Mother of the Tried

Regardless of the outcome of the Amanda Knox drama in Perugia, as the Italian judge read the verdict last week, my strongest emotion was profound relief for Amanda’s mother, Edda Mellas.

From the moment our children enter our lives, we love and support them – by and large, unconditionally. We revel in their successes – often inordinately — and secretly feel that our great genes or effective parenting may be responsible.

Whether our kids’ strengths are academic, athletic or artistic, most parents puff up with pride when a child performs well. (For proof, read some of the exuberant, long-winded Christmas letters that fly through the air each December.)

But here’s the rub: if you take credit for your kids’ successes, must you also bear the blame for their failures?

Amanda Knox is a lovely girl who studied at a high-caliber high school, was successful in sports and attended the University of Washington, a well-regarded university. She seems strong, capable and independent; she chose to study abroad, mastered a foreign language and landed a part-time job soon after arriving. Amanda’s achievements must have made her parents proud.

So, how did Edda Mellas feel four years ago, when the shocking news was broadcast from Perugia? All at once, the entire world heard reports that her 20-year-old daughter was having sex with a young Italian man, drinking alcohol and smoking hash. And what’s more, if the Italian media could be believed, she was engaging in drug-fueled sex games, and was potentially an accessory to her British roommate’s grisly murder.

Did Edda ever doubt her daughter’s innocence? Did she wonder “what went wrong,” or what she could have done differently? Did she look back at her own choices as a parent, and kick herself for mistakes she had made?

I can’t begin to understand the feelings that went through her head, but I do know that, like most parents, Amanda’s mom and dad gave everything they had – their love, their time, their encouragement and their money – to support their little girl. Over the past four years, they mortgaged homes, drained retirement accounts, used up vacation time, called in favors from friends, asked strangers for help and donations and worried themselves sick.

Not 30 minutes after hearing the Knox verdict, I received a phone call alerting me to one of my own child’s transgressions. It was nothing on the scale of murder, but serious enough to leave me shaking and wondering what my preventative role could have been. “Am I to blame? Is this the result of bad parenting? Did I miss signs of problems leading up to this?” I literally gasped for air and braced myself for the conversations with my child, husband and school adminstrators that would follow.

By the day’s end, the situation was more or less resolved, and I had stopped beating myself up. I accepted the fact some kids simply need to make mistakes to learn how to be act appropriately, and often it takes a dramatic incident to effect a necessary course correction. But through it all, I couldn’t help thinking about Amanda’s mom, and how we naturally feel pained by our children’s errors.

Later that night, I called up videos of the day’s drama in Italy, and watched an interview with Meredith Kercher’s sister and mother. The drained and desperate look on Arline Kercher’s face said it all: nothing will bring her baby back, nothing will right the wrong that ended her life too soon. Life will never, ever be the same for the Kercher family.

Over the past four years, Arline may have wondered if she was right to send her girl to Perugia, if she should have suggested a different living arrangement, if choices she made, or didn’t make, impacted her daughter’s involvement in whatever unfolded that night. But clearly, her demeanor in the courtroom showed that none of those questions or emotions is worth a shilling.

All we can do is love our kids for who they are, and accept that they are unique beings who make both good and bad choices, and who experience both successes and failures – and a lot in-between. Our primary job is simply to love and support them for the individuals they are, through thick and thin, for whatever time we have together.

Linda Williams Rorem, 10 Oct. 2011
PermissionSlips1@gmail.com

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