On my Good Boys & Girls post, Becky made an astute observation:

My parents were kind of overly strict in many ways, and I think part of that backfired in a couple ways. One is that my siblings all went completely rebellious. Two is that although I followed the rules, I still have a slight trepidation whenever I’m around them.

That’s a subject I should have gotten to, but didn’t. And a real concern for any parent who wants to instill any discipline on their children.

The success of the Himmelreich girls took its toll on family relations in a such a serious way that they’re only now recovering.

Dr. Himmelreich can be a pretty forceful man and his relationship to his daughters (particularly his older two) suffered a great deal because of that. In fact, one of Clancy’s great motivations for academic success was the ability to get a full-ride scholarship so that she could get out of the house, the city, and the state.

And, compared to her middle sister, she was the more moderate one. Someone recently remarked about the sister that she’s spent so much time being “not Dad” that she’s only recently begun figuring out who she is.

That, obviously, is something that any parent wants to avoid. With the help of time, distance, and medication things have gotten a lot better recently. But even so, it’s a tragedy all its own.

I think – or I would like to think – a lot of it has to do with style more than demands. Clancy and I each have a parent that we’ve had rocky relationship with. In both cases I think a lot of it had more to do with attitude than strictness. At least in our cases.

A case-and-point, we’ve both resolved never to yell at our children. More than just damaging to our relationship with our respective parents, it wasn’t helpful. My father solemnly saying “I can’t trust you after this” had ten times the effect of Mom yelling “What the hell were you thinking?!”

Given some of the problems that run through the Himmelreich (her father’s) family and Hertzog (my mother’s) families, some of the problems were unavoidable. It’s possible that Clancy’s sister, a provocateur by nature, would have rebelled against any rules she didn’t fully understand (and what 16 year old really understands why the rules are what they are?) no matter how they were expressed. It’s something I think any parent would have to keep an eye out for.

But kids like Clancy’s sister can also get a rise out of bombastic conflict. Kids like Clancy and I are more likely to wilt and retreat into a more depressive state. I’m not sure how many cases yelling and screaming helps anyone except as a release valve for the parent (which, if that’s its own purpose, is not sufficient).

Backlash can also come in the form of secrets. Kids will always necessarily have secrets from their parents. A truly honest and open relationship is practically impossible (and actually could be indicative of problems, a subject for a later post perhaps?) throughout the teenage years.

A parent that says his 16 year old kid can’t go out after 8:00 runs the risk of the kid sneaking out. One problem becomes three: the kid is out late, the parents don’t know where the kid is, and once people ‘cross the line’ they’re more likely to be cavalier about their actions because they’ve already crossed the line.

On the other hand, the answer to that is not to let them go out whenever they want because that’s giving way too much power to kids who are not yet ready for that power.

To use the sex example, a parent that refuses to acknowledge that their kids are sexually active are more likely to discover that their kid has been sexually active under unfortunate circumstances (pregnancy, for example). But there is an unavoidable wink-wink aspect to sex education and giving twelve year olds condoms and the pill.

The less you expect, the less you’re going to receive. The wider you put the boundaries out, the further they will explore.

Between Clancy and I, I’m likely to be the more permissive one. Some of my most important lessons in life were learned doing things that Clancy wasn’t allowed to do. On the other hand, she’s a doctor and I’m a $9.50/hr codemonkey.

But Becky is definitely right. You don’t want to build up too much resentment. Not just because of the developmental problems a constant state of rebellion cause, but because I don’t think any parent wants to wake up and realize that while their kid may love them, he or she doesn’t like them very much.

Category: Coffeehouse

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8 Responses to Good Boys & Girls: The Backlash

  1. Barry says:

    Congratulations on the new name and design – it looks great!

  2. Barry says:

    As for your post, this is the way we’ve been trying to deal with our kids and rules.

    A lot of parents are “strict” in that their word is law, and any breaking of the law is dealt out in punishment (or worse, shame). In some cases, this is correct: “Don’t touch the hot stove.” “Don’t run out into traffic. ” “Don’t get near the 100 year old vase in the corner.”

    Certain “strictness” is required to ensure your child’s or your possessions’ immediate safety.

    But we’ve tried to impress on our children the reasons why we tell them to do certain things. “No, your bedtime is 8:30. Not because we’re just mean, and we hate you – you need a certain amount of sleep at night to be fresh for school tomorrow. Understand? Ok, no more arguments – go brush your teeth.”

    When you involve your kids in the process of rules and rule-making, you make them a part of it. You give them a sense of belonging to the big picture of the family, and not outside of it, nose pressed against the window.

    “I want you in by 8:00 – no exceptions – or there’ll be hell to pay.” “But why, Dad???” “I’m your father, that’s why. Now do as I say”. That doesn’t work nearly as well as:

    “I want you in by 8:00 – you have to finish studying for your test, and at your age it’s not safe to be out that late after dark without us. We care about you, and want to make sure you’re safe and ready for tommorrow” That’s the way my parents raised me, and I never thought about rebelling… I understood their reasons. They trusted my intelligence and I trusted them in return. And that’s how I will raise my kids – with trust and love.

  3. Becky says:

    That was a great post, and interesting that my comment would produce one:) I hear what you are saying and you bring up great points. The idea of trying to do the right thing and still failing is kind of what concerns me about ever being a parent. I know many good parents where one kid is great and the other’s a drug addict. Strange. It is a delicate balance between permissiveness and restriction, and I will probably be like you and lean toward the permissiveness, but with an open-line of communication (like what Barry does). Of course, it could all change when I actually get my own…IF, I ever do.

    I also like the new design.

  4. trumwill says:

    Thanks for the compliments 🙂

    Whenever my parents tried to explain rules, I’d take that as an invitation for a discussion on the matter. We’d discuss it, I’m make all my fantastic points, and then I’d be dumbfounded when he wouldn’t come to my point-of-view. Sometimes it’s just a no-win situation, but I agree that “Because I said so” isn’t helpful.

    And punishment is a fact of life. Where I think a lot of parents go wrong is considering yelling to be a punishment in and of itself. Yelling without follow-up doesn’t seem nearly as successful as meting out punishment calmly and rationally.

    The most important part is, as Barry said, word being law. Parents need to decide punishments in a rational state of mind and then follow through on whatever punishment is derived. So when the parent says “You’re grounded for a month” you will actually be grounded for a month. Rather than taking the car away for a month right up until you need them to make a milk run and then backing down completely.

    This is all extraordinarily easy for a 20-something non-father to say, isn’t it? 🙂

  5. Becky says:

    Wait a second — you’re only in your 20s? I never would’ve guessed… I thought mid-to-late 30s easily, just based on the things you post about and the way you write.

  6. trumwill says:

    I’ll take that as a compliment, so thanks! I’ve never quite been on the same page as my peers. Impressively ahead in some areas and woefully behind in others.

    I’m only barely in my twenties, but I’ll be milking the “only in my twenties” until next last-day-in-February when I hit 30.

  7. trumwill says:

    [Trackback] My Life As The Ogre King

    As with most kids, I think, the junior high years for me were the worst of my life. A combination of deflated expectations, puberty, waist-bloat, and… well… everything else that comes with being in junior high. My junior high experience cast a pretty long shadow and though I don’t think about it much now, it influenced the things that influenced the things that influenced the things that influence who I am today.

    Things had started to improve by my 8th grade year (Delosa schools have middle school from 6-8 and high school from 9-12) through, among other things, bribery. And in high school I discovered an online bulletin board system (BBS) that would change my life. It’s interesting to note that only once I started getting better did I realize how bad things had previously been.

  8. Hit Coffee » Family Ties that Bind says:

    […] were a fluke, but this year confirmed it: Clancy can be quite difficult to deal with when her father is around. Last year I had to “take a walk” to get some fresh air and, to be blunt, person […]

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