Passive Parenting – More Work than It’s Worth
- Jenny Runkel ScreamFree Parenting
- 2007 1 Aug
The week leading up to the big event was a blur. The phone would ring and I couldn't find it. We ate takeout on the tops of boxes more nights than I can count and I actually sent my son Brandon to the last day of school with his teacher's gift wrapped in UHaul paper. The kids thought it was all pretty cool. After all, it's not every day that you get to build a gigantic fortress with refrigerator boxes in your dining room and then brush your teeth with your finger since Mom can't find your toothbrush.
We moved into our new house the same day school let out. My children, who were so used to a life filled with structure, suddenly found themselves with nothing but free time on their hands and parents who were totally engrossed in the task of changing houses. They helped unpack at first, but soon the novelty of the move wore off. They started to get restless and whiny. All they wanted to do was vegetate in front of the new TV, so I gave in. I turned them loose on their DVDs and video games and, for a while, they were happy little clams. I had so much to do and it was just easier to get more accomplished if they were occupied and out of my hair. So, rather than expect them to pitch in and help me out, I gave them what they wanted. This way, they'd be happy and I could get back to work; however, as the week progressed things were not really getting any better. Instead of thanking me for my gracious and understanding attitude, they became increasingly grumpy, rude and insolent.
They were bickering with each other constantly, and seemingly always underfoot whining about this or that. And of course, I found myself thinking, "These kids have it made! What in the world do they have to complain about? All they do is sit around, doing exactly what they want, while I work my rear end off making this house nice for them!" And then it hit me like a ton of packing tape. That's exactly what is making them miserable.
Even though more TV and fewer expectations was what they said they wanted, it wasn't at all what they needed. I had been allowing my kids to have way too much freedom because I felt so anxious about our move. What's worse is that I was starting to resent them for their lack of gratitude for all of my sacrifice. What was I thinking?!?! Where did all of my ScreamFree knowledge go? I think it was packed away in some box because I certainly wasn't using it. During this time of chaos, the last thing they needed was a weakling of a mom who caved in to everything because she was too tired or overwhelmed to do what needed to be done. Of course, what they needed most of all during this time of chaos was MORE structure. For some reason, I equated structure with rigidity when in reality, structure simply provides a comfortable framework where kids feel safe.
I know that giving in to my children's every whim will ultimately fail, but it is sometimes easier than standing up and being a strong presence with them. In the long term, appeasing such whims doesn't make life easier; it makes it much harder. It may provide a momentary feeling of relief that there's "peace" in the house, but ultimately, it just sets me up for harder battles once I finally do decide to set some limits. My kids were reeling from their power trip and it was time to do something about it. But, how do I stop being an appeasing parent and become an active one?
- I take a step back and really evaluate what pattern is taking place. What specific behaviors and attitudes of my children are making me cringe? How am I helping to create those very behaviors and attitudes? Viewing the pattern with a bit of objectivity allows me to see the bigger picture and it helps me to understand why my kids are behaving the way that they are…a crucial step to making a lasting change.
- I let go of perfectionism. "All or nothing" thinking gets me every time. I think that in order to have ANY structure in my home, ALL things in my house need to be perfectly organized. Not so. Perfectionism is paralyzing. I have to let go of "perfect" and reach for "better".
- I figure out how I want our time together to look. Instead of strictly focusing on what I don't like about the situation, I think about what I do want. What would realistically make a "successful day"? I have to be careful here not to go to the other extreme and create a boot camp experience for my kids where I am the drill sergeant. To be quite honest, I find myself fluctuating between those two poles more often than I'd like. Finding a flexible balance will be key in changing anything around here.
- I work backwards. Now that I know what I don't like and I know what I would like, what are some specific things I could do that would help change the patterns?
- Finally, I need to realize that there will be resistance. My kids had been living at Hotel Runkel for over two weeks. Of course they are going to buck at the idea of responsibility or structure. That doesn't mean anything. It is their job to test the limits that I set. It is my job to set them anyway.
I actually tried this approach earlier in the week by making a sheet that outlined a couple of daily chores and expectations and taped it to the TV for the next morning, that way, I wouldn't have to keep "reminding" them all day long. It was remarkable how my kids responded, almost as if they breathed a sigh of relief that I was back in control of me and back in charge of our home. Sure, they complained a bit and rolled their eyes, but the mean-spiritedness was gone. They earned TV time by doing chores. They picked up after themselves. They spent time playing piano and riding bikes. The process of trying to be more intentional helped me remember that I can be the calm authority figure that my kids really need.
Sometimes it takes a jolt (or a move) to wake me up and help me realize that things have strayed off course. So, I suppose that for all the agony that moving has been, it ultimately proved to be a catalyst for my growth. The irony is that as I try to put the finishing touches on this article, I am thinking, "All is need is some peace and quiet. The kids are making so much racket cleaning up the kitchen. Maybe I'll start them on a movie so that I can actually get something done."
Jenny Runkel is the Director of Content for ScreamFree.com, and wife of Hal Runkel, author of ScreamFree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool.