I was talking with a dear friend of mine this morning about some conversations I’ve been having with my 9 year old son. As the oldest, my son exhibits many typical first-born traits. He’s the rule follower, mini-parent to his siblings, plays life conservatively, and generally good kid. He’s a great kid, and has an incredible head on his shoulders. Ever since his sister, who is 18 months younger, began crawling, he has had a hard time getting along with her. Because of an event between the two of them at school last week, I was asking my friend Jeff this morning about some help in how to deal with the sibling rivalry, but mainly with my son.
His advice: Don’t under parent and over control.
In that one sentence, he captured and summed up the tension that all parents face. How do I parent my kids, but not control them? Being an over controlling parent is quite easy, though exhausting. We likely spend more energy and effort keeping our kids from life than we would if we responded to and with them about life and our experiences.
Parenting is the essence of training a child in how to relate to the world around them. There are hundreds of books to help you along this journey, but the most important piece that a book can never teach you is how to engage your child in who they are. When we control our kids, we ask them to be someone that they are not. It’s scarier to be in relationships with others, our kids included, where we are not in control. Control will crush a relationship, and your child’s spirit. You will do more harm than good by ushering them down the path of life that you want for them.
Practically, parenting without control allows the kids the freedom to express themselves in a manner that is truthful. As with any part of life, there are some right ways to do things, and some wrong. As a parent, it’s my job to teach my kids the way that best expresses our value as a home.
If you want to tell me that you hate me, that’s fine. I’ll just need you to write a two page essay explaining why it is that you feel this way.
If you growl at me, roll your eyes, or brush by me in an aggressive manner, that’s fine too. I’ll just ask you to come back to the room and tell me what you’re feeling that caused you to do what you did. In our house, when you roll your eyes at someone you’re required to do a complete eye roll. None of this half-way done eye rolling. All the way around in a complete circle.
Obviously this is a hard line to walk. And, this line looks vastly different for each of my kids. I have to adjust my approach with each of them, because one parenting style does not fit all.
The likely result of an over controlled kid? Someone who lacks a sense of self with an overall fear based approach to life. If you want your kid to be well adjusted later in life, it’s going to take some risk on your part.
Because let’s face it. It’s risky to let go of control. It’s scary because we don’t know what will happen to them or to us. Parenting is not a science, it’s an art. And art is messy.