It is apparent that parents are not being parents but rather partners while, at the same time, parents are being more like parents to their partners instead of partnering, and apparently I like tongue twisters. In case this first sentence was too confusing… I should’ve erased it, but I’m way prouder of it than I should be… let me try explaining this better. I keep finding that people are confusing their roles as parents and partners. With our partners, many of us turn into parents while with children and young people, parents are acting like partners. In a previous relationship, one of the major downfalls for me was I often felt like a parent. I was responsible for making all of the plans, making all of the decisions, figuring out the finances, while constantly trying to help her in some way. Being a parent to your partner can be appealing if your insecure like I was, but it is exhausting… and reaallllyyyy frustrating. If you’ve been there or are there, I’m sure you know what I mean. I find this is more of a problem for women… yes, I’m half woman so it makes sense I experienced this. Sometimes this is because the woman forces her power over her man, or the man simply surrenders all responsibility to her. Either way, it can be expected that one or both partners will eventually resent this dynamic: (parenting partner) “Make a decision for once!” (parented partner) “Let me do something for myself and stop telling me what to do!” A relationship like marriage is meant to be a partnership not a parenthood. If you’re struggling with this, I’d highly recommend seeing a therapist like myself to help redraw the relationship boundaries and expectations.
Oddly enough, as partners can parent the other, I’m finding more and more that parents are partnering with their kids. The education system is guilty of this too: (many school boards) “What do you want to learn? What project do you want to do?” (student) “How about the affects of creating a narcissistic generation who only does what they “feel” like doing because they’ve been so coddled and catered to?” Educators and parents often need to just make a decision. As a therapist I’ve seen some amazing people who are parents struggle with their teens, but the root problem is they’ve just been too nice and too catering. Having kids make too many decisions is a problem. For one, too much choice can cause unnecessary anxiety because there are too many things to think about. Two, there’s freedom in not having to make menial decisions, which allows kids to have more fun. Three, kids need to learn how to respect authority: (coddled teen) “Officer, I was speeding because I felt like it. What are you going to do about?” Four, kids need to know their parents are in charge, and can make decisions; there’s a sense of safety in this. It’s just like how having a curfew can help young people feel more loved than if their parents let them do whatever they want. Parents having rules they enforce means they care enough to pay attention. More importantly, parents have a duty to make decisions and to make their kids do things they don’t “feel” like doing when it’s for their benefit because it builds character, makes them healthier (not many kids will choose to eat their vegetables like they should; I wouldn’t have and I’m awesome), they could discover something new they like, teach them something they should know (I hated swimming lessons, but I’m grateful I did them now) or at least it will help them appreciate their free time doing what they choose to do. The way parenting should work is parents begin by making all of the choices as influenced by the baby’s needs (you don’t ask a baby his or her opinion for what colour you paint the nursery, but you should pay attention to know when he or she needs feeding and such). Overtime parents should make less and less of the choices until the young adult is fully responsible for making his or her own choices, which is ultimately when he or she moves out. I’m 35 and still live with my mom. I need to respect her authority and rules as my parent. When I move out soon, I will then be fully responsible… you know that thing many 18 year olds do when they go away to school.
A simple contrast of these two roles is as follows:
Parents: Make decisions and provide for the children (provision is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual). They keep their kids accountable, safe, and help them be the best person they can be with patience and love.
Partners: Make decisions together and provide for each other. They keep each other accountable, safe and help each other be the best person they can be with patience and love.
The difference is subtle but important. This week may you figure out how to partner with your partner and what it means to be a parent and/or a child to one.
Rev Chad David, www.ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people