Friday, February 11, 2011

"I Don't Love You Enough"

Yesterday, I wrote a lovely piece about the dangers of following parenting "doctrines" too closely. In that post, I mentioned that there really are a lot of different ways to parent, based on the variety of circumstances and beliefs inherent in any particular family. While I have my own opinions about cloth diapers, breast feeding, co-sleeping, and TV restrictions, I also recognize that there are millions of brilliant parents with healthy, happy kids who do not share my views. That alone indicates that there is more than one way to skin a cat, as it were.

But there sure are wrong ways.

What does "wrong" parenting look like? Well, I have an opinion on that, believe it or not. I listed a few examples last year in this post, but I could probably sum it up by saying that things like physical abuse, guilting, coercion, lying, arbitrariness, and screaming/yelling/belittling would fall into the bucket of things that make my stomach turn. So imagine how pleased I was to see the following post on Facebook yesterday from an old friend who I actually think is a very good mom:


PROMISE TO MY CHILD: I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you crazy, be your worst nightmare & hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed...because I LOVE YOU! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves you more, prays for you more, cares about you more, and worries about you more than your parents. Re-post if you love your child.

"Re-post if you love your child." No, I don't think I will.

There are so many things about this post that disturb me, but let's take them one by one.


First, why would you ever need to stalk your child? Stalking is actually illegal when you do it to a stranger, so why would you do it to someone you love? I'm sure that the intent here is not that type of stalking, but instead an effort to . . . . well, to spy on what your children do, who they see, and where they go so you can determine if they are behaving appropriately and then correct them if they are not. Let's ignore the fact that your kids will make their own choices regardless of whether or not you stalk them, and that they are likely to run further away from you when they sense you're spying on them. Instead, let's focus on what the act of stalking says about trust - the amount you have for your child, and the amount they have for you. Trust may come easily at first, but once violated it is nearly impossible to get back. Is there no other way to keep your child safe? Couldn't you try instead to connect with your child, coach them, listen to them, provide them with tools and a safe place in which to practice them, and then observe them closely - without spying - to make sure you understand the signals of their discomfort?

Let's move on to flipping out. Flipping out - screaming, getting angry, throwing things, whatever - is nothing more than an emotion. It is not an effective way to shape the behavior of others. I've had plenty of people flip out on me in my lifetime, and never once did I walk away thinking "wow, they are so right, and I am so happy they flipped out because now I have really learned something." No, the opposite happens; you learn to avoid them, to conceal behavior that they find unacceptable, and to feign contrition in order to get them to calm down. Of course, you also feel completely itimidated, scared, and physically threatened. I cannot learn under those conditions, and will in short order come to resent and avoid any person who treats me that way.

Does lecturing someone ever really work, especially when it comes on the heels of a mistake or difficult period? Of course not; the parent wastes their breath while the child floats away into whatever dream state they need to in order to get through it. When I was growing up, I was lectured countless times by my parents. Did I appreciate the fact that they took the time to sit down and talk to me? Yes, actually I did. Did I change my behavior in any way as a result of the lecture? No, except for becoming more sneaky about what I was doing. Did they miss an opportunity there? Probably (not "definitely", because I was not an easy child to parent.) Instead of talking to me, they could have been talking with me, not just in the heat of that event but throughout good times and bad so they could keep an open line of communication. You want to be heard when times are bad? Then listen to and converse with your child when times are good; make the investment in the value of your child's opinions and beliefs.

"I'll drive you crazy . . . (and) be your worst nightmare." Chances are that if you are stalking me, flipping out on me, and lecturing me, that you already are driving me crazy and being my worst nightmare. Again, is there no other way to stay connected to your child and demonstrate your love and concern?

Finally, why hunt your children down like a bloodhound? Bloodhounds are useful when you are looking for something that is lost - or for something that is trying very hard not to be found. If you need to hunt down your kids, you're already far behind in the game. There's no need to keep them on a leash, though. Be loving, respectful, curious, and connected, and they always come back by your side when they need to.

I guess that my overwhelming feeling at this post was one of immense sadness. I am sad for the people who believe this, and I am sad for the children who live under it's iron hand. Parenting is so hard and so complex for so many people, and I understand the need to latch on to some sort of framework or schema that helps us make good decisions when things get dicey. But these frameworks - like the one above- represent a degree of hubris and authority that is completely contrived. I wish that more parents were willing or able to think more about these schemas and then look for other possible alternatives that could work well for their families.

I've seen brilliant parenting and happy children in all walks of life, and no single one of them is inherently "better" or "worse" than any other. But there is nothing at all "good" about stalking, screaming, and being your child's worst nightmare. When you combine the ineffectiveness of these choices with the intimidation and coercion of them, your behavior is not saying "I love you" - it's saying "I don't love you enough to find a different way."

9 comments:

  1. where is the "like" button on your blog?? :~) Another great post...I don't comment much, but I just wanted to let u know that you are truly inspiring. I have a 10 year old daughter and a 22 year old son. I wish I had been parentally enlightened enough when I was raising my son. I look back on the way I raised him and think.."what the hell was I doing?!" My daughter on the other hand is a very lucky girl

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  2. These types of statements make me feel sad, too. I usually wonder, did they really think about that statement? Is it a joke? I remember, as a child, thinking about my mother: "I know she loves me, but she doesn't love me enough."

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  3. "your behavior is not saying "I love you" - it's saying "I don't love you enough to find a different way."

    YES. :)

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  4. Another unschooling mom posted a revamped version of the FB post on her website awhile back at

    http://aspentreemama.blogspot.com/2011/01/promise-to-my-children.html

    I think it is a GREAT improvement:

    My Promise to My Children:

    I promise to trust you, to try to listen more than I talk, to really hear your feelings, to communicate with you.
    I promise to feel proud of you, to credit you with the best intentions and motives; to share with you in your struggles and disappointments.
    I promise to value what you need; and accept that sometimes you do know what is right for you.
    I promise to try and remember that everything in life is a learning experience; and that we can learn from each other.
    I promise to be awed by your gifts and talents.
    I promise to stand beside you as your advocate, to support you; even when that support looks crazy to other people; hug you, love you, comfort you; and offer guidance when you need it.
    I promise to laugh with you; and share in this life with you.

    And I hope that when you are a grown adult we will still have a good relationship; and that when you look back on your childhood you will feel like you were loved and treated with respect and kindness.
    I hope that in your life you will be surrounded by people who love you and care about you; and I hope that you will choose me to be one of those people.

    Because I love you. I loved you before you were, and I love the person you are.

    ~Love mom

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  5. That is jaw-droppingly gross and freakish. Obviously it was meant to be hyperbole, I guess it is supposed to have a humorous effect. Regardless, it reflects an attitude about the nature of love and the parent-child relationship that is unfortunate no matter how you slice it. My promise (sans hyperbole) would go more like this: "If I ever act as fucked-up as this, please know that it is because I have mental issues that have nothing to do with you, and that I will understand and still love you when you run far, far away."

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  6. Usually someone espousing the "I will stalk you / freak out at you" stuff is often a parent of older or teen kids. They feel it's come down to this. But communication and trust broke down long ago and this was NOT authored by the child. The parent will often justify their "stalking" by saying, effectively, "You don't know how much this child screws up / makes my life hard" etc. The parent rarely sources the problem with their own oppressive (but I agree, well-intentioned) regimes, worldviews, etc., they'd been parenting with since the child was born.

    Last night at an event at the college I heard some older teens calling home to request permission to stay out until midnight. The teen girl talking to her parent was so cautious and cringing as she spoke. She got off the phone after being loudly admonished by the parent, who didn't want to have to drive them later. I thought to myself, I'd be happy to drive these girls home, if I was in the position of that parent and too tired to drive late, I might have asked if the girls could find some way home or take a cab or something. The teen girl told her friends that her mother said she "disrespected" her.

    I thought lots of things. One, a late-teen girl being out at a positive, safe, and awesome event like this on Friday night? Is a full Win and entirely appropriate. A parent should, if possible, make sure their teen is free to experience that sort of thing. Two, I'm amazed with the resiliency of children that even when shouted at and controlled they can often maintain relatively positive attitudes. It sucks they have to, though.

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  7. Well said, sir. As someone who was stalked, yelled at, flipped out on, hunted down, I can tell you it was not effective, unless the intended effect was to make me a dysfunctional adult with low self esteem.

    I also appreciate Kelly's comment "But communication and trust broke down long ago." When talking with other parents of teenagers (when my kids were teens)I would realize I was lucky that I had always dealt with my kids with trust and honest communication. That's very hard to establish with a teenager when it wasn't there all along.
    Donna J

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  8. Thank you for posting this, it's so encouraging to hear people speak up.

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