I take a radical position when it comes to the concept of transparency. At least I do when it involves people in a role that makes them responsible for the care and safety of another person. You are entrusted with another person’s care and trust when you are in a position of power and are another person’s access to the resources they must have in order to be protected from harm. This includes supervisors responsible for managing employees, parents raising dependent children, people who bring animals into their home, elected officials and many others. You get the idea.
Bottom line being: If you are in a role of responsibility for someone else and you believe that you have to keep some things “unaccounted” for (secretive), you shouldn’t be in that role.
In this post, I use the example of a parent to dependent children.
Recently, I read a post written by someone who felt guilty for outing her sister to the father of her sister’s children. She discovered that her sister was habitually using methamphetamine and after she witnessed some perceived effects it was having on her sister’s ability to parent her kids, she contacted their father and let him know that her sister had acquired a meth habit.
From the perspective of a mother, the ex-wife of an addict, and someone who has her own history of making irresponsible or unhealthy choices (like drinking half a bottle of Southern Comfort when I was 13 on New Year’s Eve. I still gag thinking about it.), her post struck quite a few chords in me.
I’ll preface what follows by solemnly swearing that my intent is not to come across as being self righteous or morally superior. I’m not. And though it is true that the reckless behaviors I refer to occupied the time prior to and to a lesser degree, after my kids were either grown, graduated or gone, it was not only a function of my being a ‘responsible mother’. It also helped that I was either married or too busy to make time in my life for high-risk behaviors.
And, when I have made the time, I usually did so for incredibly pathetic reasons like, for example, not wanting a guy to lost interest and go away. My rationale being that by engaging in whatever he was interested in was the only way to save the relationship.
A number of years and cars and jobs and homes and infidelities and bad memories and attorneys and heartaches and lost opportunities later, I know that irrational and unhealthy decisions are made by both addict and non-addict, by both the inebriated and the sober alike.
As a lifelong enabler, I am here to tell you that the addicts and alcoholics I have had in my life had nothing on my crazy making behavior when I stopped being accountable to myself.
My reason for admitting this is very specific: I want anyone who faces a similar guilt as the author of the post who felt terrible because she said something about one parent’s drug use to the other parent, to know that you did the right thing. To the woman who inspired me to write this, I applaud you for recognizing that your sister’s children could be at risk and doing something to protect them.
Realizing that kids are not empowered with a means or an ability to protect themselves from the fall out of their parent’s choices or unexpected circumstances (like illness and job loss), provides them the opportunity to have an alternative outcome. If someone is not willing or able to realize that they need to provide better circumstances for their kid’s sake, bringing those circumstances to the other parent’s attention (If not the other parent, someone who is in a position to both care and make relevant decisions) is a courageous and necessary thing to do.
Bluntly speaking, if a self-determining adult chooses to do things that they believe needs to be kept secret in order for their children to remain in their care, there may be a good reason why.
I understand that may be a controversial assertion, but in my world, self-determination begins and ends with one’s own self and once it bleeds over to determinations made for a different self, there is a very high bar to clear–especially–when the other person whose life is being determined for them is completely vulnerable and their very lives dependent on someone being responsible for their survival.
If, for example, her sister was deciding to act (as is her prerogative) in a way that she believed could not be made transparent to the father of those children because it puts her role at risk, then her role, by default, should not serve in the capacity of being accountable for her kids.
Being accountable means you are the one responsible to account FOR something TO someone. That someone is, by and large, a stakeholder in whatever it is entrusted to your care.
A stakeholder is someone with a vested interest–not a passive, passing, past, former, fleeting, or future interest–but someone who has a quantifiable real investment and has made a commitment to the success of that investment. Success for accountability is measured by the outcome. How well did you account for the thing under your watch to stakeholders? A poor accounting will create a risk that the outcome will be failure. When it comes to our kids, any amount is an unacceptable amount of risk.
So, in this case, the sister made a few decisions. One of those decisions, in particular, to not refrain from using methamphetamine, deservedly got her “fired”.
You can’t both decide to be accountable for the life and development of a human being and then not account to their stakeholders the choices you make that are potentially dangerous for the person you are responsible for. You can’t be both for and against a thing entrusted to your care.
You must step up to that trust or you must step down from that position of responsibility.
It is all or nothing because if self-determination is to exist, it must exist completely or it just doesn’t exist at all. If you make choices from a position of power that prevents someone else from determining how they live, you are a tyrant. Left unexamined, tyranny destroys individuality. Where there is no individuality, there is no self to make determinations for. Humanity becomes a collective hive of interchangeable commodities–no one is indispensable, no one is excellent, and no one matters. Not even the tyrant.
To the author of the post: I hope you don’t lose a second of sleep wondering whether or not it was a good idea to let dad know that there were circumstances left unaccounted for that he should know. The children wouldn’t be able to do this for themselves. You served as their proxy and that was the only right choice.