Postures in Parenting Part III: Too Close and Too Far
- Monday, March 15, 2004
This article is part of a continuing series on parenting styles. In the first part of this series we underscored the importance of forming a hand-in-hand alliance with your teenager and offered a quiz for you to identify your primary parenting style. In the second part we examined Parenting From Above and Parenting From Beneath. In this article we will look at the final two styles of parenting, looking at strengths and weaknesses with suggestions for ways that you might use your parenting style to form a stronger alliance with your teenager.
Parenting from a Distance
Goal: Make child take responsibility for their life.
Fear: "If I get too close, I'll make things worse or get sucked into the chaos."
Response to Parenting Challenges: "This is your problem."
Teenager's Response: "My failures result in loss of love. I am on my own."
FATHER: I don't' know what you're thinking staying out past your curfew! You had better get your act together now or you are going to live with your mother.
DAUGHTER: Fine. I'll pack my bags and leave right now.
FATHER: You do whatever you want. You always do anyway.
DAUGHTER: Maybe that's because you don't really care what I do, as long as I don't inconvenience you. You're ready to ship me away whenever there's trouble. You make such a big deal out of everything. Everyone comes home late sometimes.
FATHER: You are old enough to take responsibility for your own choices. And the truth is, if you continue to make bad choices, I'm not going to enable you. You'll have to move in with your mom.
This father is right. He recognizes that his daughter needs to take responsibility for her own choices. However, when our teenagers are in trouble, even though it may be uncomfortable for both of us, what they need most is our presence. The parent who tends to parent from a distance risks losing their children completely when they disconnect in times of trouble.
Parents who share custody arrangements, like the father in this scenario, know how easy it is to threaten shipping our children off to the other parent when times get tough. This is part of the tragedy of divorce. We send a destructive message to our children when we suggest that we will be with them when they are good, happy, and respectable.
We can remain present to our children in the midst of their most terrible mistakes by expressing our unconditional commitment to them and by asking how we can help. They may need to experience the consequences of their choices. They may need to get outside help and counsel. But they still need us.
The hand-in-hand parent knows that no matter how scary or overwhelming it might get, they need to be with their teenager, not in the distance.
Parenting from too Close
Goal: To make children's lives easier.
Fear: "If I don't take care of this, my child will fail and I will be a bad parent.
Response to Parenting Challenges: "This is my problem."
Teenager's Response: "I am helpless." "My life is not my own."
MOTHER: Honey, you can't keep making these bad decisions. We have got to figure out what we are going to do.
SON: Mom, this is not your problem.
MOTHER: Oh yes it is. I am responsible for you and what you do is a reflection of me.
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