, to my own fears.

I don’t know, there are just so many factors that are still out of the control of a good education – a teenager’s sincere fascination with a toxic environment, an infatuation with someone inappropriate, the desire to experiment.

A teenager is a reckless adventurer. How complicated it is to find the balance between being overprotective and not caring.

As fascinated as fiction and criticism often is by the cursed young man, there is still little space left to listen to those who suffer the consequences, when he is your son.

One of Lydia Davis’ stories seems to refer to this:

“You take care of them, you pay attention to them. You know what they do with their friends, you ask them questions, but not many and only up to a certain point, because there is never time; then the problems come and you don’t see them coming because you are too busy; they steal, and you wonder how that thing got to your house; they show you what they have stolen and, when you ask them, they lie; when they lie, you always believe them, because they seem so candid and you know it would take you a long time to know the truth.”

Literature will stubbornly tell you that the most difficult thing about motherhood is bringing a life into the world. But really, the most difficult thing is what comes later: the silent acceptance of the decisions of someone who once was so much yours, whether these decisions beat a path to happiness or to ruin.

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