The United Front

Parenting teenagers is an adventure
By Bernadette Bonanno
Bernadette Bonanno
Bernadette Bonanno
Bernadette Bonanno lives in Albany, N.Y.
July 27, 2021 Updated: July 27, 2021

I am not sure exactly when, and there weren’t any eyewitnesses to prove my theory, but there was an alien invasion into the-best-little-boy-in-the-whole-wide-world. I can assure you of that. Understandably, our life was a bit chaotic with four mischievous little boys, but it was great. I could basically solve any problem with a cookie and a book. That is, until it happened.

I mean the invasion into 11-year-old Jesse, our eldest son. You know, the-best-little-boy-in-the-whole-wide-world. I nicknamed him “Bud,” because every day he cheerfully helped me with his three younger brothers, our dog, and cat.

Born with big brown eyes and one hand on his hip, Jesse was chock-full of great ideas and could make the daily routines of life entertaining.

Then everything seemed to change. One hand on his hip became two, and cheerful willingness became bold disobedience. I was totally unprepared, like a carpenter without tools. But help was on the way.

It was a Saturday morning. I was giving our neighbor, Vince, a haircut on our back porch. Vince is 10 years older than my husband, Mike and me. Although his children were the same ages as our boys, that 10-year difference gave him wisdom I was hoping to tap.

So, I shared my dilemma with Vince. Actually, I blubbered all over him as I cut his hair and fell apart like pulled pork in a crock-pot.

Poor Vince, he couldn’t get away. I was cutting his hair! I told him about Jesse’s disrespectful back-talking, the endless arguments Mike and I were having, and my fear that the other three boys would start imitating their big brother’s behavior. Looking back, I admit I sounded like Chicken Little, “Oh Vince! The sky is falling!”

Then he murmured: “Don’t you remember the united front? You know, our parents—the united front.” At first, I didn’t get it. Vince didn’t even know my parents. Then he continued: “Did we ever get between our parents? Did we ever play one parent against the other? No. They never gave us the opportunity.”

Vince was right! Growing up, I wouldn’t dare to think a bad thing about my mom in front of my dad for fear he might hear my thoughts. Complaining about my dad to my mom would have been equally futile. There was no dividing and conquering. Not a chance.

That haircut changed everything. I couldn’t wait to talk to Mike. Because our boys were little, we couldn’t leave them alone without a sitter. So, we started walking around our backyard and on the street in front of our house. This way, we could speak privately while we mapped out our parenting battle plans.

In the beginning, the boys watched from the window and waved, wondering what in the world we were doing. Vince would occasionally lean out his front door with a smile and say, “I see you’re wearing down the pavement again.” He knew exactly what we were doing. We were becoming a team, “the united front.” It sounds good. Right? Believe me. It was tough.

Since that haircut, we’ve taken thousands of walks—some short and some very long. We walk until we come up with a plan we both agree on. As you can guess, the aliens came back for the other three boys. Thankfully, it was one at a time, and with all our “pavement training,” each invasion got a bit easier. We were relieved when the aliens returned our boys and departed for good. I think our boys were as well!

Bernadette Bonanno lives in Albany, N.Y. She can be reached at

Bernadette Bonanno
Bernadette Bonanno
Bernadette Bonanno lives in Albany, N.Y.