Parenting is rife with excessive control actions. Our fears and anxieties about our children’s welfare cloud our perspective about what’s really at stake in most aspects of their lives. As a result, we pressure, we threaten, and we hover over them. We dominate when we should be supporting and guiding. We advise when we should be listening. We criticize when we should be accepting of their differences.
The Fundamental Parental Challenge
The fundamental parental challenge we face is being able to fulfill our responsibilities for ensuring our children’s health and safety, fostering their morals, family values, and ethics, and encouraging learning, WITHOUT obstructing their personal growth and life path through domineering forms of control. The repercussions for failing to meet this challenge can be severe, including the loss of trust, strong resentment, and a total break down in communications.
Parents must face this challenge every day—and at times it feels like every moment! It is always there. The line between the two is frequently not clear, and often murky. Consider, for example: When does giving too much to our children really take away from them? When does doing too much for them become enabling? When is the issue really about “us”, and not “them?”
In short, at what point are we controlling our children too much?
Some Useful Guidelines
I have learned some useful guidelines in the form of inquiries that can assist us in determining whether we are crossing the line to over-management of our children’s lives. I discuss these and others in more detail in my forthcoming book, Losing Control, Finding Serenity, but for now let me touch upon a few important ones.
- What are my motives? Are my actions primarily motivated by my own unfilled desires, social standing, or outsiders’ views of my parenting? If so, we are very likely over-managing.
- Is my way necessarily the only way? Or the right way? What has worked well for us in our lives does not mean that it will serve our children well.
- Am I depriving my child of learning from his or her mistakes or of gaining other important learning experiences?
- Am I acting out of unfounded fears? What’s really at stake? How important is it? Our unprocessed fears frequently compel us to control excessively in all areas of our lives—and none more so than in parenting.
Kahil Gibran Had it Right
Kahil Gibran offers invaluable insight for addressing the challenge with these wise words from The Prophet:
“Your children are not your children…
they come through you but not from you
And though they are with you yet
they belong not to you…
You may give them your love but not your thoughts…
For they have their own thoughts…
Seek not to make them like you.”
My Daughter Has it Right As Well
During her sixth grade graduation ceremony my daughter, Lana, after quoting from the Prophet, cautioned attending parents about being too controlling with these words of her own:
“Parents. If you teach us only to be like you, then how do you expect us to live in the future? Right now, we are figuring out who we are, and who we will become. All you can do is give us love and support. Believe in us, and we’ll make the right choices in life. “
It is Thine Path, Not Mine
I was very proud and moved by Lana’s profound statement. We need to recognize that each child has his or her own life journey or path and it is primarily up to him or her to try to fulfill it. The more we interfere with that path by over managing their lives—no matter how well intended or how strongly we feel we are right—the greater the risk of obstructing and even thwarting it.