A Toxic Blend of Control and Neglect

There are some predictable outcomes when you grow up with a controlling parent. You tend to have your own power and control issues — rejecting others who tell you what to do, getting angry in the face of direct instruction, rebelling against “the man” — all signs you didn’t grow up with healthy autonomy. There are many reasons parents “over parent” their kids, most them center around fears — fear of the kid getting hurt, fear of the kid screwing up, fear of looking like a bad parent, etc.

Over parenting (controlling parenting) tends to focus on the external variables… what the kid wears, says, and does. Manners become an important indicator of goodness. Many teenagers know (and exploit the fact that) they can get away with lots of bad behavior as long as they keep up on the visible measures of “good” — grades stay up, successful in extra curricular activities, and a clean room. A “good kid” is pretty easy to ignore. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s true! Parents’ time has never been as stretched as it is today, and parents tend to be coping with their own over-scheduled day and over-burdened to-do list! If the wheel isn’t squeaking, we have plenty of other demands for our time and attention.

But our kids have two layers that demand attention — what’s on the outside isn’t even half the story. The INSIDE layer is where their emotions live — how they feel, what they think, and what drives much of what they do. It’s where the squeakiest wheel resides, inaudible to the average listener. Parents tend to focus on the outside layer even though kids tend to be neediest on the inside.  Sometimes parents feel pretty incompetent when it comes to this inside layer, and maybe that’s why they focus on the outside instead. It could be that they have a mental health issue that prevents them from addressing the emotional needs of others, a fact they can manage in almost every other life arena, except for parenting. Parenting exposes all of the emotional weaknesses we possess. It is human experience in the raw… exposed. You have to be the grown up — the adult in the room — if you’re going to be an effective parent. This prerequisite is beyond the ability of some without serious re-training.

Like almost everything in life, successful parenting involves a balance of attention to what is inside and outside. Many a painful childhood memory result from parents over controlling the outside layer while neglecting the inside layer completely. This toxic blend of control and neglect leaves kids at a loss when it comes to understanding themselves and their relationships. This is why it is so important to be in a good place both personally and in your relationship before taking on the parenting role.


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