“What do you mean, ‘controlling’? This is called parenting! I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m being responsible. I’m parenting my children the same way my parents parented me. If it worked then, there’s nothing to question; it’ll work now. Besides, look at me; I turned out okay!”
Some people emulate their parents’ controlling behaviors such as yelling, criticizing, threatening and/or putting down their child. Their reaction is usually rapid and their reasoning is often rather simple. They are responding to an automatic program in their brain, an emblazoned imprint of instructions. Unfortunately, such parents may not necessarily realize that, in the process of using such conduct, there may be adverse effects on one or any number of their children. In the long run, they may be losing a great deal more than they perceive they are gaining (in the present), that is, a loving relationship.
That leads me to the following questions: “Why do so many parents use external control and why is it so difficult for them to break away from that approach?
Of course there are many possible answers and they vary. In Part I, we touched upon one issue: beliefs that are associated with Eastern European authoritarian parenting (although these beliefs are not exclusive to this one culture). In this concluding segment, other factors will be presented.
Fears and Anxieties; Second-Guessing, Projections and Future-Tripping:
In the past 10 years or so, fears and anxieties related to parenting have taken on a new dimension. With a rise in adolescents who are living emotionally unhealthy lifestyles, and who are veering from their family’s religious orientation, many parents have been beset with fears and anxieties as early as their children’s pre-school years. With the proliferation of community awareness, some parents have become overly concerned with what they perceive as early warning signs for teenage at-risk behavior. This concern often leads to the creation of assumptions and presumptions and a great deal of second-guessing.
Future-tripping is often also an accompaniment as parents begin to worry about their children’s future, based on little or no information. And with the purpose of preventing their children from moving toward future unwanted negative behaviors, some parents may use a tough and controlling approach, believing that control will head off an unwanted outcome. Their logic is noble and replete with positive intentions. However, their desire to provide self-assurance can easily lead them to a belief that they have the power to “fix” their children.
Expectations and Loss of Parents’ Dreams:
From the time a child is born, parents envision their child’s future where all their expectations and dreams are met. However, when a child does not follow in the path of the family’s religious ways and/or is not living as a productive member of society, the original dreams come to a full stop, often referred to as a lost dream. Some of the teen’s lifestyle choices intensify the parents’ feelings of grief. Concurrent feelings of disappointment, frustration, impatience and intolerance further reinforce the parents’ feelings of loss. At various points throughout the child’s struggles, parents may try to halt their child’s negative lifestyle choices by using various elements of external control. Thinking they can stop this downward spiral, the use of control usually intensifies the process. And ironically, the teen’s fall often progresses more rapidly.
Note: The majority of parents I have worked with have admitted to a belief that using external control will bring their child back on course and into the mainstream of “normal” religious society. With that achieved, their original expectations and dreams will have returned.
Many people have a need to conform to what identifies them in their society. This translates into: “My child has to be, act and dress in the same way as my neighbors and community people in order that we fit in. Keeping up with the Joneses is important if we are to belong and be accepted within our community.” They believe using external control will guarantee achieving these results.
Comparing One’s Family to Other Family Members, Friends and Neighbors:
When parents are not seeing the desired results in their child, and they observe seemingly successful families, there is a tendency for them to believe they are doing something wrong in their parenting approach. Observing another family who is achieving success with the use of external control easily generates self-doubt. The self-doubt can influence parents to emulate a controlling approach which may be a far cry from that which is applicable and appropriate for their family situation.
Keep in mind: It is easy for forget that every child is different, as is every family dynamic.
Habit and Comfort:
For those who are using a more empowering approach, positive results may not necessarily be apparent immediately. At such a point, due to frustration and possible impatience, there is a tendency to revert automatically to previous behaviors and parenting methodologies (i.e. control). After all, old ways are familiar and easy, and since we human beings have a need to be doing ‘something,’ it makes sense to attach ourselves to that ‘something’ that will provide us with comfort and security. Besides, a part of us believes the old way worked. And perhaps it did. However, either we did not pay attention to the repercussions or we forgot how our behaviors impacted negatively on ourselves and our family.
A controlling (tough) approach may have been suitable at a time and place referred to as Eastern Europe, before and after the turn of the 20th century. With a new land on the horizon, there was no reason to believe the same methodology would not work. And generations later, still there was no reason to believe the same approach would be ineffective.
That was then and this is now.
“Z’chor yemos olam, binu shnos dor v’dor…(Devarim 32:7) (Remember world history, understand the generational epochs).” Rashi interprets the word, “shnos” as generations; however, the word can also be derived from shinuy, which is change. With this different explanation, the following perspective can shed light on the theme of this article.
The Torah suggests we look back into out history. Study the changes and the differences that existed in the previous generation. Human interaction has similarities and differences in each generation. And the changes that must be made in each generation in order to effectively live within that time are specific and may not necessarily relate to the previous period. Therefore the application of techniques used in a previous time may be totally inappropriate for the current time.
Today’s society would greatly benefit by making adjustments, reassessing and re-evaluating its current systems and approaches in both the educational and parenting realms. The effect of world societal issues on our culture must be taken into consideration in order to understand and implement more effective parenting approaches that would suit current challenges.
Remember, external control may have worked in the previous generation in its cultural context. This does not necessarily follow that this approach would work for all families in our current period of history.
Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to read Debbie’s archived articles, log on to www.jewishpress.com, and in the search box on the home page, type in Debbie Brown.