People like to have things their way. Parents, in particular, often like to have things their way – because they feel that they know what is best for their children. No matter the age of the child, the parent is always a couple of decades (or more) older than the youngster and therefore, even if not wiser, is at least more experienced. This makes the parent rightfully confident in the leadership position. However, being in charge can sometimes lead to being controlling. Let’s look at some of the differences between taking appropriate control and being unpleasantly controlling.
Parents are in a leadership position in their household. While they can certainly be kind, loving and respectful to their children, they must also be prepared to set boundaries and limits and to offer guidance. Parents are responsible for the safety and education of their children. They need to direct the household. When they fulfill these tasks in a way that is respectful of the child’s feelings and needs, they are taking control. When they fulfill these tasks without sensitivity to the child’s feelings or needs, they may be controlling.
For instance, a parent can set an appropriate bedtime for a child. The parent can use his or her authority to instruct the child to go to bed at that time. However, if the child shows that he or she is not yet ready for sleep or has something that needs to be finished, the parent may make allowances, permitting some flexibility around the designated bedtime in order to meet the child’s needs. However, when the parent is controlling, there will be little or no consideration of the child’s needs.
To understand this better, imagine that you have seen a watch that you’d like to buy. It’s a bit pricey, but exactly what you’ve been looking for. You tell your spouse that you’re thinking of purchasing the watch. Your spouse tells you that there’s no way that you’re going to buy that watch at that price. Even if you manage to purchase the watch, your spouse’s behavior has been controlling. On the other hand, if your spouse entered into a discussion with you about his or her concerns about the cost and tried to creatively find a way that it would be possible for you to get it anyway (i.e. find it elsewhere at a better price, save up over a few months, buy it on a payment plan, etc.), and at no point put his or her foot down to tell you what you can and cannot do, then your spouse is not at all controlling.
A controlling parent calls the shots without regard to the child’s feelings or needs.
Adults with Controlling Parents
It’s not only small children and teenagers who suffer from controlling parents. Adults can have them too! Sometimes parents issue “commands” to their grown children such telling them they must come for dinner once a week or call every day or do errands for them. They may assert their control in various ways – by being aggressive if their demands are not met or by acting pathetic and helpless in a manipulative way. Parents can even make financial threats in order to assert control (“if you don’t do as I ask, I’ll cut you out of my will.”). Adult children need to find their own strength. They don’t really have to do anything their parents want them to do anymore, but they must be willing to face the consequences of non-compliance. Will a parent cut off communication or baby sitting services? Adults have to decide what the cost will be if they defy controlling parents and whether or not they are willing to pay those costs.
Teens with Controlling Parents
Teenagers make those kinds of calculations all the time. A teen might stay out past curfew because friends are all at a big celebration. The teen knows that her controlling father will be enraged when she gets home late but she chooses to deal with that in order to stay out with her friends. In fact, teens – like adults – don’t have to comply with controlling parents. They will, however, have to pay a price for non-compliance. The truth is that parents will have to pay a price, too, for being controlling. Often, the child withdraws from a controlling parent. As the child becomes more independent, he or she has less and less to do with the controlling parent because contact is so unpleasant. It is important for the health of the parent-child relationship that parents give more and more freedoms as the child matures and less and less direction. The child needs space to develop through the process of making errors and making adjustments. The more a parent can start to stand back and allow the child to experience life, the more the child will appreciate him or her. Controlling parents may be highly invested in the success of their child (and therefore make all sorts of rules and conditions in order to “protect” the child and ensure success). However, even if the child succeeds in the end, the parent-child relationship may be so strained that the child will not allow the parent to be part of that success.
Anxiety is the underlying motivation for being controlling. Parents make too many rules and limits when they don’t trust the child to behave normally. However, excessive rule-making usually results in excessive sneakiness and deception. Parents need to work WITH a child to find a way for both parent and child to feel fairly satisfied with conditions. Together, parents and teens can establish curfews and hosuehold rules. A teen needs to be consulted just like an adult.
Young children can also be consulted. However, parents of young children do need to be somewhat more controlling. The younger the child, the less freedom is appropriate. Toddlers need adults to help establish healthy habits. The older the child gets, however, the more the parent has to loosen controls and offer more freedom. Again, failure to do so can pose a serious threat to the parent-child relationship.
When You Know You are Too Controlling
You may realize that you are too controlling. However, fear and concern for the child’s well-being has made you behave this way. You want so badly to help save your child from harm so you tell him that his girlfriend isn’t good enough for him or that he needs to take such and such a job for the summer or that he can’t associate with various friends. You have seen for yourself the poor results you are getting with this method of parenting and you want to change, but your worry for the child’s welfare gets in your way. What can you do?
There are several things you can do. First, join a parenting group of parents whose kids are in the same age group as yours. When you hear how other kids behave and how their parents deal with it, you will acquire so much valuable knowledge. You may also find emotional support in such a group. Reading parenting books and checking online for issues faced by this age group, can also be very helpful. Finally, seek psychological counselling. A professional mental health practitioner such as a psychologist, social worker or family therapist can help you gain perspective and unique skills for solving parenting problems. The sooner you can break away from your controlling tendencies, the sooner your kids will be able to live up to your positive hopes and dreams for them.