Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dear Controlling Parent...You're Doing It Wrong

I love this quote!
Dear Controlling Parent...

What does your child have to do to be good enough for you? Get good grades? Abstain from sex? Resist internet porn? Keep a clean bedroom? Obey authority?

How do you keep your child in line? Ground them? Take away their technology? Remove the door from the door-frames of their bedrooms? Spank? Shame? Criticize? Belittle? Lecture?

How is this working for you? Does your child tell you when he or she has a problem? Who does your child turn to when life is hard? How often do you feel like your child may be lying to you?

Prevailing social wisdom tells us that parents should NOT be their child's friend; that we must exert our will, compel adherence to rules, and punish our children when they do not obey. “Hold our kids accountable...

Memes like the following circulate on social media with parents and non-parents alike exclaiming agreement. It seems like EVERYONE feels the same way...that parents should NOT be their child's friend.

But not me. I disagree. After reading what I have to say, you will disagree too.


There is a short answer and a long answer to why you should be your child's friend. The short answer is that your child deserves it.

A family is not the military. You are not your child's “superior.” Children are not our “inferiors.” 

Children are autonomous human beings who deserve respect and have a right to self-determine.


Dear Controlling Parent...

When your child disappoints you, do you shame him?

“I never thought one of my kids would get pregnant before marriage.”

Do you pull rank?

“Because I said so.”

Do you criticize?

“Where's your common sense?”

Do you deliver a long-winded lecture?

“You are doing it wrong and I am going to tell you why and how you did it wrong until I am satisfied you've understood everything I have to say and agree with me completely.”

Do you punish?

“Stand in the corner with your nose to the wall till I say you can be done.”

Do you lay a mean guilt trip?

“Why did you have to embarrass me like that?”

Do you invade your child's privacy?

“I know you're meeting a boy tonight because I read your diary.”

If this is your way, what is the outcome? Are your children happier, more well-behaved, more successful because of your controlling ways?

I'm going to wager a guess that your relationship with your child is strained, no matter how much love exists between you. 

Your child withholds information from you or may even outright lie to you. The more he fears you, the more he will lie.

You may think it is healthy for a child to fear his parent. But you are wrong again. Fear creates distrust. Do you want your child to trust you?

You may think this is normal because this is how our parents did it. We lied to our parents. We were punished severely when we didn't behave. And look at us! We're great!

But you know what? We are not as close to our parents as we could be. Being raised under authoritarian command did not prepare us for romance. The way WE were raised did NOT teach us relationship skills.

Because you are not your child's friend...

When your child has a problem, she comes to me to talk...someone else's mom who IS their child's friend.


I don't know about you, but the thing that matters most to me for my kids is that they live healthy lives. When I say healthy, I mean physically and emotionally.

In truth, emotional health is the kicker. Emotional health is the most important thing I want for my children.

I do not care about their grades at school. It's their lives. If they choose to care about their grades, I will cheer them on. But if they "fail" at school, I will not punish them. I will not worry.

Having been to hell and back with my own health and owning a Post Secondary education myself, I know what is really important in life. And it ain't grades. It ain't graduation.

It's health. It's happiness. It's being comfortable in their own skin. Having passion. Brimming with ideas. Embracing living. Loving and being loved. These are the things that matter. These are the things I most want for my children.

Being my children's friend will support them to achieve this. It's already working. 


I'm not saying you need to be perfect. It will take time to change your ways, if indeed, you want to stop trying to control your child and build a strong, honest relationship instead.

Even if you change your ways, you will still be human.

I continue to make mistakes regularly even though I've been practicing this philosophy for several years. My kids usually forgive me because I beg their forgiveness. I treat them like I treat my friends. I apologize when I am wrong. I do what it takes to repair the friendship.


I hope, by now, you realize why being your child's friend is the right thing to do.

Being your child's friend will result in a deeper, more meaningful connection between you and your child and it will teach your child valuable relationship skills.

The following strategies have helped me to nurture strong, honest, loving, supportive relationships with my children. And my children have become confident, happy, passionate, creative, masters of their own destinies. It's working. I must be doing it right.

10 Ways to Become Your Child's Friend

1. Keep in Mind the BIG PICTURE

The majority of their lives our children will be adults. We can only legally tell them what to do until they are 18 years old, if they even obey for that long.

For the rest of their lives, we can either continue to try and control them or allow them to make their own mistakes.

If we haven't allowed them to make their own decisions and mistakes before now, how will they know how to do it? Let's not forget that our primary job as parents is to raise self-sufficient adults.

The bonus is that you've already built a great friendship with your child by the time she hits the age of majority.

2. Teach, Don't Tell

The truth is, you have no choice. As a parent, it is your responsibility to teach your child how to survive in our world. It's what parents do. It's expected of you to guide your child through childhood (which is one of the lessons you'll want to pass onto your children).

Do the following commands sound familiar?

Stop picking your nose. Don't play with your dingaling. Clean your room. Stop playing video games and do your homework. Get a job.

We don't own our children. It's not our place to control their every move. There are more productive ways to guide and teach our children without behaving like incorrigible authoritarians...

“If you're going to pick your nose, it might bleed. Also, people might make fun of you.” 
“You can play with your penis in your bedroom or the bath when you're by yourself, but if you do it in front of other people, they will probably try to make you feel bad. The appropriate time to touch yourself is when you're alone.” 
“Please clean your room before it starts to stink.” 
“Are you planning to do your homework tonight? Maybe you should take a break from Minecraft and get it over with.” 
“I won't financially support all the things you want to purchase for yourself. You're old enough to earn your own income now. You deserve to have pocket money when you're out with your friends. You should consider getting a job.”

The consequences are natural. Your child's nose might bleed. People might ostracize your toddler or laugh at him for touching himself in public. The bedroom will stink. You will start charging rent when your child becomes an adult.

Certainly there are instances when you will have to exert your authority because your child is too young to make certain decisions for herself. You will have to say “no” to that cookie. You will have to insist that your child puffs on his inhaler because he can't breathe.

Just because you are your child's friend doesn't mean you stop being their parent. Part of being a parent is making necessary decisions for our kids. They do not have the maturity or perhaps even the capacity to make those decisions for themselves...yet.

But in every other instance, dependent on age, where our children can make decisions themselves without it affecting their health or safety, we should let them decide for themselves, even though they will make mistakes.

Resist saying “I told you so.” It is condescending and hurtful. Your guidance is something your children can use for context but do not require your child to obey your suggestions. Otherwise, you are back to being a controlling parent.

3. Let Them Make Their Own Mistakes

You make mistakes. I make mistakes. We all make mistakes.

How can we expect our children to be perfect when we are not perfect? How do you feel when you make a mistake and someone tries to make you feel worse about it? Is that something a true friend would do?

No. A friend would express kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and love. A friend would comfort you.

A friend would say things like...

That is what you need to do when your child makes mistakes.

4. Model Your Values Like You Would for a Friend

Just as you don't behave the same way in front of all your friends, you will monitor your behaviour in front of your children.

Some friends you will show your raunchy side to. Some you will show your creative side to but control your raunchy side. Some you will show your insecure side. Others will only see you feeling confident.

Similarly, all parents have values around what we would and wouldn't want our children to see.

Here are some of mine:
  • I don't want my children to see me intoxicated.
  • I don't want my children to listen to discussions of conflict between their father and I (whom I am separated from).
  • I don't want my children to hear me expressing worry about money or adult relationships.
  • I don't want my child to see me sitting in front of a computer screen constantly.
  • I want my children to see me living life to the fullest every day; being grateful for what I have.
  • I want my children to see how I deal with disappointment by expressing it, then getting over it.
  • I want my children to see expressions of love and support between my boyfriend and I (and other examples of healthy romantic relationships).
  • I want my children to see my sincere regret when I've lost my temper with them or pushed them away in some way.
  • I want my children to see my commitment to eating organic foods and using chemical-free cleaning products.
  • I want my children to see my skepticism in anything I haven't researched myself but also my willingness to entertain new ideas.
  • I want my children to see my support of and encouragement for creative pursuits.

5. Support Passions and Provide Space for Creative Pursuits

I started a new tradition in our family. When one of us is in “creative mode,” as we call it, we try to support that person's passion by giving them space and time to immerse themselves in their project.

Our passions and pursuits change and flow into each other. Right now, for me, it is writing articles like this. For my son, it is coding games and manipulating images. For my oldest daughter, it is video creation and editing. My youngest has learned from the rest of us that she simply has to let us know when she is immersed in her activity and needs more time to focus on it.

It is part of the culture of our family that we understand when each other are in “creative mode.” You will often hear one of us say, “I'm sorry, can you repeat that? I am in creative mode and completely missed what you were saying.”

Creating is like meditation. It fills us up with happiness and peace.

A good friend would not say, “Get off the computer right this minute. You've spent too much time on it.”

A good friend would say, “Okay, I understand you're in the midst of creating something that excites you. I will bring your dinner into you.”

6. Be Honest With Your Child and Model Trust

Some people believe we should not share our feelings with our children; that we should withhold information from them, like how we really feel about their tyrant teachers or whether we've ever tried street drugs.

But our children want to know about our feelings and experiences, especially when our feelings and experiences mirror their own. One of the amazing things that happens when we are honest with our children is that they start being honest with us.

I am not talking about “brutal honesty” which hurts the person on the receiving end. We do not practice brutal honesty with our friends unless we want to destroy our friendships.

Likewise, with our children, we should be honest in a respectful way. Find ways to be honest without hurting them. “I don't like how your teacher handled that situation but I think you might be misunderstanding why she said that.”

If your honesty contradicts your child's evaluation of particular situation, don't tell him he's wrong. He may be right. Truth is, you may be the one who is wrong.

Furthermore, resist calling your child out on lies. Your child needs to know you trust him. He will lie sometimes and you will know he is lying. Pretend to believe him. Have his back. All kids lie. It is a part of learning how to negotiate honesty.

Modeling trust is important because when it really matters, your child will know she can tell you anything, and you'll believe her.

7. Respect Your Child

Treating your child with the same respect you'd show a friend is a much more effective parenting strategy than ordering your children to do as you say.

The definition of Friend is:

a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter:
friends of the Boston Symphony.
a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is nothostile:
Who goes there? Friend or foe?

As you can tell, the definition of “Friend” sounds much like how we feel about our children, except maybe the “on good terms part” because if you are a controlling parent, you are likely not on the best of terms.

And don't mistake your child's acquiescence (quiet, seeming acceptance of your rules) for being on good terms. Children are not idiots. They learn manipulation at a young age, especially if they have manipulative, controlling parents.

Your child may love you and your child may even do as he is told. But if you don't give your child loving respect, your child will not respect you either.

Try to recall memories when you really connected with your child. Recall that in those were treating your child with equality and respect.

Miraculously (not really, but maybe you think so), when you give your child respect, she will respect you in return.

Be a friend to your child.

8. Model Failing, Admit Mistakes, Say Sorry

One of the best things you can do for your child is to model failure. Yes, you heard me. Be the opposite of perfect.

We know that in front of our closest friends, we can be imperfect. This is also how our children should see us.

When your child sees that you are imperfect, he gives himself permission to also be imperfect. This is important. When we fail, we must learn from our failures, not beat ourselves up for it. We've got to let go to move on. Otherwise, we get stuck in the muck of it, unable to believe we will ever do anything but fail.

If you express disappointment rather than support in moments when your child fails, you reinforce the idea that he should beat himself up for it. If you instead be his friend, you will support his ability to learn and grow from his experience.

When a friend has a setback, what do you say to him? You say, “I'm so sorry it didn't work out but I bet it wasn't the right job for you anyway.” You say, “I believe in you.” You say, “Woah! Dude! Are you alright?”

This is also what we should say to our children when they fail. We should become quote ninjas and recite things like:

"Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something." - Morihei Ueshiba 
"I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying." - Michael Jordan 
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas A. Edison

In line with modeling failure in front of your children, is the fact that most of our fails in front of our children are parenting fails.

Which leads me to the most important part of modeling failure...saying sorry.

Your child should see you apologize when you intentionally or unintentionally hurt your spouse. When you make a mistake at work, and your boss phones you at home; let your children hear you say sorry.

Most importantly, when you intentionally or unintentionally hurt your child through words or action, say “I'M SORRY.”

Your child will forgive you. Your relationship will grow stronger. And your child will learn to say sorry too.

When you say sorry, there is some really great parenting going on!

9. Give Your Child Privacy

My oldest daughter said once that she sometimes feels bad for not telling me something that is happening in her life.

“Don't feel bad,” I told her. “It's your life. You don't have to tell me everything. There are no rules that say you have to tell me everything. I just hope you know you can come to me if want or need to talk.”

The reason I told her this is because it's true. As someone who does not own my child and who recognizes that my child is an autonomous, independent soul; I also recognize her right to privacy.

The truth is, I've nurtured such an open, trustworthy relationship with my daughter, that she tells me things I never in my dreams would have expected. If there are things she is keeping from me, which I'm sure there are, then I'm probably happier not knowing.

I didn't tell my mother anything when I was a teenager. NOTHING. As adults, my mom and I can talk about almost everything. Why? Because now we are friends.

10. Stop Punishing Your Children

I got lucky. I learned this with my second child, so my oldest was still young enough to benefit from how I changed. And my youngest is the only “unpunished” child of the three.

Before my son, I was a controlling parent, just like you. I wielded my power over my children. They had to obey or they would get time-outs, guilt-trips, shame parades, criticism, and whatever else I came up with in my anger on any given day.

My children misbehaving was offensive to me! It showed that I did not have control of my own children. It showed I was a bad parent!

Enter my four-year-old son. He not only misbehaved, called us names, kicked and punched us, and ran off on us in public; he would not endure punishment.

He would not stay in time-out. He would run away and tell me he hates me. I tried every punishment. None of it worked.

Punishment did not work.

How we brought peace to my son's world and our home is another story for another day and has to do with removing chemicals from his food and environment, but the moral of the story is punishment did not work.

When punishment is not an option, you are forced to reason with your child.

You learn when is the best time to reason with your child (after she's calmed down, maybe even another day).

You learn how to speak gently enough to gain your child's trust. Successful reasoning requires trust.

You learn that life is much calmer when everyone is being reasonable. That precious gift of peace is present.

Reasoning, by it's nature, provides reasons. In this case, it provides reasons for behaviours to change for the long term.

When your child learns how to use reason, she may even change YOUR mind about a topic. She gains a skill that will help her survive in our world.

This is what friendship is like. It is a give and take, exchanging of ideas, respecting each other's point of view, and being reasonable. Your child deserves no less.  


Before you go jumping on me, saying that there are times when a child MUST be punished, otherwise their behaviour will never change, and that is why you can't be your child's friend...

I want to emphasize that there is difference between punishing and setting boundaries.

This is where being your child's friend really comes in handy because you can do the friendship test when you are considering how to handle a problem with your child. By doing the friendship test, you will come up with strategies that set boundaries rather than punish your child.

Here is an example from my own life:

You see, we have a guiding philosophy in our home which we place immense importance on. I will sum it up like this...

As FAMILY, we respect and support each other. We help when we are asked to help. We offer to help when we are not asked. We keep each others' secrets. We give each other space and freedom to be creative without comment. We encourage each other. We comfort each other. We clean up after ourselves. We contribute. We love.

So, when I find I am picking up after my children too much, I will say, “Everything left on the floor goes in the garbage because you must not care that much about it and I am not your maid.” My children immediately pick their stuff off the floor.

I will say, “If you're going to use the blender, wash it afterwards, otherwise no more using it.” Usually, they will wash the blender. Sometimes I still end up washing it. #adulting

I will say, “I don't want to drive you anymore because you make me wait every time I come to pick you up.” Usually, they will make more effort at being on time.

These are all instances of mutual respect. I give respect and I expect to be respected in return.

We do the same thing with our friends. We set boundaries. We wouldn't let a friend leave their shit all over our house. We wouldn't do activities with friends who always makes us wait. I may not require my friend to wash my blender, but I would if she lived me with me.

I am not punishing my children (or friends) in the above situations. I am setting boundaries.

You can and should do the same with your children.

When you find yourself wondering how to handle a problem with your child, do the friendship test. Ask yourself,

“How would I handle this if it were a friend?”

I guarantee, 100% of the time, it will be your best course of action as a parent too.

In other words...


#anarchist #parenting #respectmatters

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