I read your article last week about parenting and I have a question about it. I can see that I am control focused and I have probably damaged the relationship with my kids because of my high expectations and need for obedience. I think they have lost respect for me too, and think they can never do anything good enough. This has even made them a little passive aggressive, so they tell me what I want to hear to my face, then turn away and do whatever they want. It’s almost like in trying too hard to have control, I now have even less. Is there anything I can do at this point to turn this around?
First you must ask yourself if you want control and obedience, or if you are willing to let that go, for self-driven, responsible, wise children who respect you.
It’s super easy, as a parent, to want obedience and control, because these make you feel safer, but in the end I think you will agree that you don’t really want blindly obedient sheep who are easy to control. You want strong, wise, independent children who make good choices for themselves — right?
The reason you subconsciously like control and obedience is that when children misbehave, it triggers both your core fears, failure and loss. Bad behavior makes you afraid you’re failing as a parent (or afraid what others will think of you) and it creates your greatest fear — losing them. So, controlling them seems less scary.
When these fears get triggered in you, your autopilot subconscious reaction (that comes before you have a chance to think) is usually to get angry, emotional, controlling or self-focused. In this place you aren’t even capable of seeing what your child needs in that moment. You are too focused on you. In this place you usually yell, control, punish or push to get whatever you need to quiet your fear.
When you parent like this (from fear) your children will feel it and they know this whole thing is all about you and what you need to make you feel better. This isn’t about them or coming from love.
This is what makes them lose respect for you. Fear is never respect. Fearless strength, wisdom, love and compassion are.
I think you would agree that blind obedience isn’t really what you want. What you really want are happy, wise, well-balanced, mature children who respect you and have a healthy connection with you, which gives you some influence in their lives to help them. So here are some tips to create that:
1) If you want your kids to respect you, you have to be respectable. Respectable means you have control over your subconscious reactions and think before you speak. It means you are mentally and emotionally mature and wise. A respectable parent is a conscious parent, who is showing by example that good decisions pay off and create happiness. You must be someone who practices what you preach and deserves respect. If you struggle with this, I highly recommend some coaching or counseling to work on your fear issues and learn some tools and skills for making your own life better.
2) If you want your kids to respect you, you must be respectful. This means you show them the same level of gracious, kind, mature behavior you would use with peers or adult friends in your life. (But this isn’t about being a lenient friend instead of a parent.) It’s about treating every human being, even the ones in your house, with courtesy and respect, honoring their value as a human being as the same as yours. This means you will ask questions about what they think and feel, and really listen and even care about their opinions. It means you will include them in the process of setting rules and their consequences, because if they have a voice they will respect you and the rules more. If you want respect, you must give it.
3) Watch your attachments and make sure your attachment to “the connection you have with your child” is more important than your attachments to anything else. Most of us have some unhealthy attachments and care too much about tasks, things, ideas, control and approval. These attachments sometimes cause us to put these things before people. On our psychological inclinations chart (on my website) you will see that many of us are overly attached to these things:
Ideas — We only feel safe if our family members fit the expectations or ideas we have about what they should be or do. Anything outside of that ideal feels unsafe. So, you may need conformity so badly you may hurt the people or sacrifice a connection for it. Your children may start to resent your ideals as more important than they are, which means they will further reject it.
Approval — This means your sense of self-worth comes from what others think of you and/or your children. An attachment here will again make children lose respect for you because your neediness and people pleasing come from fear and weakness, not strength or confidence.
Achievement/tasks — This means you attach your value to your performance and you are overly focused on doing everything and doing it perfectly. This may mean you put the projects you do for your family ahead of actually showing up for them emotionally. You may see sitting with them, asking questions and listening, as lazy or less important than cooking, cleaning or working.
4) Remember your children are here to teach you every bit as much as you’re here to teach them. Every problem, power struggle or misbehavior is your perfect lesson or chance to grow. I believe your specific children were sent to you, because your unique challenges are exactly what they need to grow. There are no accidents, and though you aren’t a perfect parent, you are apparently the perfect parent for them. If you mess them up, it will only be in the perfect way they needed to be messed up, so they can spend the rest of their life learning, growing and processing these perfect challenges for them.
5) Be authentic, vulnerable and real with your kids. Let them see you make mistakes, apologize, and learn. Show them you’re a struggling student in the classroom of life too. Let them see you get hurt, forgive, and find balance between caring for yourself and caring for others. Don’t be a drama queen though and subject them to emotional immaturity, but do let them see your heart.
6) Do more listening than talking. Have great conversations that don’t turn into lectures. Listen more because you are actually interested in understanding them, not just guiding them. Help them to explore their options in each situation and figure out why some choices are better than others. Tell them they are smart and should make good decisions for themselves, not for you. Have great conversations about what it means to have integrity, and be honest and responsible. These conversations aren’t about control, though, they are about being authentic and sharing why you have decided to live the way you have. Always ask permission before you talk, share or advise your kids. “Would you be open to letting me share something I’ve learned with you?” This is a great permission question, but honor it if they say no.
7) Understand your child’s unique personality, psychology, fears and values. You can do this by asking lots of questions or you can get some professional help to discover your child’s unique psychological inclinations. Armed with this knowledge you will know exactly what they need.
You can rebuild a healthy connection with your child, but you may also need to sincerely apologize first. Explain how your fears of failure and loss have made you overly attached to control, approval, ideas, task or things. Let them know you are now committed to change that. Work on being more respectable and respectful and you will earn back their respect.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is hosting a parenting workshop on Aug. 25. Please visit her website for information.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.