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Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing, and she works full time in digital media with a large cable network. When she isn't at work, blogging, or washing someone's socks, Katie enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large and totally impractical, 113-year-old Victorian house.

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Right or Wrong: I Don’t Know How I Did It

By Katie Allison Granju |

Me, with my oldest daughter J and my youngest daughter, G

When we mothers and fathers are living in those those early, honeymoon years of parenting – that time in our lives when our children are still babies, or young children – our optimism for the futures that lie ahead for our obviously exceptional offspring is generally shimmering and boundless .

In those first years of this lifelong undertaking called parenthood, we look over at our own four year old daughter, happily drawing pictures of hearts and flowers at the dining room table, or we watch our six year old son carefully creating yet another brilliant Lego masterpiece on the floor, and we simply cannot conceive of any way in which that child –  the one we’re looking at right in front of us- could become one of those teenagers – you know, the kind of adolescent who would become mixed up with drugs, or drop out of school, or run away.

Early on, we worry about other scary things that could happen to our children – things like cancer and car wrecks and kidnapping and lightning on the soccer field…the things that are essentially beyond our control. These are the terrifying things that give parents nightmares. But no parent I’ve ever met looks at her five year old daughter playing with her princess dollhouse and thinks to herself, “I pray she never becomes a 16 year old heroin addict willing to do anything to get drugs.”  And we don’t generally watch our eight year old son play in his Little League game and wonder whether he might end up in prison at age 20.

It’s very simple, we tell ourselves when our children are little – at a time when our power as parents to direct and protect pretty much every aspect of their lives imbues us with a false bravado:

Good parents end up with good teenagers and successful adult children

Bad parents end up with bad teenagers, and unsuccessful adult children.

Right? Isn’t that how it goes?  That’s what I thought, anyway.

(Kind of like how before we became parents at all, we believed that only permissive and ineffective parents end up with three year olds who throw screaming, flailing tantrums in the Target check-out aisle… But I digress…)


As the mother of five kids   – including a one year old daughter, a four year old daughter, a fourteen year old son, a sixteen year old daughter, and a son who would be twenty if he hadn’t died of a drug overdose 19 months ago –  I’m obviously well past that naively optimistic, honeymoon phase of early parenthood. But I remember very, very clearly how it felt  in the beginning  to believe with every fiber of my being that my children would pretty much automatically grow into the right kinds of teenagers, and then into superlative adults who would serve as a public reflection of my own stellar success as their mother. After all, that’s how it had worked for pretty much everyone else in my family. None of us grew up to be drug addicts or dropouts or to go to jail. So I would simply follow the same general parenting blueprint as my own parents and grandparents, and just as it worked for them, it would work for me.

That’s what I believed, and intended to do.  And frankly, in hindsight, I was delusionally confident that my outcome-based parenting would generally work out just as I planned.


However, twenty years in to this parenting gig, I am no longer certain of anything at all.  The only thing I am now able to say with any confidence about parenting  is that I have no clear idea whatsoever how children become the teenagers they become, or the grown ups beyond that. Basically, I am unable to connect the dots in any reliably consistent way; I am constantly asking myself how my own behaviors and input as my kids’ mother links to their behaviors and choices as adolescents. What did I do wrong and what specific result did it produce? What THING did I do wrong that  failed to protect my oldest child from becoming addicted to drugs as a teenager? And I am equally unsure of what I may have done or am currently doing right – with my son Henry, or with his younger siblings

I mean, I have my theories about where I’ve gotten it right and where I’ve really screwed it up, but frankly, my theories haven’t held up well when I’ve applied the semi-scientific method of parenting several children in pretty much exactly the same way, yet ending up with wildly different “outcomes.”

I have no. freaking. clue.


Ever  since my precious, beloved oldest child died at age 18 – the one who was once the brilliant six year old little boy building with those Legos on the floor –  I have for the first time become acutely aware that other parents  - those who have been lucky enough to end up with healthy, accomplished teenagers – almost always seem to believe very sincerely that their own adolescent is “good” because they themselves have been “good” as mothers and fathers.

And why wouldn’t they believe that? Why shouldn’t they?

Post ergo propter hoc.



Don’t misunderstand; I know very well that the choices and behaviors that each of us makes as parents have the potential to impact what kind of teenagers and adults our children end up becoming. Parenting matters a great deal. I am not in any way claiming otherwise.

But as my very, very wise friend Jillian says, good parenting should be less about an outcome that we really can’t reliably predict, and should instead be about being the best parent we are able to be to our child today – about attempting to make the most honorable and healthy and kind and loving choices in how we care for our children because it matters right now, not because it guarantees anything later.

So much that happens to our children as they grow up is ultimately beyond our control – no matter how much we may want to believe otherwise – but we can go to bed at night knowing that on that particular day, we made sure that our children were protected and educated and loved as fiercely as we know how to love them.

Because no matter how things end up fifteen or twenty years later – no matter  whether the outcome we get is a Rhodes Scholar or a heroin addict –  we will never, ever look back with regret when we recall those individual hours and days of  ”good” parenting of the child we adored. No matter how hard we try, or how much we love, our precious child’s ultimate outcome may not be the one we hoped and prayed and planned for, but our own outcome as good human beings who did our best will still be one we can live with.


One of the cardinal rules of good parenting is that a mother should never compare her children to one another, but when you are a mother who has lost her oldest child to drugs and crime  -  when you’ve been painfully and very publicly branded by many critics – including by your worst critic: yourself  - as a terrible failure in your first attempt at successfully raising a child to adulthood –  it’s almost impossible to express parental pride in your other children without people assuming that you are comparing. I have found that since Henry died, I pull back from engaging in the kind of proud parental bragging about his younger siblings that is a normal and healthy and enjoyable part of being a mom because I don’t want anyone to think that I was not proud of Henry – because I was in so very, very many ways – or that I am trying to divert attention from my “bad” parenting, using my other children as unwitting decoys.

So I keep my mouth mostly shut when other parents are talking about their own teenagers’ grades or team win or volunteer activity because I don’t want anyone to think I am comparing, and I don’t want THEM to compare my children.

But lately, as I’ve realized that I’m doing this, I have also realized that this is not fair to my four living children, or to me. And I know for a fact that no one was prouder of his younger siblings than Henry was – no one - and he would never want me to let the ugly judgments so many have about a boy who became addicted to drugs – or about his mother –  prevent me from openly expressing my pride in the character or accomplishments of his little brother and sisters.


I am so, so proud of the amazing young woman that my sixteen year old daughter J is becoming. She’s a junior in high school now, and she’s one of the most sensible, level-headed and productive people I’ve ever met…at sixteen!

When I was sixteen, I was boy-crazy, scattered in my work habits, and far too concerned with what other people thought of me. I also had a wildly impractical approach to preparing for my future as an adult.  J is just the opposite.

Even after the terrible last two years she’s had in losing her brother, to whom she was exceptionally close, and the deep grief she now lives with every single day, she is fundamentally comfortable in her own skin, and she’s secure in her faith. In fact, I am inspired by the depth and conviction of her personal faith.

She’s a very solid student at a big, very diverse public high school, and she has a wonderful group of girlfriends who all really support each other in an organically feminist way. She is kind and without snobbery, and she consistently reaches out to other kids who are not as blessed as she is in various ways. She has played on the school volleyball for the past two years, and was accepted into her school’s academic honors program for this year. She’s active in several clubs, and she earns 90% of her own spending money( and now even buys many of her own clothes) through babysitting and her part time job at her stepmother’s dance studio.

She has a busy social life, but she’s healthy and moderate in her choices, and she still makes plenty of time for her whole family.

Basically, she’s all that any parent would ever hope for in a sixteen year old daughter. And if she had been my first, I’d probably believe that I had a whole lot to do with that. But I know better now. In fact, I have absolutely NO IDEA how I managed to end up with such a brag-worthy teenage daughter. And I also know now that anything happening in our lives now doesn’t guarantee how anything will go in the future.

So I enjoy today. I make sure to give thanks. I never take her for granted, and I also don’t take credit.

To the extent that my mothering has mattered at all, really, the only thing I can tell you about that is that I don’t know how I did it.


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Right or Wrong: I Don’t Know How I Did It






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About Katie Allison Granju


Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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46 thoughts on “Right or Wrong: I Don’t Know How I Did It

  1. [...] I No Longer Count on Outcome-Based Parenting Jan 222012   Over at Babble tonight, I’m ruminating on how my magical thinking about parenting when my older children were [...]

  2. CM says:

    Lots of insights here that I appreciate but with regard to this:

    “But no parent I’ve ever met looks at her five year old daughter playing with her princess dollhouse and thinks to herself, ‘I pray she never becomes a 16 year old heroin addict willing to do anything to get drugs.’”

    I absolutely think that. With both my kids (7 and 4), all the time. I know plenty of great parents who had *troubled* kids. Or who had perfectly healthy kids who had bad luck or the kind of brain chemistry that made them prone to addiction. My son on the sled today… a picture of a happy childhood and on some level I was thinking, that’s some serious “risk taking behavior.” If anything I try to shut that part of my brain down and do what you’re suggesting– parent for now.

  3. Bon says:

    Katie, i loved this. the raw honesty. your pride in Henry has always shone through, defiantly. it does for all the others, as well.

    my two are still small. i hope for so much. i believe luck and pain are almost equally unearned…and i am trying to teach myself that maybe it’s just today that matters.


  4. Jenny says:

    Agree 100%, CM.

  5. Danielle says:

    Beautiful essay Katie. I was thinking about you the other day (you have become a parenting model for me, actually), because I have a 5 year old and a 17 month old danger baby of my own, and I’m trying to figure out how to know what my children will be good at/interested in doing (academically, extracurricularly, etc.) and then how to nurture that. Do we try a smorgasbord of activities, and see what sticks, or just sit back and wait and see? Maybe you could address this in a future post. Not trying to hijack this thread, but I think this relates to your essay.

  6. Katy E says:

    Katie, your beautiful, amazing son had a disease. Addiction is as every bit of a disease as type 1 diabetes and cancer. You are a loving, devoted mother and had he been born with a genetic tendency towards hyperlipidemia or juvenile RA instead of anxiety and addiction it would not make it any more valid of a medical condition. Sadly, none of us knows before we take our first sip of beer at a party or a half a pain pill after getting our wisdom teeth out whether we have just flipped a switch to turn on the addiction gene. It’s bad luck much more frequently than bad parenting. You should be proud of how you raised your children. We control what we can and then say a prayer that our children can have extra long childhoods.

  7. geri a says:

    I remember my older sister calling me once, so upset about something with one of her kids, and really being hard on herself. she was a fine mother, as most mothers are. in trying to comfort her, i told her that parenting really is a crap shoot, we do our best by and for our children, but we can’t know how it will all turn out, too many other factors involved (the child’s inherent nature, outside influences, etc. etc). Course the thing is, as much as I could say and believe that for others, I didn’t really believe it for me. My children were going to turn out a certain way, because I was going to do this this and that, which would, as you mentioned, guarantee an outcome. How adorably naive I was. My husband and I still look at each other and go “how in the hell did we get here, where did it all go so wrong?” I have no idea, not a frigging clue. I do know this, parents are not the cause for a child to become an alcoholic or addict. The very “best” parents in the universe have children who suffer from this disease, and the very “worst” parents have children who do not. By the same token, when our children turn out to be wonderful human beings, we want to pat ourselves on the back and say it was our stellar parenting that made them that way. Certainly having loving, engaged parents is good for any human being, but I think their accomplishments are theirs, not ours.

  8. hmbalison says:

    Amen, Katie.

    As a parent of challenging kids, whom I love dearly but whom I seem to have had little or no influence…it’s the luck of the draw, and that’s it. That’s why all the fuss about the Tiger Mother last year really burned me up…

    So, totally agree from one *bad parent* to another. :)

  9. suburbancorrespondent says:

    I think that maybe we need that belief as parents (that we have some sort of control, that our actions mean something) in order to get up every day and do what we do. I myself have been disabused of any such notions. But how does one get up and go through the motions of good parenting despite that? How can one believe that it matters?

  10. Allison W says:

    Parenting…it’s the most heartwarming and heartbreaking adventure we’ll ever take in life. Every parent should read this, Katie. Your writing always strikes a chord with me, many parallels. We actually met years ago in law school 95-98. I remember seeing Henry with you around campus a few time. The reason I remember is because I was a single mom at the time, and my son was close to Henry’s age (started Kindergarten when I started law school) and hung around campus with me several times. When I heard about Henry’s story, I immediately recalled seeing the two of you together years ago. For what it’s worth, my impression years ago and still today…what a beautiful, sweet boy and smart, adoring mama. You loved him right, and that’s all that matters. The little ones who call you “mama” now are testimony to that. Keep doing what you’re doing, and thanks for sharing.

  11. Kim says:

    Hi, Katie. I agree with you and everyone else who posted. So much is genetics. My parents each had children in their first marriages, so even as a child myself, I saw how siblings can turn out quite differently. My parents together had two children, me and my younger brother. I was a fairly well-behaved child, with about a year of rebellion during my teenage years. My brother was always a challenge–from birth. He would spit on adults at two; ditch school and smoke in fourth grade; start fires at 10; steal from my parents and neighbors at 12; be chronically truent at 14; drop out of continuation school at 16; not be able to keep a job at 18; have a son at 19; become agorophobic at 20; start bodybuilding and using steroids at 21; display signs of body dismorphia at 23; and commit suicide at 24. He was brilliant in his own way and hilarious some of the time, but he was usually verbally abusive toward me and my parents.

    I, on the other hand, turned out okay so far. I’m sure I have some of the genes for mentally illness that he and some others in my family display. But I’ve been fortunate and determined enough to go to college, marry a wonderful man, and have children I love more than anything else. From the outside and inside, I would call my life “a success.” I’m happy, healthy, and loved.

    I’m not writing all this to brag about myself. I’m just trying to show that my brother and I had the same genes and the same family environment, and our outcomes, even from a very young age, was about as opposite as they could be.

    I wish my mom would be as introspective as you are, Katie. She still has a tendency to take the credit for my accomplishments, but I wish she wouldn’t. It’s not because I want the credit; it’s because I don’t want her to feel the blame for my brother. She doesn’t seem to carry that blame on the outside, but I assume she does on some level on the inside. I know she just tries her best to not think about him at all, which is sad, too. Parenting is so, so tough.

  12. geri a says:

    @surburbancorrespondent-here’s what I (and my therapist) talk about in regards to your questions, and what i think katie was saying also is not to be so attached to a specific outcome. we do the next right thing as a parent because, well, it is the next right thing to do. not because we think we are going to get some reward or specific outcome for it later down the road. being a good parent, by our own standards, doing what we think is right on any given day is the reward, in and of itself. but i do think, in our culture, it is hard to do, we are so focused on the future and payoffs and outcomes, we have to really work hard at doing something well just for the sake of doing it well, and staying in today.

  13. harriet says:

    >But no parent I’ve ever met looks at her five year old daughter playing with her princess dollhouse and thinks to herself, “I pray she never becomes a 16 year old heroin addict willing to do anything to get drugs.”

    That’s because you’re upper middle class. I’ve known plenty of parents who worry about just that when their kids are young.

  14. MHA says:

    Wow, I love this entry, Katie. I have 2 kiddos, 8 YO DD and 2 YO DS, and I most certainly do pray they don’t end up with addiction problems. As much as people don’t want to hear it or admit it, I believe that NATURE has so much more to do with outcomes than NURTURE. That is never to give permission to be abusive or neglectful.

  15. Jen says:

    I remember looking at my oldest when he was about 12 and realizing that for all practical purposes, he was done. As in, whatever effect it was that our parenting was going to have was already in there. That didn’t mean that we said, hey, you’re on your own now kid! We continued to set (gradually loosening) limits, and encourage some things and not others, and of course to love him with all our hearts. But it was kind of frightening to realize how much was out of our purview.

    He’s turned out to be lovely so far – though there was a rough semester or two, where again, we pored over our every decision, action and lack of action in regards to him. We have two more and we see so much the effect that siblings have on each other too — how a second child seems to lay claim to the spaces not filled by the older child personality-wise. We have one striver, one laid-back, one who puts himself out there and one who is solid and steady, but wouldn’t go “sell himself” without huge amounts of stress.

    Looking back, even just the question of do you nudge kids to follow their strengths and maybe ignore the weaker areas or do you let the strong areas grow on their own and try to help with the weaker areas isn’t clear to me at all!

    Husband and I try hard now not to smirk at parents of toddlers who are SO worried about the smallest of choices — which toy, this bedtime or that one, etc. It seems like parenting is truly about that growing apart from the idea that you have control, that you are the conductor of their lives forever. Watching your kids’ friends grow up also helps with that — seeing the horribly bratty youngster turn out to be a lovely, caring, service-oriented adult, seeing the kid who was a music prodigy end up aimed in a totally different direction, the kids who never seemed interested in much of anything turn into a highly motivated, pre-med student with internships and papers written, etc.

    But over top of all of that, the kids with loving parents and at least semi-stable caring homes do seem to have that advantage — it’s always better to be well-loved than not. No matter how their lives turn out.

  16. Blackgirlinmaine says:

    Totally love this post, but I almost wonder if this type of insight is something it’s hard to get until you get to the stage of having older kids? I am thinking out loud here…I have an almost 20 yo son and a 6 yo daughter so much of what you wrote resonated with me, I know I have tried to say similar things on my own blog only to be told I am poo pooing younger moms which I am not. I just know that who my kid ultimately is and becomes is less about whether I did the right things or not.

  17. whatyouwant says:

    I hope to God that this won’t sound judgmental, but here goes. Although I don’t think you can predict how your child might turn out as an adult completely, I think can get some hints. Their personalities are slowly revealed as children and with practice, you might be able to pick up on how they react to certain situations, are they a leader or a follower, etc.

    My best friend from high school’s son was a drug dealer in high school. He wasn’t a big user, but he sold drugs. He was by all accounts a very popular kid (!!), but had a need to be a big shot from an early age. They lived in a very small town and her husband was in law enforcement. My friend was proud that her son had such wealthy and “high class” friends, but in retrospect, she said those people were his downfall. He felt like he had to impress them because their family didn’t have money.

    Thankfully, it’s now all behind them, but those were some rough years!

  18. anias says:

    Not to sound creepy but J has always sounded like a lovely, well rounded person and it makes me happy to see you praise her like this. She clearly deserves it.

  19. Shandra says:

    I have the opposite tale in a way. I think I’m a pretty well-rounded adult: Love my husband, friends, family and kids to death, work hard, reasonably financially stable, reasonably decent human being.

    I was abused from a very young age and suffer from PTSD; my childhood was anything but idyllic. My mother used, even at the time, that I was doing well on external markers – good marks at school – my success as proof that whatever the terrible truth of our family, she was doing a good job. And in some ways she was; it is impossible to distill a relationship and a life down to what made what happen.

    Personally I agree so strongly with the idea that you try to be the best parent in the moment, with the view towards the idea that you are working yourself out of a job. And also, I believe it is love and the relationships we have that sustain us. I hope that the majority of my parenting errors will be on the side of relating too much rather than not enough.

    I am so sorry for what happened to Henry, but even in that terribleness, it seems to me he knew he was loved by his parents (even that last terrible phone call shows that), and that, ultimately, was a big part of what he DID have in his life. You could not give him sobriety but you gave him love. Sometimes it just has to be enough ’cause that’s what there is.

  20. dewi says:

    Maybe it’s healthier for you not brag publicly or on a blog about your kids. Only family and closest friends really care or want to hear about any kids achievements.
    Our children’s achievements are NOT ours!

  21. Diera says:

    I think if you grew up in a family where addiction was an issue, you know to fear it as an outcome. I read a study once that linked a preference for sweets to the same mechanisms in the brain that predispose toward alcoholism, and I kind of cringe every time my kids ask for a cookie. However, the other thing you learn growing up in a family like this is that parenting doesn’t prevent it. The one kid out of four who is an addict was raised the same way his siblings were, he just drew the short straw. My daughter has a spontaneous genetic mutation that predisposes her toward certain kinds of health problems, and we could see physical signs when she was three months old; if something happens to her, it will destroy us, but no one’s going to BLAME us. Henry may have had his own genetic mutation, just a much more subtle one that didn’t express itself until later, and which unfortunately doesn’t have a syndrome name and a blood test to let you know that it wasn’t your fault. But it probably wasn’t, just the same.

  22. Monika says:

    One of the wisest things I ever came across in relation to parenting was something which Princess Caroline of Monaco was quoted as having said (parenting insights from jet-setting royalty?!) something to the effect that “parents do not own their children; children pass through their parents”. Parents are there to support and help, but each child is unique in their talents and struggles. It was a beautiful quote, I wish I could find it again.

    My 8 year old daughter never stops to amaze me, and I can honestly see I can take no credit for her talents. I do however, fear failing her in helping her cope with her challenges, which sometimes are particularly daunting. I hope I do manage to give her what she needs to mature into a self-confident and happy adult. I am careful to take pleasure and joy in her accomplishments, but not pride, because her talents are all her own.

    Katie, you seem still to be plagued with so much guilt, and deep down I have the impression from what you write that you haven’t completely accepted drug addiction as a medical condition, but still perhaps in some way feel that it is some sort of disciplinary failing or parenting failure, probably because that is how most of the rest of society views it. You didn’t fail Henry. Henry didn’t fail. Henry had a brain chemistry issue which in all likelihood would have worked itself out over time had he had not had the misfortune to enter the orbit of truly evil people who caused his death.

    I wish you peace Katie; you are a great mom.

  23. Abby Norman says:

    I spent the first three years before I became a parent working at what we call a “High Needs” highschool. I came to this conclusion of yours in the opposite fashion. Some of my kids has terrible parents. Parents that were literally selling off their own kid’s possesions to get drugs. And some of those very kids were my very best students, teens I hope my girls grow up to be like. This is the conclusion that I came to, which has given me a lot of freedom: we do the best we can, and if we are thinking about it we are probably doing a really good job. But ultimately, everyone, including my own babies make their own decisions about life. And when my kids make bad ones, and they inevitably will. I will be there to support them the best way I know how. You did all of that. It feels safer for other parents to believe that Henry’s death was someone’s fault. That way, they can pretend that they are exempt from your pain. You raise beautiful children, every single one of them.

  24. Jennifer says:

    I’m with CM. There is drug abuse and alcoholism in my blood lines, and I worry that my children will be victims of them when they grow up – even though I wasn’t. I clearly remember my father telling me when I was a teenager that there was a lot of alcoholism in his family (his father died of it) and that I needed to be really careful in my life when it came to drinking. It has stayed with me to this day.

  25. tina says:

    If you trust research at all, studies have shown that peers have a greater impact on how kids turn out than their parents do…

  26. Crysi says:

    I have 3 daughters, almost 5yo & 2.5yo twins. Everyday I look at them & wonder, will one of you get into drugs? Will one of you get pregnant at 16? Will I get the middle of the night phone call that you need to be picked up? I was a relatively easy teenager. Good grades, didn’t do drugs or party & didn’t stay out late, but I did do other risky behaviors. I mostly hope they’ll know they can talk to me about anything & that I can teach them to make their own good decisions.

  27. heather says:

    Hooray for beautiful J! Every girl should have a Mama who thinks they are bright, talented and all together wonderful.

  28. Nelson's Mama says:

    This post touches my heart too…

    I truly believe parenting is a luck of the draw, you’re always hoping that what you’re doing is right, but I think as a couple of posters have said above – it’s a crap shoot.

    I have a younger brother that’s twelve years younger than me; I often feel that he’s like my first child (probably much like your J will feel about your youngest two). We we’re raised by the same parents, but have taken very different paths in life. He’s currently clean, but has a drug felony on his record and done his time in rehab – it’s a continual battle for him. Our lives are nothing alike (and like Kim, I don’t say that to brag, it’s just to point out that environment sometimes has nothing to do with how kids turn out). To that point, my parents also adopted one of my brother’s best friends when he was an adolescent; he became an important and vital part of our family. He’s now an undercover narcotics officer. We three were raised by the same two loving, well-meaning people. They did the best they knew how and that’s what I’ve tried to do with my two. My Mom spends a lot of time questioning what she did wrong and what she could have done differently; quite honestly, I was old enough to be watching and didn’t see that she did a lot different with me. My brother was simply a different person than me…addiction was part of his make-up. I surely wish I could express myself like you do, because so many of the things you talk about are experiences that we had with my brother, it’s only by God’s grace that we still have him.

  29. Jennifer says:

    As a parent of a 22,y/o son, 20 y/o daughter, 19 y/o son, and 17 y/ daughter, I HATE it when people congratulate me for my kid’s accomplishments! “Congrats on your daughter getting the lead in the school musical”- really? Because other than love her/them, be the best parent I could be, and contribute DNA that might have led to her ability to carry a tune, I did NOTHING! Unfortunately, its a bit harder for me to not feel utterly responsible for my kid’s mistakes…Great, timely essay!

  30. Sharon @ discoveringblog says:

    “make the most honorable and healthy and kind and loving choices in how we care for our children because it matters right now, not because it guarantees anything later.”

    That took my breath away. We have no guarantee of tomorrow, so make it matter right now.

    Thank you for this.

  31. NashPam says:

    I have two teens, both “bragworthy”, but for some reason, I never have felt comfortable bargging about them. And not just because I am afreaid of being one of those obxoxious Facebook posters. When someone compliments my kids to me or asks me how we’ve done it, I always maintain that we were dealt a good hand. And also that at ages 17 and almost 15, I realize tht we are far from safe.

    I also feel strongly that if you are a parent willing to take the credit for a successful outcome, you must also be willing to take the blame for an unsuccessful outcome. And I guess I know that there is much out of our control in parenting teens.

  32. juno says:

    I’m with CM too. I spent a lot of time looking at playing toddlers and thinking about drug abuse, alcohol abuse and rape. There are things that once you see it or live it, you worry about it. The sad reality is, J may one day see her son and worry. This is natural and healthy and, I believe, helpful. I have a daughter who was never pushed to cave in physically — if there was a slight hesitation even about a kiss from Mom at the school door, that intuition was respected.

    But, otherwise, yes, I agree with you.

    (Altho I am NOT surprised by people who are raised in the same household who grow up to be completely different. People are different, even siblings, and part of parenthood is to navigate those differences. I mean, if my child got cancer I wouldn’t say, :But how is that possible — my other 3 don’t!” and continue to treat them all the same. That would be nuts)

  33. kathy says:

    I agree to a certain extent about it a luck of the draw. But I aso see too many parents not taking responsibilities about what they did. It starts before you have children taking prescription drugs alters a childs brain when it is growing. Also getting drunk around your kids. having a child with a person with know addictions or mental illness then you can not be surprised if your kid turns out bad. People have this idea no matter what their problems they will have kids. i have a teenager and from when they were young I told him my whole family were losers and drug takers. I told him if he hangs around losers that is what he will think is ok. I told him even the ones that quit drugs have ruined their brains and lives. People are so politically correct now a days they do not want to say the truth.

  34. Diera says:

    @Kathy, I know those things are risk factors, but honestly, in my family there are some parents who drink a lot, and some of their kids turned out to be non-drinkers while others are alcoholics, and at least one alcoholic who spent a lifetime in treatment and was never drunk around the children had an alcoholic child anyway. I don’t think anyone argues that constantly being drunk around your children is great, but it doesn’t turn all children into alcoholics; conversely, being sober as a judge around them doesn’t prevent it either.

  35. harriet says:

    One thing that is extremely important: pay attention to teens’ mental health. My 17 year old son has problems with depression and anxiety, and I keep a very close eye on his mental health. He’s struggled with marijuana addiction, but I took him to therapy for that (and we’re still going; family therapy tonight) and he’s been clean for a number of months. He sees a psychiatrist as needed and counselors weekly.

    I think that a LOT of teens turn to drugs and alcohol to medicate their anxiety and depression. It’s incredibly hard as a teen to admit you need help and it’s incredibly hard as a parent to find them that help; and often the outside world does not understand or sympathize in the slightest. And it’s expensive and frustrating to deal with. But it’s absolutely vital that parents not ignore the signs of depression and anxiety.

  36. Cath Young says:

    Any advice on anything should be carefully studied and mulled over as to how it pertains to YOU. Even the best advice that works for 99.999% of the population is not applicable to YOU if you are in that group for which it does not work. As a mom of young adults, I find it difficult to listen or read the opinion and brags and disparaging remarks made by parents who have not finished raising a child because they have no idea about that gauntlet of insanity that many young folks run as they try to make to adulthood and maturity. The adulthood comes with age, the maturity is often a matter of luck.

    I also cast a skeptical eye at parents who do brag about a young adult who has not yet gone through the gauntlet. A lot of kids don’t make the run until they are in college or newly out of it. Actually, you are never safe to brag.

    Better to enjoy the things as they come and state them without a brag.

  37. Kathy says:


    As the older sister of a non-functional alcoholic brother, I worry every second of every day that my 18-month old daughter will grow up to be an addict. I am somewhat jealous of the confidence you seem to have had in your parenting while Henry and J were that young. That said, I agree with your point that being the best parent you can be – in the moment – is key. I manage my worry by reminding myself that all I can do is try to help my daughter stack the odds by being the best parent that I know to be.

    Also, you may not have said it explicitly, but it was apparent during your blogging of the struggles with Henry’s addiction and passing, that you have remained very proud of J, E, C, and now G. They seem to be wonderful kids.

  38. Asha Dornfest says:

    What a remarkable post. I, too, have come to this exact conclusion, for very different reasons, but all of them learned the hard way. It’s difficult to express this without sounding bitter about other people’s “easy” children, but you have done that and so much more. All of your children are beautiful, and I am so grateful you write about mothering them as you do.

  39. SubWife says:

    Oh, I worry about my kids all the time, about what will become of them. Because every person on the death row had a mother, and no doubt not all of them were bad or neglectful. Some of these people, who have committed horrible things, had very loving parents and were someone’s precious boys (or girls). This thought, that I am trying my hardest not to entertain too much, sends chills down my spine. The thought that you can do your best, be the best mother, and the outcome is still not up to you is simply terrifying.

    I was told once that just because the outcome it not up to you, that doesn’t absolve you from trying. Because trying to be the best parent is what parenting is about. It’s not only to raise your children properly, but to become a better person in the process. That’s what makes me try and try and try.

    And there’s also prayer, for the spiritually inclined.

  40. Gary says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. I can only imagine the pain you felt and continue to feel. I am one of the spiritually inclined – so I pray for you.

    I have three kids all in college. If 18 is the age at which they are judged, then mine all turned out “good”. And that doesn’t make me better than you. It’s not a competition. We all need our kids to grow up and be well-adjusted, productive members of society. It really does take a village.

  41. whatyouwant says:

    I definitely agree with the comments about “growing up in the same household” blah blah. We’re all individuals, with our own personalities and perceptions about things. Your personality is there from birth and the events in your life help to set the stage. None of these can be predicted ahead of time and probably once you’re on the course for starting addictive behavior, there’s nothing anyone can do, short of locking you up!

    My son is now in college and I feel less connected and more concerned about his behavior than I did when he was in high school. That’s how it should be, but I just remember how lost I felt when I first left home. He is a good kid and has made good choices most of the time, but the worry is still there.

  42. Dawn says:

    I absolutely look at my 11 and 8 year old girls and think they could be drug addicts or alcohoilcs some day – it scares me to death. They have an aunt who has been a heroin addict for 20 plus years and addiction runs on both sides of the family. So far so good with my girls, but who knows what will happen in the next five years. At least I am uber aware of the problems that could exist with them. Drugs are very openly talked about in my house – and I make no bones about how they ruin lives. Their aunt has lost her five children to social services and they know this.
    Love your writing Katie, you are a brave soul. All the best to you.

  43. Kelly KH says:

    Hi Katie -

    Our paths have crossed at multiple points over the years of parenting. I am struggling with my oldest daughter, who will be 16 in March. Your article came to my reader just after I wrote an email to my parenting e-mail list about this very topic. I had a lot of trouble in my adolescence – but my parents didn’t offer me the unconditional love and support that my kids get from us. I wonder often how history can be repeating itself with such different contexts, and I think sometimes I should be beating myself up more than I am about my parenting mistakes – but the reality is that I am doing the best I can, and each person in the family makes decisions that they have to be accountable for. I’m always trying to be “better,” but everyone else’s choices are out of my control.

    In any event, I just wanted to say that your article struck home for me, and you are in my daily prayers.


  44. J says:

    Your guilt is going to kill you.

  45. [...] time but no subjects. Babies don’t keep. It rattles around in my head again. And I think of Katie Granju’s words, her story (and his). And I am grateful for this day. And these children. And I am certain that [...]

  46. Megan says:

    See, I am already so disappointed in the way my son has turned out. My husband has said it will get better, but I don’t see how it will. Once he grows out of the toddler stage it will just move to getting calls from teachers about his poor performance and bullying or being bullied by other kids, then on to doing drugs and crashing cars.

    I don’t see a future where I will be proud of him. My biggest hope is just that he’ll move out someday and I’ll no longer have to talk to him

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