Two Simple Steps to Move Past Paralyzed Parenting
"But my children have been through so much!"
"I don't want to rock the boat."
"I don't have a lot of time with my kids, disciplining them will ruin what little time I have!"
These are things we hear parents say all the time - and usually it's in response to their spouse voicing frustration around their parenting…or lack of parenting.
The very first fight Mike and I had was around parenting issues. In our pre-marriage counseling we were each asked to complete a detailed questionnaire to help assess our compatibility. Ours was specifically for step-couples. I was really hurt and irritated by one of Mike's answers. His answer revealed that he viewed me as a permissive parent (ouch!). I was not aware of this. I also didn't realize that following our upcoming marriage, he was hoping that we could implement more structure and boundaries around parenting my daughter, Annika (who was 5 at the time).
Confessions of a Paralyzed Parent
I hadn't realized that following my divorce, I'd become more and more permissive with my daughter. And, looking back I can see there were some complex issues that hindered my ability to function as an effective disciplinarian…I really felt paralyzed. Maybe you can relate to some of the emotions that I struggled with…
Fear is a factor that many parents struggle with, especially a non-custodial parent with limited time. We had a 50/50 schedule and I wanted my time to be positive and fun-filled…not stressful. Unfortunately, it's pretty easy to slide into making parental decisions based on our fears. Doubt and fear can heighten if the kids' "other home" doesn't seem to enforce boundaries or bad-mouths you. And what about those precarious pre-teen and teen years - parents can become fearful that kids won't want to spend time in their home if they experience anything negative, like discipline or correction.
Guilt is another strong emotion that can feed an avoidance of discipline. When I was a single mom, I had no shortage of guilt. Almost every parent experiences guilt to some degree as they've watched their kids struggle through a divorce or grieve a lost parent. Parents may also feel guilt over misguided choices they've made that have negatively impacted their kids. When battling guilt, parents may be compelled to over-compensate in an attempt to 'make-up' for pain their kids have experienced.
Fear, guilt and other factors create pressure and insecurity that can paralyze a parent and leave them ineffective when it comes to disciplining. This can lead to permissive parenting where poor behavior is overlooked and children are sheltered from negative consequences. Parents may also resist disciplining because they view the relationship with their kids as fragile and unable to bear stress.
But how does permissive parenting impact children?
What Kids Really Need
I knew this was an important question - even as I was irritated and hurt by Mike's remarks all those years ago. At the time, Annika was certainly calling all the shots as I scurried around trying to make sure everything went her way. And when it didn't, she knew that throwing a huge tantrum would eventually get her exactly what she wanted! She wouldn't listen or follow rules, she was disrespectful and demanding. In reality, I had very little parental authority with her.
I realized this wasn't the kind of mom I wanted to be. I learned that every child needs consistent and firm parental guidance - a trusted parent who's willing to set and enforce appropriate limits. This is crucial to children's development and to their overall success in life. And even though they make not like them, appropriate limits make children feel secure and loved. I cared too much about Annika to let her grow up without learning healthy boundaries and appropriate behavior. So, I decided to regain my parental authority.
After recognizing the importance of stepping up to be the parent my daughter needed me to be, I had to get to work! Here's two steps every parent can take to overcome permissive parenting and break free from feeling paralyzed:
Step #1: Get help! The Love and Logic parenting method worked great for us, but there are many resources and support systems out there to help parents improve their skills. Learn how to discipline with compassion and empathy - your children will benefit from your efforts. And you may consider working with a counselor to process your own emotions if fear, guilt or other factors are affecting your ability to parent.
Step #2: Get unified as a couple. In an earlier post, Mike shared how step-parents should be focusing on "connection not correction" with step-children. But this process can easily be sabotaged, leaving the step-parent feeling frustrated, if the parent is unwilling to step up and claim parental authority with their kids.
When it comes to working through parenting struggles, don't shut down. Instead, couples need to openly communicate and strive for objectivity and empathy toward each other. Differing perspectives around parenting is common with step-couples - this stuff is not easy. It was hard for me to hear Mike point out my parental blind spots, but I'm glad that I finally listened and embraced his support - it has definitely paid off for our family.
Parents, the truth is that the behavioral standards of the home will follow your lead. Step up to become the parental authority that your kids, and your family need. You'll be glad you did!
QUESTION: What's one step you can take to break free from being a paralyzed parent? Leave a comment below…