Many of today’s parents suffer (and unfortunately a good number seem to feel their suffering is a sign of conscientious parenting) from what I call “upside-down, inside-out, and backwards parent-view disorder.”
First, an explanation of the term parent view. Just as one’s worldview consists of beliefs concerning the meaning and purpose of human existence and a set of core moral understandings, so one’s parent view consists of beliefs concerning children, along with beliefs concerning one’s role and responsibilities as a parent.
A proper parent view includes both a correct understanding of children and a correct definition of the noun parent. A proper parent view leads to correct parentbehavior—relaxed, loving, and authoritative. That approach, in turn, results in proper child behavior. (And, yes, I am asserting that the unproven and unscientific notion that “persistent improper behavior reflects some internal malfunction in parents or children” benefits mental health professionals and the pharmaceutical industry only.)
Upside-down, inside-out, and backwards parent-view disorder manifests in various ways, all of which reflect general confusion when it comes to the question “Who’s in charge here?”
Example: A father recently told me that in response to a class assignment to draw one’s daddy doing his favorite thing, his first-grade daughter drew him taking a nap on the sofa. He assigned great meaning to this, taking it to mean that he was shirking his fatherly duties. He told me that he does not want to be seen by his daughter as a slacker dad and resolved to take no more naps when she is around.
Mind you, this father’s job is mentally, emotionally, and often physically demanding. There are times, in fact, when it is dangerous to the point of being life-threatening. Nonetheless, he was surprised when I told him that (a) his daughter’s drawing contained no deep psychological meaning, and (b) he had every right to take a nap whenever he felt the need for one, whether his daughter was around or not. Furthermore, I told him he had every right to tell his daughter that she was not to disturb him while he was napping. That provoked a wide-eyed “Really?”
Yes, really. This father was upside-down, inside-out, and turned around backwards. He obviously thought it was his responsibility to rise to what he assumed were his daughter’s expectations of him. To the contrary, it is her responsibility to rise to his expectations
(assuming they are reasonable, which they are, and which should include not disturbing him when he is napping), and the earlier she learns this, the better for all concerned, including herself.
This dad’s job requires that he be away from home a good amount of time. Like many folks in that situation, he believes that when he comes home, his first obligation is to his kids. Not so. When he comes home, his foremost obligation is to his wife. He should reenter his family as a husband first, a father second. Actually, by putting his marriage first, he is doing for his children the single best thing he can possibly do for them.
Children need parents who are right-side up, right-side out, and facing forward. In other words, they need parents who possess a proper parent view and can, therefore, give a proper answer to the question “Who’s in charge here?”
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.