5. Punish independence and separation. When we punish our children for growing up, we make them feel guilty for having normal developmental needs and desires which often causes deep insecurity, rebellion, cutting and other forms of behaviors that indicate failure to be able to branch out and be themselves as independent people.
Oh, I got this a lot. My GC Brother was allowed to live by the tenet “If it isn’t specifically forbidden, it is allowed.” I, on the other hand, got “If it isn’t specifically permitted, it is forbidden.” This pretty much kept me isolated and alone. When my peers were wearing make up, I was given a clear lip gloss; when I developed breasts and wanted a bra, I was ignored. I was forbidden to shave my legs and underarms, pluck my eyebrows, or any of a host of other grooming regimes that happen as a girl enters her teens. No hair curlers or hair spray, no salon cuts, no deodorant…and for sanitary needs, I had to use what NM had available. For clothes, NM merely lengthened and let out my “little girl” dresses from the previous year, even adding gussets under the arms to accommodate my expanding bosom rather than admit I was growing up.
Fortunately, at 14 I went to live with my father and my stepmother took over. When I went back to my mother a year later I had clothes, underwear, shoes and grooming supplies and skills commensurate with a 15 year old…having arrived at my father’s a year earlier stuck at about age nine. But the punishment of independence and separation didn’t stop there: I could go nowhere without permission, even at age 16 and 17. If a boy asked me to a school dance, before I could accept, I had to ask permission…and when granted, walk on eggshells and be the perfect obsequious servant lest she change her mind before the dance. I could not go to the library, the beach, shopping, hang out with my friends at the Frosty Shop…even when I had an after-school job, I wasn’t even allowed to cash my own paychecks!
While Campbell warns that this can cause insecurity, rebellion, even cutting, it can also cause depression and fearfulness, anger and resentment. At age 12 I prayed for the time to pass quickly until I was 18. I was obsessed with turning 18 and getting out from under my mother’s authority. I had no plans for my life after that magical date, but from childhood onward, my primary goal was to turn 18 and get away.
But I was an independent minded sort of kid who had feared and hated my mother quite consciously for as far back as I could remember. Some kids will become fearful and dependent, afraid to take risks or any kind of chances, afraid to make decisions for themselves. These kids can easily grow up to be timid, fearful adults who remain under the thumbs of their Nparents for the rest of their lives.
The teen years are a natural time for your child to individuate and begin to gain both independence and separation. Even if we do not squelch that drive because we wish to control and manipulate our children, if we are over-protective and don’t allow our kids to make their own mistakes (within reason, of course...you cannot give an inexperienced teen no boundaries or limits), we inhibit their development just as surely as Ns hindered ours.
6. Treat your child as an extension of you. If, as a parent, you link your own image and self-worth to your child's appearance, performance, behavior, grades and how many friends they have, you let them know they are loved not for who they are but for how well they perform and make you look good. This turns them into pleasers rather than doers, and they will always worry about being good enough.
This is probably more common in engulfing Ns than in ignoring Ns, but we can be guilty of such things as well. When we are determined to raise our families just the opposite of how our Ns raised us, for example, we are not looking to the individual needs of each of our children. Instead, we are parenting our children in the way we wished we had been parented, which is all about us and our needs, not our kids and their needs. This makes our children extensions of ourselves because we are focussed on what our needs were as children, not on the needs of our children as individuals.
This may be hard for us to hear because we have convinced ourselves that doing the opposite of what our NParents did is the right thing to do, but the truth is, neither end of an extreme is a good thing. Unthinkingly doing something because your mother wouldn’t do it…or reactively refusing to do something because you mother used to do it…has nothing to do with your child and everything to do with you.
It is natural for us to be proud of our children when they achieve and healthy for them to feel our pride in them. But we can overdo both the pride and praise, especially when the child has not put a good effort into something. Our parents too often put value on things that had nothing to do with our wants, needs, feelings, desires and everything to do with their own. We must love them and be proud of them for who they are, not for what they do or how they look. Yes, we must have standards, like cleanliness, and we can’t allow them to mutilate their bodies with tattoos and body modifications before they are of an age to understand the permanence and implications of such things, nor can we ignore achievements…there is a balance to be struck between replicating the dysfunctional parenting we received and inflicting an opposite but equally dysfunctional parenting style on our children.
7. Meddle in your child's relationships. Directing every action your child takes in their relationships -- from friends to teachers -- inhibits their maturity. For example, if your child gets in trouble at school and you immediately rush to talk to the teacher to get them off the hook, or you are constantly telling your child how to be a friend, as your child grows he/she will never learn to navigate the sharper edges relationships bring on their own.
This one needs to be handled with kid gloves…because as a responsible parent, you sometimes must step in.
One thing we as parents don’t want to hear is that our children actually are more influenced by their peers than by what we, their parents, provide for them in the way of home life, nurturing, values, and discipline. As our kids get older, however, their peers have more and moreinfluence over them, particularly with regard to the social life: drinking, drugs, premarital sex, clothing, social attitudes…as your child grows up, the attitudes of his friends on these subjects becomes more and more important. You simply cannot tell your child “you are not to see Jimmy anymore” because that stimulates resentment and, in some kids, inspires defiance. Reason may help but kids are often ruled more by emotion than reason. What is probably most effective is to shape your child’s peer group when he is very young so that when he starts school he is not drawn to the troubled, trouble-making kids in a desire to emulate them but out of a desire to help and befriend them. It’s too late to change your parenting and get the desired results when your child is already in the grip of adolescent hormones: by then, the die is pretty much cast.
Once your child is of school age it becomes very important to listen…to really listen…to them. If your child is being bullied, then you need to step in: for each child, the meaning of “step in” is different…one kid might need karate classes, another kid might need parental intervention at school, and yet another might need to be moved to a different school. There is no “one size fits all” solution…or even a blanket criteria as to when to step in. But taking a completely “hands off” approach is not being respectful of their privacy, it is abandonment. And jumping in at every little incident is not good parenting either, it is engulfing. Kids need to learn to handle their own issues, yes, but within limits—and those limits are set by the parents, not the kids.
8. Over-protect. When we protect our children from every problem and emotion, it creates a sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem that often crosses the line into narcissism. They expect life to be easier than it is. They want everything done for them no matter how they behave. They then become depressed and confused when they don't get what they believe they deserve.
Judith Rich Harris, independent researcher and textbook author says “…The belief that parents have a great deal of power to determine how their children will turn out is actually a rather new idea. Not until the middle of the last century did ordinary parents start believing it. I was born in 1938, before the cultural change, and parenting had a very different job description back then. Parents didn’t feel they had to sacrifice their own convenience and comfort in order to gratify the desires of their children. They didn’t worry about boosting the self-esteem of their children. In fact, they often felt that too much attention and praise might spoil them and make them conceited. Physical punishment was used routinely for infractions of household rules. Fathers provided little or no child care; their chief role at home was to administer discipline.
“All these things have changed dramatically in the past 70 years, but the changes haven’t had the expected effects. People are the same as ever. Despite the reduction in physical punishment, today’s adults are no less aggressive than their grandparents were. Despite the increase in praise and physical affection, they are not happier or more self-confident or in better mental health. It’s an interesting way to test a theory of child development: persuade millions of parents to rear their children in accordance with the theory, and then sit back and watch the results come in. Well, the results are in and they don’t support the theory!”
This doesn’t mean that Dr. Harris or I endorse fathers ignoring their kids except to discipline them, nor do I advocate corporal punishment as a routine method of disciplining children. But it does mean that I think letting children run the household is ill-advised, whether it is by default or design. Children who lack boundaries (and enforcement of those boundaries) often become more and more extreme in their behaviour until they find the limits. And if there are few or no limits, the child grows up believing it is his right and due to behave however he wants, with no respect for the rights or boundaries of others.
It is my firm belief that purpose of parenting is to raise a child who, by the time he reaches the ability to care for himself, is able to integrate into his society. This means he must learn the rules of his culture and the limits his culture places on him and his behaviour. It means he must learn respect—for himself and for others as well. People who do not learn respect for the rights and feelings of others, who grow up believing the feelings and rights of others are not important, grow up to be insensitive, rude, and self-centred. In a word: narcissists.
Dr. Harris makes it very clear that a child’s genetic predisposition is a significant contributor to a child’s personality: “…personality resemblances between biological relatives are due almost entirely to heredity, rather than environment. Adopted children don’t resemble their adoptive parents in personality. I’m not particularly interested in genetic effects, but the point is that they have to be taken into account.” But regardless of the basic personality a child inherits, socialization is something that is learned, and if you don’t prepare your child for the real world because you have protected him from every form of disappointment and displeasure he encounters, when you launch him from the nest he is going to be ill-prepared for what he finds out there in a world who have no vested interest in inflating his self-esteem, tiptoeing around his feelings, and smoothing out the rough patches for him. Children need to learn coping strategies just as much as they need to learn to not touch a hot stove, and when you deny them the opportunity, you infantilize them, making them dependent on you rather than independent.
Regardless of a child’s inborn personality, he needs to learn the basic rules of his society and why it is important to abide by them. He needs to learn about respect: that other people have feelings and rights and that they are just as important as his. My kids used to moan about being taught and expected to use table manners but my theory was a simple one: when he lives on his own, he can eat with his fingers if he wants, but if he is ever in a situation where he needs nice manners, like having lunch with a prospective employer or being seated at a banquet table with the rich and powerful, he will have those manners tucked into his memory banks to be trotted out when he needs them.
And you have such a very short time to begin inculcating them with the values that help will them become happy, productive people for the rest of their lives. Once a child starts school, he begins widening his peer group and new influences, influences over which you have little or no control, will start coming into his life. And the older he gets, the stronger those outside influences will be. You have the first five to seven years of your child’s life to give him a good foundation. From then on, you are still a teacher, coach and guide, but your child will be weighing what you say against the information he gets from other sources. And this is not a bad thing: it is the beginning of critical thinking, an invaluable life skill. But children do not have the life experience and wisdom of their parents, nor are they as capable of making intelligent choices over emotional ones…and that is where you come in. You have to learn…and learn early…to tell them “no” and make it stick. It helps them to learn how to deal with disappointment and helps you to steel your heart to their tearful pleas.
Parenting: the most difficult job in the world to do right!