It’s tough growing up with a parent (or parents) who are fixated on controlling your every move. Most parents don’t set out to be this way. And in most cases, it's not like they exactly control every single move, but to a child or teen, it certainly can feel that way. You might not have even realized it was happening to you, but if you go over the signs of having a controlling parent, it’s easy to recognize in retrospect. While my father spent most of his time working to provide for our family, my mother was definitely more controlling than I would have liked. She policed what I wore (I’m still not over the horrendous puffy-sleeved dress she made me wear to 4th grade graduation, and that was just the beginning), didn’t let me go to friend’s houses until well into high school, scrutinized the music I listened to, even snooped around in my belongings when I wasn’t around. To her, it was being a cautious and concerned parent; firm, but out of love. But I know now that there's a line between being involved in your kids' lives and trying to stay in the driver's seat well past the point at which you should be letting them assesrt some independence...and it’s not the type of mother I want to be.
While I already have a list of things I plan to never do with my own son, I know that there will be some mistakes made. I can’t help how I was raised and who I’ve grown into. I recognize, for example, that I should have allowed my son to feed himself early on, rather than taking cues from my mom and ending up with a toddler who refuses to feed himself regularly. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to change, to be the parent I want to be, to accept and love and nurture my boy to be independent and feel respected at every moment of his life. Those of you who grew up with a controlling parent or two probably know what I mean, and you’re all free to use this as a checklist. May none among us end up being overbearing like the people who raised us (no matter how much we may love them). Here are things we'll never do to our kids:
Decide On All Of Their Outfits
While my son doesn’t pick out all his outfits yet (he’s 2 and would rather play with his cars right now than stare into his dresser), I do try to encourage him to choose things he likes. I will never, ever make him wear something he hates, and especially not to an important event just because “what will the other people think/say?!” Who gives a damn anyway?
Criticize Their Appearance And/Or Body In General
It's pretty much a good rule to never, ever do this, unless you’re totally OK with potentially causing your child to feel shame or self-loathing. Instead, parents who were raised by a controlling parent know to praise their kids' bodies and their minds, and to tell them how wonderful and beautiful they are. Honestly, how can you not say that to your own kid?
Forbid Them From Watching TV Shows/Movies/Reading Books Without Having A Clear And Reasonable Reason Why
I had so many restrictions on what I watched growing up (and rather inconsistent ones at that), and was never given good reasons for any of them (in retrospect, most of them were not good reasons). Save for highly explicit and violent stuff, I don’t see a reason to prevent my child from watching most things if he shows a genuine interest and is willing to discuss the content with me after (while he’s young, anyway). No matter what your boundaries with your kid's media consumption are, if you grew up with controlling parents who gave a lot of rules without a lot of explanation, you're way more likely to want to give your own kid more than that, even if you aren't giving them broad license to consume whatever they want.
Criticize What And How They Eat
Want to negatively influence your child's relationship with food, and increase their chances of falling into disordered eating? Nitpick at their meals. Tell them they eat too little or too much, or tell them what you think they’re eating is going to make them fat or talk about how gross their food is. OK, actually, please don’t do ANY of that. Those of us who grew up with controlling parents know all too well how damaging it can be.
Throw Out Their Belongings Without Talking To Them First
When I was 5, my mom threw out my brother’s Guns N Roses tape and I helped him rescue it from the neighborhood trash bin. Throwing out our things will not make us stop liking those things, but it will add years of resentment to our memory bins.
Forbid Them From Asking Questions
I hate when parents try to lord power over their kids by not taking any questions. You’re not a politician. This isn't a press conference. Be a good parent and answer the damn questions (unless it’s like the 500th “are we there yet?” but that’s a different story).
Tell Them They’re Not Also Allowed To Help Make The Household Rules Simply Because They’re Children
Everyone who lives in a household should be allowed to make some of the rules. Even if you're giving them marginal (or entirely fake) power over meaningless choices, growing up with controlling parents makes you understand how important it is to at least make sure your kids feel consistently heard, and that their needs/wants are valued. Being a parent doesn’t mean you get to be a freaking dictator.
Bad Mouth Their Friends
Seriously, why do some parents think this is OK? Especially when they’re kids, for crying out loud!
Refuse To Let Them Attend Friends’ Birthday Parties Or Other Important Social Activities For No Real Good Reason
Birthday parties, school dances, first sleepovers, graduation parties... These are major events. OK, you don’t have to let your kid go to every social event, but preventing them from attending these for no reason can feel just plain cruel to a kid.
“Because I Said So, That’s Why”
Don’t say it, in my opinion. It doesn’t mean a thing and your kids will eventually catch on to that.
Put Down Their Interests, Even As A “Joke”
So often, having a controlling parent means being told what you should and shouldn't care about. There's nothing healthy or supportive about that.
Pressure Them Into Activities They Don’t Like
The truth is, we don’t have to control every hour of our kids' day. If they don’t want to try out for little league or marching band or capoeira, then we let them do something else. Because we don't want to be the parent who lives vicariously through our kid. It's so seriously unnecessary.
Belittle Their Feelings In Any Way
Kids feel things way more strongly than adults do. Hell, don’t you remember being a kid? The smallest things meant so much more because your world is smaller. It’s so hurtful when parents belittle these emotions, and nothing teaches you that better than growing up with a controlling parent yourself.
Control Their Speech And The Way They Express Themselves
My approach? Let kids talk how they want to talk. Sure, I'm all for explaining that certain language shouldn’t be used in certain settings (mainly to avoid arguing with other uptight adults) but in general, I'm all for letting them express themselves. It's even more important to me because of the times when I didn't feel like I could.
Come Down On Them If They Bring Home Bad Grades
Sometimes we do poorly on a test. It happens to everyone. What’s unfair is setting unreasonable expectations for your kids so that they’re terrified to show you a test or report card for fear of being berated or worse. Better to talk to you child and find out how you can help them be more successful on the next one.
Refuse To Listen To Them When They Try To Explain Something
Refusing to listen to your child means blowing a prime opportunity to get to know something important about them. If they made a mistake and you respond with, “I don’t want to hear it,” all you’re showing them is that you don’t care about their side of the story. Why should they ever confide in you?
Punish Them For Disagreeing With Us
I feel like we should just let our kids disagree. Maybe we'll even learn something. I think a key component to not being an overly controlling parent is simply acknowledging that we don't, in fact, know everything, and that teaching lessons can be a two-way street in parenthood.
Spying On Our Kids In Any Way
Seriously, NO. Beyond the days of baby monitors, there's really no good reason for this.
Tell Them They’re Not Allowed To Date Someone (Unless It’s A Serious Reason)
This just ends up in kids hiding relationships, and sneaking off to places you’re unaware of to go see their forbidden love. They're going to date whomever they please. The only thing we can control is how comfortable they feel being honest with us about it.
Withhold Love And Affection Just Because They’re Being Disagreeable
This is just plain cruel.
Never Admit When We're Wrong
No one is perfect, not even parents. The sooner our kids learn this, the better off they’ll be. Ideally, they’ll see us as human and respect us as such, and maybe even admire us for it.