Our three boys grew up knowing the risks. We never lied to them about it, but it wasn’t what we talked about at the dinner table either. But what they also knew was that if Mom or Dad died doing the job, we’d go out with a sense of pride, purpose, and loving what it was we were doing.
Jeri, former CHP and wife of CHP[i]
I felt a little left out when my son became a patrolman. Suddenly he and my husband had their own little language and a camaraderie. When your kids go into law enforcement, it’s a whole different ball game.
Cassandra, wife and mother of CHP officers
It was a beautiful day at the park. The Easter egg hunt was over, but not all the eggs were found, so the older kids were searching the deep grass. Hot dogs sizzled on the grill. A couple of the dads were marveling together at how well the day was going.
“The kids are so well-behaved. I think it’s because we don’t let them get out of hand. They know if they misbehave, we’ll clobber them!” said one officer, laughing.
Heads nodded in agreement because we understood; most cops’ kids are held to a pretty high standard. Their dads have seen what happens out there on the street, and they don’t want their kids to become customers. Chances are that if someone else heard this conversation, they might get the wrong idea. With all of the confusion about parenting these days, there are mixed messages about what is acceptable and not acceptable. But law enforcement parents tend to lean toward a stricter standard.
What’s It Like To Be a Cop’s Kid?
Cops’ kids generally don’t get away with much. Police officers are trained to be able to tell when someone’s lying and their kids all the more. There’s also a network of information that gets around as well, especially in rural areas. If an officer’s kid gets into trouble, there’s a good chance he’ll find out about it.
One tendency for law enforcement parents is the need to protect. Recently we had a situation with our nineteen-year-old daughter in that she and her girlfriends befriended a boy who was very handsome and likable. Because they met him at a church youth group, the assumption was made that he was a great guy, and one of the girls developed a dating relationship with him. Then Brent found out that the boy was going to court for stealing a car and had a prior for marijuana possession. Oh, the tearful conversations we had to have with that one! We talked about boundaries with a person who engages in criminal activity even though likable and that it was a bad idea that he come to our home. She was convinced that he had changed his ways, yet Brent could tell from his excuses that he hadn’t yet experienced a turnaround. Out of respect for Brent, our daughter made a choice to distance herself from him in their group and set boundaries like not driving him places. A couple of months later, he abruptly left the group to live on the streets in another state. Hurt that he left without a word, her friends suddenly realized that hanging out with this guy wasn’t the smartest idea.
We can trust our husbands to protect our kids. But sometimes it can go too far. I had a conversation recently with an officer who’d seen a lot of death on duty. I asked him how he dealt with it. He told me that it manifested itself in being overprotective of his wife and kids. He has forbid them to go anywhere at times and won’t allow people to drive them anywhere unless he first okays it. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone over well. Arguments ensued, and his wife thought he was being jealous. But that’s not what it was. It was his inward responses to watching people die in his arms, guarding a little girl’s dead body for hours to comfort a friend, and wiping another officer’s blood off his uniform. It was these horrible images that manifested themselves into fear for his family.
These situations are so tricky because his fear is valid. The need to control is very real and possibly the only thing he can do to ensure the safety of his loved ones. But it’s also problematic. The answer here is to recognize the reasons for the behavior and work from there to communicate. Your officer needs to be validated and respected in the process, and together you can move toward a workable solution.
Appearance may be a big deal to a police parent as well. Earrings, tattoos, baggy pants, and hairstyles matter to police officers. I’ve listened to several of our non-law enforcement friends talk about not making a big deal out of phases their kids go through. But police officers make judgments every shift about people they deal with on the street. Their lives can depend on it. They are looking for signs of criminal behavior and if the individual has a weapon. There are clues they look for in clothing and behavior, and some of these same clues may appeal to our own kids at some point. But law enforcement parents just don’t want their kids even remotely resembling the people they put in jail.
[i] Correspondence, Code 3 Magazine, (Spring 2007).