It’s gotta be hard, being Justin Bieber’s mom.
Pattie Mallette seems like a very nice woman. A Christian with a riveting backstory of her own, she’s been talking up a teen edition for her memoire Nowhere But Up (released earlier this month by Revell).
But it can be hard to keep the focus on the book, what with her famous son making headlines and causing controversy with every other tour stop. In March, the Biebs got into a profanity-laced tussle in London with a photographer. In April, he visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and wistfully hoped she would’ve been a “Be-lieber.” Then in Sweden, police discovered a small amount of drugs on his tour bus. And so naturally, reporters have asked Mallette about what’s up with her 19-year-old son.
Mostly, she deflects these questions out of respect for her son’s wishes. But when Pattie was interviewed by the Associated Press recently, she did express, perhaps, a bit of frustration.
“You have to sort of let them make some of their own decisions,” she said. “Me, personally, I would love to be with him all the time and to be able to ground him and deal with his problems and do all of that stuff, but at some point the parenting style changes. I hope to still be a respected voice in his ear.”
I am not the father of a teen idol. Neither of my kids are touring Europe, hemmed in by screaming fans and untold temptations. But maybe I feel a little of Pattie’s frustration and, in the end, acceptance of a new, conflicting role. My kids are 22 and 19, and—just like Pattie—I know that my role as a parent has changed.
It’s been a gradual, if not always graceful, change. I’m still very much a father—offering unsolicited advice, asking nosy questions, waiting up until they come home. I still worry. And even though my kids have given me little cause to worry, there are times I’d still like to tag ‘em and track ‘em, like wildlife officials do with endangered bears.
But I don’t tell them what to do anymore (or, at least, I try not to): I advise. I don’t force an issue: I nudge. I’m no longer a firm hand. I’m, in Pattie’s words, that voice in the ear—hopefully one they’ll listen to.
It’s not the easiest of seasons—not when you’re a dad who has spent the last 18 years trying to keep his kids safe and healthy. Relaxing your grip means allowing your kids to make their own choices, their own mistakes. It means letting them grow up—even if sometimes, that growth doesn’t fit your predetermined trajectory
After all, that’s how we really grow up, isn’t it? Making our own decisions and mistakes? Becoming an adult means taking responsibility for your actions. And that responsibility inevitably involves risk. The possibility of making the wrong choice.
Justin Bieber’s growing up right now, full in the public eye. He’s making his own choices, paying for his own mistakes. My own kids are growing up, too. And as much as I’d like to think otherwise, not every decision they make will be the one I would’ve made for them (if given the chance).
But hopefully, I’ve given some good tools to work with. Hopefully, they’ll be well equipped to meet the challenge of adulthood with confidence. And should they ever need another voice in their ear—well, I should be around for that for a long, long time.