05 Jul Parenting is NOT for the Faint Hearted
By Rachel Allison
Several years ago one of our sons was going through a difficult stage that stretched our patience and parenting skills. Our son was sixteen and determined to have his freedom and his way. He was beginning to understand the art of manipulation and he was determined to make the most of it.
I was blind sided by it at first, but it didn’t take me long to recognize what he was trying to do. After many discussions that often frustrated us both, my comeback was…”I am the dog. You are the tail…the tail doesn’t wag the dog.” He HATED my saying it, but he understood the message.
According to Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell in their book “Living in the Age of Entitlement, the Narcissism Epidemic,”
“It is increasingly common to see parents relinquishing authority to young children, showering them with unearned praise, protecting them from their teacher’s criticisms, giving them expensive automobiles and allowing them to have freedom but not the responsibility that goes with it. Not that long ago, kids knew who the boss was—and it wasn’t them. It was Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad weren’t your “friends.” They were your parents.”
Then, Twenge and Campbell get at one of the true causes of entitlement:
The sea change in parenting is driven by the core cultural value of self-admiration and positive feelings. Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.”
My husband and I well remember the Sunday morning when this son announced that he was not going to church with the family.
This is what our family does every Sunday morning, and my husband and I left his bedroom to talk about what our reaction should be to his defiance.
We determined that we would calmly explain that if he wanted to come home from church and sleep the rest of the day, we were fine with that, but he was a part of our family and we expected him to attend church with us. He argued, but we were persistent, and we were grateful when he climbed out of bed and grudgingly got ready for church.
That week he announced that he was going to move in with a friend’s family. Again my husband and I conferred on just how to respond.
My husband started asking questions. How will this family feel about your going to their refrigerator every time you get hungry? Will this family let you use their car every time you want to drive somewhere? (My husband and I are firm believers in our teenagers driving one of the family cars…NOT having a car of their own.) Even recognizing how uncomfortable he would be in that situation, our son held firm. So my husband calmly explained that until he turned eighteen, we have every right to petition the courts for a restraining order against this friend and his family. Could or would we have done this…I don’t know. I just know that our son understood that we wanted him in our home and that we would do everything within our power to keep him.
The following Sunday was another battle as to whether he would or would not attend church with the family. Again, we were calm but firm. And again he attended church with the family.
I don’t know what was going on with this son and his resolve to defy authority, but after the second week he never argued with us again about attending church, and he never again brought up the subject of moving out.
Did our rules change to accommodate him? No. Did we show continued love, acceptance and support? Yes, just like always.
I often wonder what would have happened if we had given in to his demands, and allowed his manipulation to continue. No one knows, but years later he wrote the sweetest letter, thanking us for holding firm and guiding him through those difficult times.
The kicker? Shortly after this same son was married, he and his wife were visiting in our home. I can’t remember the conversation, but I do remember at one point our son saying to his wife, “I am the dog. You are the tail. The tail doesn’t wag the dog.” He winked at me and laughed as his wife gave him a loving shove.