We were a bunch of psychologists together last night discussing children, our children and parenting. This arose from a journalist who wrote about her relationship with her teenagers. She told them what to do and the she sort-of laughed as she wrote how they ignored her, came home late, swore at her, and so on. She wrote that she did this because she kept getting visions of them as babies, sweet and adorable and cuddly and smelling nice, and couldn’t bear to be mean to them or hurt them.
We agreed that this is where we all came from. It’s the thought of teenagers as babies that stops most of us wanting to hurt them when they are obnoxious. But it’s the thought of them as adults that keeps us firm when we ask them to do something and they don’t oblige. One mum had asked her daughter to clean the house – for money. She was keen to be paid, but didn’t much want to clean. So her mother moved on to use other people. And whenever daughter complains that she is short of money, her mother makes fake sympathy noises, and doesn’t give her any.
Last week I did a home visit to the mother of a seven year old. He is a very sweet little boy with glasses, and he is very keen to please. But at home his mum says he is VERY angry if she says No. He will smash up things, scream and shout and threaten all sorts. Mum says that she loves him, so she lets him have what he wants. So does yesterday’s mum who said she found it very hard when her nine year old son rolled on the floor by the till in the supermarket and wailed. She said several times during our interview that ‘he makes such a fuss’ that I…..
And I said that this is not helping him at all. Our job as parents is to make our children as independent of us as possible, so that when we die [or whatever] the children manage to get by without us. That means learning independence skills but it also means learning to be likable. No other adult will look at an obnoxious teenager and remember he was a cute baby and make allowances. No other adult will say ‘he was so sweet when he was little..’
Say something and mean it. Look dispassionately at your child and see him as others might. If you would find another child like that annoying, so will other adults. Far better that you teach him the right ways to behave, than that outsiders avoid him as a pain.
You have the power to enable your child to be the nicest person he can be, and, in that way, probably the happiest.