5 Consequential Mistakes Parents Make
Moms and Dads can do great harm to their youngsters by doing the following:
1. Putting them before their marriage
2. Turning them against the other parent
3. Becoming enmeshed with them
4. Not letting them fail
5. Parenting them from ego
1. Putting Them Before Their Marriage
It's all too easy for parents to fall into the habit of putting their children before their spouses. This is especially true when kids are little and totally dependent upon them for everything. Some moms and dads continue this practice, though, even when their youngsters are older and more self-reliant. They not only put them first but wear it as a badge of honor, thinking it reveals what unselfish parents they are. Research shows, however, they would be better off prioritizing their marriages over their kids. When youngsters see their parents happy together, they feel more optimistic about the future and more confident that they will one day be part of such a union.
Philip Cowan and his wife, Carolyn Pape Cowan, professors of psychology at U.C. Berkeley, experienced a decline of satisfaction with their own marriage after having kids. As a result of their personal experience, they chose to study the marital strain that commonly occurs with first-time moms and dads. They wrote a book on the subject entitled When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples.
The Cowans warn that discontentment in a marriage (even when moms and dads try to conceal it) is seen and felt by their kids and can have dire consequences for them. In some cases, youngsters blame themselves for their parents’ unhappiness. As a result, they feel hopeless, depressed, and angry. Some misbehave, rebel, or act out with aggression. Others struggle academically. Studying seems meaningless to them when there are problems at home and stress in their parents’ relationship.
2. Turning Them Against the Other Parent
We’ve all heard stories of divorced parents who badmouth their exes to their children. A mom complains that their father is always late paying child support. A dad refers to their mom as a slut because she’s dating a new man. They criticize the other for being rotten with money, a lousy housekeeper, or just an overall bad influence. As any family therapist would attest, this is one of the most damaging things a parent can do to their youngsters. It makes them feel trapped in the middle, not knowing whether their allegiance should belong to Mom or Dad.
What a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that married folks are also guilty of badmouthing one another and alienating their children from the other parent. Heather, for example, did this for months to her 15-year-old daughter without realizing it. Struggling with a job she didn’t like, the onset of menopause, and a strained relationship with her husband, she confided in her daughter. She attacked her spouse for working long hours, being unloving, and not spending enough time with his family.
While she and her husband eventually mended their relationship, Heather saw her daughter being cold to her dad and avoiding him. She came to realize how she had poisoned their father-daughter bond by badmouthing him. By disclosing her marital woes to her daughter and not a friend or therapist, Heather had made a critical and consequential mistake. She had “parentified” her child, making her play the role of the adult in their dynamic. In the process of doing so, she made her husband look like a villain in her daughter’s eyes.
3. Becoming Enmeshed With Them
Good parenting requires moms and dads to remain emotionally separate from their kids, not emotionally enmeshed with them. A recent story in the news illustrates this point dramatically. An assistant high school principal in Florida hacked the school’s computer system so she could increase the number of votes her daughter received for homecoming queen in order to give her the title. This mother became so entwined with her daughter that receiving this honor felt like a victory for both of them even when achieved by cheating. She lost her way as a mom and forgot the ultimate goal of parenting: to rear an honest, kind, and hardworking individual who will contribute to society.
Debbie Pincus, a licensed mental health counselor, advises moms and dads to hold on to their own identities while parenting and not live through their kids. Moms and dads should stay engaged with their own friendships, hobbies, interests, and pursuits. In doing this, they’ll enhance their own well-being and rear kids who are confident and self-reliant. Pincus writes: "If you jump into his box and tell him what to do and how to act, how responsible for himself can he become? The two of you have effectively become entangled. Instead, stay in your own box, maintain your boundaries and take responsibility for yourself.”
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4. Not Letting Them Fail
When Melanie was in the fifth grade, she and her classmates recited poems they had memorized in front of the study body with their parents in attendance. She got so nervous on stage, though, she forgot an entire section of the piece. When she got home from school that day, her mom and dad didn't say a word about her performance, and their silence made Melanie feel even more ashamed. From that day forward, she avoided public speaking at all costs.
While Melanie’s parents thought they were doing the right thing by not bringing up the matter, they actually made her feel worse. It would have been far better if they acknowledged her nervousness and talked about how common it is to feel that way when speaking in public. It would have been the perfect opportunity for them to reminisce about times when they got scared and stumbled. Without their input, though, Melanie’s humiliation got magnified and she vowed to never let such a thing happen again.
Rachel Simmons, an author and parent educator, advises moms and dads to teach failure as a life skill to their children. After all, kids need to know that big accomplishments aren’t possible without lots of failed attempts. If they want to do well, they need to be persistent and take their missteps in stride. Parents need to praise their kids for showing grit because studies show that it, more than intelligence and talent, is the greatest predictor of success in life.
Simmons says parents should encourage their children to talk about both their triumphs and failures and they should do the same. Moreover, when moms and dads screw up, they should be kind to themselves. They should model for their youngsters how making mistakes is normal, inevitable, and part of stretching one’s abilities and taking risks.
In this video, a parent educator advises moms and dads to let their kids fail often because nobody can succeed without failure.
5. Parenting Them From Ego
Moms and dads are parenting from ego when they push their son to go out for football when he'd much rather try out for the latest school play. They’re parenting from ego when they pressure their daughter to get A's when she's clearly a C student. They’re parenting from ego when they over-program their kid with extra-curricular activities when he'd rather be home reading a book. They’re parenting from ego when they want their teen to go to a big name university when she's an introvert who'd be much happier at a smaller school.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a clinical therapist and the author of The Conscious Parent, counsels moms and dads to avoid parenting from a state of lack. They should always keep in mind that their kids aren’t here on earth to accomplish their unfulfilled childhood dreams or meet their lofty expectations. To help parents with this, Dr. Shefali recommends that they shift the paradigm and see their kids as their greatest teachers. Then, moms and dads won’t try to fix or control their youngsters but learn from them.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: My grandson is 11yrs old and is disobedient, always in trouble. When grounded he seems not to care and does the same thing again for which he was grounded. How can he be helped?
Answer: Thanks so much for your question. It sounds like your grandson is calling out for help. At 11 he's old enough to open up and provide some insight into why he's disobeying. Has there been a big change in his life recently--a divorce, a new school, the end of a friendship? He may be struggling with an issue that requires more than punishment. If he doesn't care about being grounded, he may be sad and depressed about something. Family counseling may be useful for getting at the heart of the matter and the family dynamics involved.
Your grandson is also old enough to understand that mutual respect is needed within a family. A "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" rule prevails. If he's not following the house rules, mom and dad are not motivated to do what he wants--driving him to his friend's house, taking him to the movies, or providing him with a cell phone. These are all perks he earns when he's a contributing member of the family unit.
Pointing out when he's doing helpful things will also make a big difference in his behavior. When kids are caught doing things well (cleaning their rooms, taking their dishes to the sink), it motivates them to continue.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers