Postures In Parenting II: Parenting from Above and Beneath
- Sharon Hersh, M.A.
- 2004 2 Apr
This article is part of a continuing series on parenting styles. In the first part of this series we underscored the importance of forming an alliance with your teenager and offered a quiz for you to identify your primary parenting style.
In this article we will examine two of the four "postures in parenting", looking at their strengths and weaknesses with suggestions for ways that you might use this parenting style to form a stronger alliance with your teenager from a posture of hand-in-hand parenting.
Parenting from Above
Goal: Tell what you know. Get things under control.
Role: Instructor, disciplinarian, policeman.
Fear: If I don't get my child under control, there's no hope.
Response to Parenting Challenges: "You will not do that again." "You will do exactly as I say."
Teenager's Response: Overt or covert defiance and deceitfulness.
MOTHER: I want to talk to you about what happened at school today. What were you thinking - smoking pot at school? Don't you know what that does to you? It destroys brain cells. It impairs memory. You'll end up flunking out of school. You already are failing in three classes. Don't you realize that smoking pot is against the law? Do you want to end up with a criminal record?
DAUGHTER: I just got them from some kid at the park. I don't know who it was. It's not that big of a deal. Everyone was doing it. I promise I won't do it again.
MOTHER: You're right you won't do it again. You are grounded until we decide differently, and I am calling the school to put a halt to you going off-campus at lunch.
DAUGHTER: Great. Now I won't have a social life at all.
MOTHER: Good. I don't want you to have a social life if it's going to get you in this kind of trouble.
The mother in this scenario is right. Her daughter made a foolish, destructive, illegal choice. She is right to impose consequences. She is right to suspect her daughter's social life. This mother uses her knowledge and parental authority to talk to her daughter, dispense discipline, and demand answers.
The end result is predictable. These two will be in a standoff - even further apart then before the drug-use incident. Mom may feel a sense of control in the immediate, but she will be frustrated that she doesn't understand why her daughter is using drugs.
Neither mother nor daughter will trust each other. Mom won't trust her daughter to avoid temptation without her tight control, and the daughter won't trust her mother to know and hear about her life without imposing tighter controls.
Parents need to be armed with information about drug and alcohol use. However, information used for the sole purpose of "catching" and controlling our children will put us in the role of "police mothers. What is missing from this scenario is not the mother's lack of knowledge about drugs, but her lack of knowledge about her daughter.
A mother using both knowledge and understanding might say, "It makes sense to me that you would smoke pot right now. I know that you are going through a lot and feeling a lot of stress, and that marijuana takes away the pressure for a little while. But we have to find another way to help you deal with the pressure. Pot is illegal and potentially damaging." Acknowledging your daughter's challenging world may open the door to further discussions about what is really going on and how you might help. A parent who tends to parent from above must temper knowledge with understanding.
"Write this at the top of your list: Get Understanding! Throw your arms around her - believe me, you won't regret it; never let her go."
Consequences are necessary when our children make bad choices. However, consequences alone are seldom the doorway through which our teenagers will walk to us with open hearts. In this scenario, a mom committed to creating natural consequences might say, "I don't want to be your policeman, but I can't ignore what has happened. It's serious. Tomorrow we will talk about putting some random drug tests in place to help you say "no" to this temptation and to help me begin to build trust in you again."
Consequences for the purpose of shutting down our children or for punishment alone are crushing to the relationship. Consequences that spring out of strength and hope for the future can be life giving to the relationship. The parent who has a tendency to parent from above must temper consequences with creativity and vision.
A parent committed to being a hand-in-hand ally uses knowledge to understand their children, creates natural consequences, and waits for their teenager while he/she works on themselves to become wiser, more resilient, filled with compassion, and clearer in their vision for their children. This parent is most powerful as he/she stays with their teenager, not looms over them.
Parenting from Beneath
Goal: Keep child out of trouble by pleading helplessness.
Role: Victim of child's and own helplessness.
Fear: "If I don't find someone else to help my child, he/she will be lost."
Response to Parenting Challenges: Panic, powerlessness.
Teenager's Response: "I am too dangerous and too much for my parents to handle."
SON: Dad, I can't get my grades up. My teachers all hate me. I can't stand school.
FATHER: Don't talk like that. I don't want to hear about your being unhappy. Maybe you should talk to your school counselor.
SON: But, dad, nothing I do helps.
FATHER: You've got to get a handle on this. I didn't like school either and my poor school performance has caused me all kinds of problems. I don't want you to repeat my mistakes.
The father in this scenario is right too. He is right in knowing that his own history is important in relating to his son. However his announcement of his own failure is not wise or powerful in leading his son to make different choices.
When it comes to disclosing our history, we must be careful. First of all, it is essential that we have done the work to understand why we struggled or failed, how it harmed us, and how and why we began to change.
It is never appropriate to disclose in the context of this scenario: "Don't make the same mistake I did." A teenager hears these words and thinks, "Why not? You seem to have turned out okay." A declaration of failure that is not connected to a story of growth and resolve is impotent.
The dad who tends to father from beneath needs to do some personal work on understanding his past and seeing how it has shaped him as well as examining his values in the present. An intentional life that grows out of our past mistakes and that is rooted in core values speaks most powerfully to our children.
A parent committed to being a hand-in-hand ally is ready to use everything, including their story, for the sake of their children. This parent wields these tools most powerfully as he/she stands with their child not cowering beneath him.
Wondering what type of parenting posture you have?
Click here to read Part I of this series.
You can read more about hand-in-hand mothering in Sharon's new book: Mom, I hate my life! published by Shaw Books.
Sharon A. Hersh is a licensed professional counselor, author, and speaker. She is the author of 3 parenting books: Mom, I hate my life!; Mom, I feel fat! and Mothering Without Guilt (a Mom's Ordinary Day Bible Study by Zondervan). She is also the author of Bravehearts: Unlocking the Courage to Love With Abandon. Sharon is a frequent speaker for retreats and conferences. She lives with her two teenagers in Lone Tree, Colorado.