Sometimes well meaning parents seem to confuse their sheer ‘brilliance’ with sheer desperation…and then others read about it and decide to do the same. It’s a recipe for disaster and it makes my blood boil.
Now, that might seem a very harsh thing for me to say, but it’s just the way I feel right now.
I follow many different blogs and websites trying to get a sense of what others are doing and thinking. It’s part of my job to know what’s trending out there with parents and I thought I had seen it all, until this landed in my inbox today. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t, seldom do I say anything about the antics of others but today I had a visceral reaction to this particular picture…
It is accompanied by the caption that says “Stick a lock through the holes on the end of electrical plugs when your kids get grounded. It saves you from having to physically remove items from their rooms. Freaking brilliant.” – Brandy
Well, at a first glance maybe it is ‘ freaking brilliant’ BUT that is surely only the case if you happen to be on the hunt for new measures to ‘control’ your children’s behaviour. When parents are impressed by this sort of trickery intended to coerce their children into complying, I think they are clearly already in trouble. Serious trouble.
My concern is not so much the actual act of clamping a padlock onto the plug, it’s what that lock represents. To me I see it as a symbol of contrived power over a child and it says ‘See, I can take away the things that you really care about until you have done what I want. I have all the power and you have none. You need me more than I need you.’
Now, that’s very different to natural power, which relies on a well developed parent-child relationship in order to maintain familial order and to foster a child’s growth towards emotional and psychological maturity. The type of deep connection I am referring to is one that drives children to want to do the bidding of their parents for their own intrinsic reasons rather than feeling pushed into complying because of extrinsic measures like rewards, consequences, bribes and punishment.
The natural power to parent a child is built on a foundation of attachment that exists between the parent and child, where both are in right relationship and want the best for each other out of reciprocal love and mutual respect. It’s a connection fuelled by a feeling of sameness, significance,belonging, loyalty, love and a sense of being known by each other. It takes years to foster and grow and it says, ‘I am your parent and I know what you need. I am here for you and I have your best interests at heart. No matter what you do, you’re still my kid.’
Don’t we all resort to using ‘contrived power’ some of the time? Yes, of course we do. But do we all let it escalate to the place where you have to keep upping the ante to get your kids to comply as they get older and smarter? I hope not.
Sure you can make a four, or six, maybe even an eight year old do what you want them to do because you are the parent and you hold almost all the cards. Harsh to hear, but true. That’s often where the trouble starts, with parenting our young children. During our interaction with our young, parents are led to believe that these contrived methods actually work and they incorrectly assume that they will serve them well into their parenting future. Not so.
It is a completely different ball game when attempting to use these same control tactics on a thirteen or fifteen or seventeen year old. These teenagers are often bigger and stronger than their parents and the days of carrying them to put them in ‘Time Out’ in order to teach them a lesson are long gone. Parents of older children find themselves scrabbling to find their child’s currency so that they can use it to bargain their way into getting ‘appropriate’ behaviour out of their brood. They look around for what the child cares about in order to use it against them.
Let’s not even go down the road of what parents will need to be threatening with, or taking away, by the time their ‘children’ are eighteen, twenty or even thirty years old. By then you have probably lost all hope, you’ll be exhausted from trying to padlock all the gadget plugs and from hauling the battery out of the car every night. Chances are you will have given up on even trying to enforce the rules because it’s just too hard. Strange how nothing you do seems to work like it used to when they were little, don’t you think?
Sadly your child no longer needs you as much as they once did and you lack the deep relationship you need to get you through the turbulent times. The tables have turned. They now have the power to slam the door on their way out after being told by you that they may not go out with their friends tonight. They can choose to come home to you or not, every night. You’ll be the one left shaking your head asking yourself…’Where did I go wrong, why is my child rejecting me?’ (Side note: this is one of the most popular searches topics that shows up on my blog stats page).
So where to from here? Thankfully, there is good news.
There are so many things that you can do to keep from spiralling down into the abyss of having to use contrived parenting power. You can make a change right now by starting to read whatever you can get your hands on about the developmental approach rooted in attachment.
Once you do, please don’t assume that all of your parenting days going forward will be filled nothing but with sunshine and roses. They won’t, but at least you’ll understand why you have to value your relationship with your children more than you want them to behave appropriately. Once you have that as your goal, the rest will follow. You’ll see.
As parents, we’re generally a desperate bunch. We’re all just trying to do the best that we know how with what we have. We all lose our way and do whatever we think will get our children to where ever it is that they need to go in their lives. We’re not bad people, we just sometimes need another way through.
There is an alternative, and you don’t need padlocks and other extreme measures to get you there. Just a little common sense and the best that developmental and attachment science has to offer.
I hope you don’t stop until you find it.