Parental Misconceptions

From a toddler's height to a teen's work ethic to an adult child's marriage, a range of studies shows that moms and dads may be among the worst judges of their kids. But there are deeply adaptive rasons for parents' enduring misperceptions.

I Regret Giving My Kids Too Much Power

Deferring to kids' whims is not the way to a peaceful home.

conflict-resolution skills take time to build
conflict-resolution skills take time to build
I grew up with a lot of histrionics from my mother, and I was determined that my kids should never be subjected to that. But I indulged in the other extreme- bending over backwards to please my kids. I succumbed to the baby boomer ethic of rejecting authority instead of learning to distinguish good authority from bad. Of course kids are affected by that. If you grow up with the expectation that those in authority will submit to your whims, you don't build reality skills.

I intended to model kindness, but I modeled timidity instead. My fear of conflict taught my kids to fear conflict. It taught them that the angriest person wins, even if the angry person is unreasonable.
Treating kids as equal gives them power they haven't earned. It gives them power they misuse. This is poor preparation in how to function in the world.

When my oldest was seven, I stumbled on a book called Dare to Discipline. It was a revelation to me. The positive role of discipline had not yet penetrated the knee-jerk anti-authority bubble I lived in. I was reluctant to tell my friends about the subversive material I was reading. The reaction I expected oozes through the Amazon consumer reviews of the book. Painful memories of our early vulnerability infuse our thinking about discipline and it is hard for us to see beyond our own pain. But when I read the book, I instantly knew it was true.

Humans are not born "good." We are born primed for survival. In the animal world, survival means grabbing food when you can. Young animals that grab get bitten and scratched by bigger animals, and they learn to defer. If a youngster grew up with the expectation that the rest of the world would defer to them, they are not necessarily well-prepared to go out into the world. They are likely to get bitten and scratched in a big way later on.

Parents can protect their children not by tolerating bad habits but by building responsible habits. Parents that submit to bad behavior wire their children up to submit to the bad behavior or to inflict bad behavior on others.

It's true that some parents discipline excessively - the need for discipline does not justify cruelty, manipulation or stifling control. But other parents...you know who you are...abandon the leadership role and put the kids in charge.

Children feel insecure when they have no leadership. I understand this today but you could not have convinced me of it when I was a young mom. I was going to spare my children the manipulative control I experienced as a child, and didn't realize what more was needed.

I suddenly got it when I saw Cesar Millan, TV's Dog Whisperer. Cesar learned that dogs become neurotic when their owners are deferential. He shows how dogs immediately calm down when their owner asserts calm leadership. The anti-authority crowd hates him, but a picture is worth a thousand words. When I saw those dogs calm down instantly, I learned something big. But my kids were already grown.

When our children go out into the world, they learn how hard it is for humans to co-exist - not in the abstract, but in the same room. The skill of getting along with others takes years to build. When those years are spent in rebellion mode, skills are not a-building. Parents may delude themselves into believing that a child's oppositionalism is a sign of strength or idealism. Evenutally it's plain that automatic resistance has self-destructive consequences, but by then the habit is hard to break (although Dr. John McKinnon's books offer hope).

When I was young I was sure that life would be easy as soon as my parents got out of the way. I thought kids are seeds that grow into perfect flowers on their own. I thought wrong, and there is no do-over.

My book, Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity tells the rest of the story. We humans are born with lots of neurons but very few connections between them. We are born to build our operating system from our early experience. More on this story in my post Why I'm a Registered None.

Parental Misconceptions