Balanced Parenting

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Finding the Right Balance as a Parent

by Dan Neuharth, PhD

Dr. Dan: I have a 14-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. My daughter wants later curfews, the freedom to date, and unlimited phone and online time. I don't want to smother her but I do want to protect her. The things that can happen to children scare me to death. How do I strike a balance between overcontrol and permissiveness?
Sharon

Dear Sharon: First of all, remember that you have one of the toughest and most important jobs in the world. As Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said, "If you bungle raising your children, nothing else matters much in life." Being a parent is physically grueling, financially costly, and emotionally challenging. Parenting is on-the-job training with no grace period.

Given all that, have compassion for yourself. The more compassion you have for yourself as a parent, the more you can have for loved ones. All parents make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes. But no single  action (with the exception of abuse) generally has lasting, damaging consequences. Yes, the world can be dangerous, but good parenting includes both protecting your children and gradually letting them lead their own lives. Some guidelines:

You may too controlling if you:

bulletMicromanage your children's eating, appearance, hobbies, and/or social life
bulletCriticize your children more than you praise them
bulletOverride, discount or ridicule your children's strong emotions
bulletForbid your children from asking questions or disagreeing with you
bulletView your children's desires for independence as a personal rejection of you
bulletBelieve that you own your children or that they must earn your love

On the other hand, you may be too permissive if you:

bulletSet unclear or inconsistent limits
bulletIgnore or rationalize away your children's dangerous or dysfunctional behavior
bulletProvide few rewards or praise for good behavior
bulletGive little feedback when children seek guidance
bulletFeel overwhelmed by the demands of parenting and just give up
bulletBelieve that you must win your children's affection

Ask yourself: Do the rules in your family foster optimal growth of your children, or are they set up primarily to make your life easier by protecting you from your fears and doubts? If, for example, you forbid your children to ask questions because you feel challenged by dissent, or you make children's decisions for them because it hurts to see them fail, you may be putting your fears and needs first. Part of what's so difficult about being a parent is that it's a lifelong process of letting go. Your children will eventually go their own way whether you're ready or not. You will see your children fail, be hurt, and doubt themselves. You can do everything "right" and tragic accidents can still happen. There are limits to what parents can do.

Yet there is no limit to the love, respect and affection possible between parents and children. Foster your children's social connections. Encourage their self-respect. Listen to their fears and provide feedback that they can incorporate into an accurate self-image. Respect their privacy, feelings, opinions, and equality as human beings. Encourage them to make choices and take intelligent risks. And don't feel that you have to do it alone. Talk to your mate and friends; confide your dilemmas and fears. If you or any family member experiences abnormal depression or anxiety, please seek therapy.

As Kahlil Gibran wrote, "Your children are ... the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts ... Seek not to make them like you."

Some helpful books:

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls  Mary Pipher
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys 
Daniel Kindlon
Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood  William Pollack
The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties  William Doherty
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk 
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers  Michael Riera
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer  Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau
The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast, Too Soon  David Elkind
The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap  Alvin Rosenfeld
The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life  
Michael Thompson
The Pocket Parent  Gail Reichlin and Caroline Winkler

Other Ask Dr. Dan Columns:

Coping with Controllers Self-centered People Live Your Dreams Get Out of Your Way 'Uh-Oh' Birthdays Balanced Parenting Choosing to Parent

Back to directory of archived "Ask Dr. Dan" columns

This column is designed for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for psychotherapy or a visit to a mental health professional. If you experience abnormal anxiety, depression, or serious emotional or situational difficulties, please seek professional help immediately

This column originally appeared on ShesGotItTogether.com 

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If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World
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