Our Kids are Not Our Kings
“The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.”
(King Edward VIII)
When parents are obeying their children, living and responding kowtow to the child’s needs and behavior, it’s not always obvious. Our three-year-olds aren’t clad in togas and wreaths of gold leaves barking orders or cracking whips, after all. Children do not take control or hijack the remote control from their parents—we give it to them.
And sometimes we even relinquish control when we believe we’re doing something seemingly “parental”. Think about the act of child-proofing a home. Necessary health and safety hazard precautions aside, great lengths are taken to “protect” our kids and our things—foam bumpers adhered to every corner, white couches traded for stain-repellant micro suede sofas, breakable vases relocated from coffee tables to higher shelves or storage, electronics removed from the living area replaced by their toys.
When we look at it, the house is practically transformed into the child’s own bespoke territory—a universe revolving around them in which mistakes are removed from the equation (spilling juice on the sofa is fine since it’s stain-resistant) instead of teaching them boundaries and consequences (juice isn’t allowed on said sofa). By removing “problems” and cushioning the home for the benefit of the child, rather than setting boundaries of what is accessible to them (their toys) and what is off-limits (our vases and electronics), a child is robbed of learning to adjust and live in the parents’ world. The dog begins to walk the owner.
Here’s another example, as the kids get a little older: ending every statement of direction with the question, “okay?” As in, “We’re gonna leave the park in ten minutes, okay?” Or, “we’re gonna put all your toys away, okay?” What we’re probably meaning when we ask is “Do you understand?”, but it comes across as a weak plea for their permission. If we really are just making sure they get what we’re saying, then let’s just say that: “In five minutes we’re going to go upstairs and start getting ready for bed. Do you understand?” But not even that is really necessary. More often than not, we can just calmly tell ‘em and strongly lead ‘em. “Hey dude, you got five minutes till we go upstairs for bed, and I’m setting the timer. See ya then.”
Finally, here’s what parents obeying their children can look like in the teen years. Instead of the teens asking permission to go out on the weekend, parents start asking their teens if they have any plans. Or, they find themselves being told what’s going to happen: “Hey Mom, I need you to drive me to Kim’s house to hang out.” Perhaps we’re just glad she’s going to Kim’s house, and not Kendra’s. Or perhaps we’re just excited to get the house all to ourselves without her. Regardless, the cart is leading the horse. “Hey there girl…I love that you’re growing older and practicing your freedom, but if you would like to go somewhere, you need to ask for my permission. And if you’d like me to take you there, you need to ask me for that as well. Finally, since I have a life that does not revolve around yours, you need to think about asking me sooner than later, because I may have plans of my own that don’t include being your personal Lyft driver.”
As you take back your remote control, and as you resume your position of leadership, resist the urge to do it with rage, or resentment. It’s not their fault we gave them the keys to the kingdom, so we shouldn’t be angry when they acted like our Kings and Queens. Just stay calm, cool, and connected as you politely, but firmly, lead them off the throne and back to their proper place.
Peace begins with pause,