Many parents are frustrated and distressed because they feel they have lost control over their children. Things have just gotten too out of hand–for some, alarmingly so. The natural inclination for such parents is to become more controlling in their efforts to contain the damage. Hence, they typically become more demanding, resistant, punishing and close-minded in interactions with their children.
To these parents I would offer what at first may seem blasphemous advice: Stop trying to control your children’s lives! That’s right; give up some control if you want to regain some control. It’s very likely that being too domineering is what caused the fracture in the first place.
The Need for Parental Control
There is no question that parental control is an integral part of parenting. Appropriate forms of parental control or authority are essential not only for a child’s health and safety but also for fostering a child’s morals, family values, social manners and etiquette, and learning. Indeed, such parental authority is fundamental to healthy parent-child relations, and parents would be irresponsible were they not to exercise it.
Domineering Parental Control
However, many of us overdo it. Parental authority needs to be distinguished from domineering or excessive forms of control that are primarily triggered by a parent’s fears, egos, anxieties, and insecurities. Examples are when a parent insists that his or her way is the best or only way, decides important issues for the child without listening or allowing the child’s input, and presses a child to do things because of the parent’s ego or social concerns. If you think about it from a child’s perspective, the parent inherently has the upper hand. What a parent says usually goes. This vast control inequality can easily promote resistance and discord if the child feels he or she must constantly give in and has little or no say in decisions that impact his or her life. That’s why domineering forms of control frequently lead to resentment, rebellion, and “out of control” children. And parents can’t get them back by determinedly continuing the same control measures, as parental fears propel many to do.
Losing Control to Gain Control
Consider giving up some control to gain meaningful control over your children. For starters, try to listen to their concerns without offering advice or opinions, and certainly not criticisms. Most often, children want to express or vent their concerns, not receive advice. Such attentive listening is a powerful healing tool that promotes trust between parents and their children. It allows the child to express his or her concerns without keeping them concealed within. Remember, too, that what worked for us may not work well for them. Our children are not as much like us as we think. Every child is unique with his or her own nature, talents and personal journey.
Also allow your children to participate in the decision making process, even though you retain final say. In return, the child will usually be more willing to accept greater responsibility. I like to give the example (true in my case) of allowing your child to choose from three different bed times, knowing that you want lights out by a certain time, say no later than 9:35 pm. You thus tell her that she can choose which time she wants lights out: 9:20, 9:30, or 9:35. She will of course choose 9:35. However, because she feels she made the decision herself, she will much more likely abide by it.
The ultimate goal is to establish a “family democracy” based on open communications, honesty, trust, and the safety to express contrarian views. This significantly reduces insolence and rebellion for the simple reason there is much less to rebel against.
Processing Parental Fears
Most often excessive parental control is caused by parental fears that have not been processed. Indeed, few fears are stronger than the fears and apprehension we have regarding our children. Consequently, the better we can process and defuse our parental fears, the more easily and fully we will be able to relinquish control. I write extensively about this challenging task in Losing Control, Finding Serenity. One important aspect is the ability to separate the real facts from the “nightmares” our emotions script for our children. For example, ask yourself how important is this issue? What is really at stake? Is it a crisis or just a minor aggravation? More often than not so called “crises” resolve themselves with the simple passage of time—as long as we don’t intervene.
Regaining Some Control of Your Child
Consequently, even if the relationship with your child has been estranged or feels lost, it still behooves you to start letting go of control. Give some of the methods I have suggested above a try. It is through the willingness to lose some control over our children, that we can reduce the struggle with our children and better keep them in the “fold.”