On my Good Boys & Girls post, Becky made an astute observation:
My parents were kind of overly strict in many ways, and I think part of that backfired in a couple ways. One is that my siblings all went completely rebellious. Two is that although I followed the rules, I still have a slight trepidation whenever I’m around them.
That’s a subject I should have gotten to, but didn’t. And a real concern for any parent who wants to instill any discipline on their children.
The success of the Himmelreich girls took its toll on family relations in a such a serious way that they’re only now recovering.
Dr. Himmelreich can be a pretty forceful man and his relationship to his daughters (particularly his older two) suffered a great deal because of that. In fact, one of Clancy’s great motivations for academic success was the ability to get a full-ride scholarship so that she could get out of the house, the city, and the state.
And, compared to her middle sister, she was the more moderate one. Someone recently remarked about the sister that she’s spent so much time being “not Dad” that she’s only recently begun figuring out who she is.
That, obviously, is something that any parent wants to avoid. With the help of time, distance, and medication things have gotten a lot better recently. But even so, it’s a tragedy all its own.
I think - or I would like to think - a lot of it has to do with style more than demands. Clancy and I each have a parent that we’ve had rocky relationship with. In both cases I think a lot of it had more to do with attitude than strictness. At least in our cases.
A case-and-point, we’ve both resolved never to yell at our children. More than just damaging to our relationship with our respective parents, it wasn’t helpful. My father solemnly saying “I can’t trust you after this” had ten times the effect of Mom yelling “What the hell were you thinking?!”
Given some of the problems that run through the Himmelreich (her father’s) family and Hertzog (my mother’s) families, some of the problems were unavoidable. It’s possible that Clancy’s sister, a provocateur by nature, would have rebelled against any rules she didn’t fully understand (and what 16 year old really understands why the rules are what they are?) no matter how they were expressed. It’s something I think any parent would have to keep an eye out for.
But kids like Clancy’s sister can also get a rise out of bombastic conflict. Kids like Clancy and I are more likely to wilt and retreat into a more depressive state. I’m not sure how many cases yelling and screaming helps anyone except as a release valve for the parent (which, if that’s its own purpose, is not sufficient).
Backlash can also come in the form of secrets. Kids will always necessarily have secrets from their parents. A truly honest and open relationship is practically impossible (and actually could be indicative of problems, a subject for a later post perhaps?) throughout the teenage years.
A parent that says his 16 year old kid can’t go out after 8:00 runs the risk of the kid sneaking out. One problem becomes three: the kid is out late, the parents don’t know where the kid is, and once people ‘cross the line’ they’re more likely to be cavalier about their actions because they’ve already crossed the line.
On the other hand, the answer to that is not to let them go out whenever they want because that’s giving way too much power to kids who are not yet ready for that power.
To use the sex example, a parent that refuses to acknowledge that their kids are sexually active are more likely to discover that their kid has been sexually active under unfortunate circumstances (pregnancy, for example). But there is an unavoidable wink-wink aspect to sex education and giving twelve year olds condoms and the pill.
The less you expect, the less you’re going to receive. The wider you put the boundaries out, the further they will explore.
Between Clancy and I, I’m likely to be the more permissive one. Some of my most important lessons in life were learned doing things that Clancy wasn’t allowed to do. On the other hand, she’s a doctor and I’m a $9.50/hr codemonkey.
But Becky is definitely right. You don’t want to build up too much resentment. Not just because of the developmental problems a constant state of rebellion cause, but because I don’t think any parent wants to wake up and realize that while their kid may love them, he or she doesn’t like them very much.