Parents today are challenged. It used to be that children were seen, but not heard. Now it seems that they are seen, heard, and sometimes in control. Sure, there are still “old school” parents wielding and abusing their power over children while eroding their self-agency into a debilitating “mommy dearest” deference. But there are also children I’ve seen assault their mother in the aisle of the grocery store for not getting what they want. Or demanding their father leave the coffee and social time after church because they’re bored.
Who’s Raising Who? Are Parents Seen But Not Heard?
Although we had the shadow of abuse toward children in the ethos “children should be seen not heard”, but today, we are awakened to the shadow of this generation of children raising their parents to be seen, yet not heard. And some parents are stressed in trying to function in the shadow of this unbalanced pendulum swing.
For example, some children today are privileged to play travel sports. Their parents show up weekend after weekend driving them from tournament to restaurant to motel. The children ride with their friends, watch their favorite DVD’s, and listen to their favorite music. All the while Dad and Mom attempt to talk to each other as long as it isn’t too loud and disruptive. Parents’ schedules are dictated by children’s play dates, rehearsals, practices, and events. Children are often fed what they like as requiring the consumption of anything close to green eggs and ham is considered insensitive, perhaps abusive. We want our young to be happy, comfortable, and feel loved, validated and supported.
One might retort, “come on, you can’t love children too much”. In fact, I believe that the love of children has been misunderstood as unwavering support and accommodation.
Developmental psychologists will tell you that the developing person indeed needs to be supported or “emotionally held”. However, that very same person, in order to grow, needs to experience contradiction, challenge and limits. The challenge from the “other” (i.e. parent) in the development of the “self” (i.e. child) is to know when to hold and support and when to contradict and challenge. As in most things, it requires varied skills, and the wisdom to know what is needed and when, rather than just sensitivity and accommodation or just authority and order.
Changing the rules of parenting…
Some parents, in the community I raised my children, attempted to lobby the recreational director to change the rules of baseball. They argued that too many young ballplayers were coming off the bases crying because they didn’t get a chance to run to home. Some parents felt the cacophony of crying children could be remedied by changing the rule of three outs per inning to five. This kinder, gentler rule would provide more base runners per inning and a chance for more players to cherish the euphoric foot stomp of hitting home base. The recreational director scoffed at the idea, instead believing that learning the rules of baseball at an early age, even if it meant experiencing disappointment and limits, is ultimately good for the growing butterfly chasing, airplane gazing ballplayers.
I suspect some parents overcompensate in their parenting in an unconscious effort to psychically undo what was done to them as children. They attempt to salve their childhood wounds of feeling oppressed and dominated by liberating and accommodating their children.
The wound to salve may also be their guilt and shame over the years they neglected their children while in the throes of addiction. Ironically, they end up perpetuating and exacerbating their original wound by compulsively trying to please and accommodate their children.
The emotional prison of addiction or childhood is now constructed again from a permissive parenting style. Parents forget the adage of making sure to put the oxygen mask on themselves, before compassionately securing the oxygen mask on their children. They end up slogging through parenting exhausted, exasperated and wondering why their children aren’t grateful.
Parenting isn’t a zero-sum game where it’s either about the parent’s rights and needs or the children’s. We learn about the adage of balance and self-care in many places particularly in recovery and personal counseling. Good self-care isn’t selfish, it’s about being a healthy, emotional fit and grounded individual so you can enter the domain of relationships better able to finesse health and intimacy.
The health of our relationships can’t rise above our own individual health it can only pace with it. Your children will in fact benefit from your self-care in recovery.
It isn’t a win/lose scenario, it is a win/win. Children ultimately need parents who can adjust their lives to create a culture conducive to raising children while also parents strong and disciplined enough to set limits and teach children about respect, self-discipline, self-soothing and personal sacrifice for the welfare of others. Just as self-care and balance is needed in recovery, so it is needed in the journey of parenting children.
Preparing children for the demands of adult life…
Yes, this new generation of parenting has taught us integral lessons about compassion, sensitivity and the importance of validating children’s emotions and accommodating their differences. However, in excess and out of context, it can be detrimental to the well-being of children and we can unwittingly ill-prepare them for the demands and realities of adult life. They don’t learn how to deal with the disappointments of being stranded on 3rd base, or having to cope with boredom while dad talks to his friends at church.
Rather than argue about the dangers of authoritarian versus permissive parenting, and get stuck in an unnecessary binary, we need to evolve in our parenting so both children and parents can be seen, heard and respected. This generation seems to be riding the permissive pendulum swing to a stressful shadowy side and it is time we incorporated the wisdom of seemingly competing energies–the yin and yang, the masculine and feminine, holding and letting go, yes and no. The 21st century has us in the driver’s seats of flex fuel and hybrid vehicles. We can aspire to be hybrid parents, flexing moment to moment offering our children what they need, not necessarily what they want.
All the while not running out of gas ourselves.