Parenting the Parent

“I was spanked and I turned out okay. Kids these days needs to be disciplined more, by discipline we mean spanking, hitting, smacking or removal of things that matter to them.” At least that is what we are told. “A child without punishment, becomes a child who sits in jail or ends up dead because of drug abuse. Without punitive parenting kids have become disrespectful and a social ill”… These are just some of the claims so often made by society. Unfortunately these claims are also so far from the truth. The reality is that punitive parenting leads to social ills and creates a fear driven society.

Living a life with social media has opened the floodgates for parents to ask other parents about parenting. Today we are going to look at some of those questions and reasons as to why these questions are being asked. 

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

“I did not want to give my child solids yet. Research has shown that before a certain age it is not good for them. Now my mom said that we were given solids at x amount of weeks and nothing went wrong with us. Should I give my child solids now? How do I tell my mother/father or in-laws that I am not going to follow their advice?”

“We are recently married. We wanted to buy a couch set. My parents said we shouldn’t. We bought the set and now my folks are angry at us.”

“We don’t want children. My parents are angry at us for not wanting children. Should we just give in and have some?”

“My boy child wants long hair. I want to respect it, but I have loads of pressure from my family to cut his hair.”

“My mother cut my child’s hair without my or their permission. What now?”

“We decided to school our child differently, now my parents are angry because we did not consult them.”

These are the type of questions asked so often. The sense of powerlessness these parents feel comes across so clearly! These adults, fear their own parents, still! They fear going against their parents’ wishes. Some grandparents will even overstep the boundaries of parenting and do as they see fit with their grandchildren even when it goes against the wishes of their own children. The adult child then struggles to find appropriate boundaries or even fails to address their parents about the lack of respect, out of fear. Where does this fear stem from? 

I have often wondered why parents struggle to say no to their own parents when it comes to living their lives. Why do adults struggle to stand up for their own life choices when they are in the company of their own parents and often even someone who is older than them? So often we see that an adult becomes like a child in the company of their parents. Partly because of relationship dynamics, but the larger elephant in the room is the power dynamics between parent and child, no matter their age.

As a parent of a small child, we as parents have the executive power over most of their life choices. What they eat and wear, who they visit, when and how. We try to manage their relationships platonic and romantic. We are the “boss”. (No wonder children who feel powerless often state “You are not the boss of me”) We have control and as they grow older we are supposed to slowly let go of that control, but the ability to do so becomes a minefield. 

We are scared of letting go. We tell ourselves that it is because we love them and we only want the best for them. However, the reality is, it is because we are scared of losing our power and control over them. We are afraid that if we do not have the final say, they will make choices that we disagree with or cannot live with. We say we want them to be safe, but we only want them to remain in the spaces we deem as safe. We measure safety according to our own life experiences and feel threatened when they venture on paths we have not tread or do life differently than we have done. We know our own pains and mistakes and want to control their lives in a way that will prevent them from making the same mistakes we have made. We are running scared, so we try to maintain control the way we were raised to maintain control, we do it with punishment, threats and violence. Yes you read that right, violence.

So often we believe we respect our parents, however we were raised to conflate respect and fear. Respect is accepting someone’s intrinsic humanity, punitive respect is fear of punishment for not toeing the line. 

How often as a parent have you had a discussion about your child with your own parents or a parental figure in your life. Your parents make a “suggestion” on how to do things and you almost feel bullied into having to do it their way? You know in your heart you don’t want to do it their way, but you have this fear in your heart that if you do not do it their way, you will upset them? That isn’t respect, that is fear. Not being able to make decisions as an adult that go against your parents wishes, especially if you know that the choice you want to make is the best choice for you and your family, is a fear that was created by punitive parenting.

An adult should never be afraid to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of their decisions. They should never feel that they cannot disregard advice given by their parents. For an adult to be able to embrace this, they need to be able to learn from a young age that their voice and choices will be respected.

How do we change the cycle? It starts when children are young. Allowing them to make their own choices and be part of the decisions that impact their day to day lives. From what they wear, to who they engage with. How they engage with others and respecting their boundaries. It is not a free for all and age will always play a role, but we as parents will have to start giving over executive power to our children as they grow up. BUT we as parents also have to deal with and address our views of children. How we engage with them. Where do we place them in their role in society? Are they to be seen, have to be obedient and not heard? Or do they have a voice, a mind and a personhood of their own.

We need to stop punishing our children for being human and being themselves. Punitive parenting or fear driven parenting creates the idea that love is conditional. If you toe the line, you are accepted and deemed worthy. If you do what I tell you to do, you are accepted and part of the family. If not… Well you will be punished and love will be withheld. You will experience isolation, humiliation and pain. Now think again why it is so difficult to say no to your own parents. It is not because of respect, it is because you fear that they will stop loving you.

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