Read an Excerpt
Healthier Parenting Versus Controlling Parenting
If you bungle raising your children, nothing else matters much in life.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Healthy parenting is simple: Raise children well and set them free.
Being a healthy child is also simple: Play, learn, grow up, and leave home.
But while both job descriptions are simple, neither is easy. The primary difference between healthier families and controlling families is that the parents in healthier families allow their children to grow up as persons in their own right.
Controlling parents fail to protect and nurture, robbing their children of playtime by using harsh or erratic discipline. They model unhealthy habits and hamstring their sons' and daughters' efforts to individuate. That's why people who grow up controlled sometimes struggle to emotionally leave home well into their thirties, forties, or fifties.
The following chart shows eight major differences between healthier families and controlling families. You might notice which side of the chart most closely parallels your childhood experience.
Characteristics of Healthier Vs. Controlling Families
Healthier FamiliesControlling Families
*Parental love is relatively
*Children get affection,
attention, and nurturing
*Children are told they
are wanted and loved
*Children are seen and
valued for who they are
*Children's choices are
thought is valued more
than saying something a
*Questioning and dissent
*It's okay to feel sadness,
fear, anger and joy
*Feelings are accepted as
Healthier FamiliesControlling Families
*Children's potentials are
*Children are praised
when they succeed and
given compassion when
*Parents set appropriate,
*Parents see their role as
*Parents allow children
reasonable control over
their own bodies and
7.Encouragement of an Inner
their values but allow
children to develop their
*Learning, humor, growth
and play are present
*Connections with others
*Parents pass on a broader
vision of responsibility to
others and to society
The Consequences of Unhealthy Parenting
Healthier parents try, often intuitively and within whatever limits they face, to provide nurturing love, respect, communication, emotional freedom, consistency, encouragement of an inner life, and social connections. By and large they succeednot all the time, perhaps not even most of the time, but often enough to compensate for normal parental mistakes and difficulties.
Overcontrol, in contrast, throws young lives out of balance: Conditional love, disrespect, stifled speech, emotional intolerance, ridicule, dogmatic parenting, denial of an inner life, and social dysfunction take a cumulative toll.
Controlling families are particularly difficult for sensitive children, who experience emotional blows and limits on their freedom especially acutely. Sensitive children also tend to blame themselves for family problems.
The more your experience mirrored the "Controlling Families" side of the preceding chart, the greater your risk of inheriting distorted views. You might note whether one or more of the following five distortions causes problems in your present life:
1.Distortions of Power and Size
If one or both parents demanded absolute control and dependence or treated you in ways that made you feel small, you may have inherited distortions of power and size. You may automatically view yourself as less capable than others or, alternatively, as so big and powerful that you have to protect others from yourself. You may feel you lack permission to do things that are within your perfect right. You may feel intimidated or, conversely, contemptuous in the presence of authority figures. Distortions of power and size can handicap you at work, as a parent, and in your other intimate relationships.
2.Distortions of Feeling and Wanting
If emotions were banned, inflated, or feared, and your desires shamed or thwarted, you may have inherited distortions of feeling and wanting. You may regard emotions such as anger, fear, sadnesseven joyas life-threatening and overreact to them. You may be unable to tolerate a loved one's strong feelings. You may deprive yourself of legitimate yearnings or live with unrealistic hopes. You may unconsciously expect life to be painful and, as a result, you may automatically become uncomfortable whenever good things happen. Distortions of feeling can lead you to fear or ignore your emotions and misinterpret the emotions of others. Distortions of wanting can leave you feeling deprived.
3.Distortions of Thinking
If truths were denied, perceptions discounted, or blame and shame heaped on you, you may have inherited distortions of thinking. You may accept overcontrol from others, thinking that it is normal. You may chronically doubt your perceptions. You may leap to conclusions based on all-or-nothing reasoning. Distortions of thinking may lead you to avoid personal responsibility or to assume too much responsibility for others' actions. Distortions of thinking can put you at risk for misreading others and yourself.
4.Distortions of Relating
If closeness was dangerous, or if you were infantilized for too long, or if you were thrust into the caretaker role too soon, you may have inherited distortions of relating. You may be unable to get close to others even when you want to. You may unwisely trust others or be unable to trust at all. You may see others as threats or as saviorsnot simply as people. Distortions of relating can rob you of intimacy and pleasure.
5.Distortions of Self and Identity
If your intuition, initiative, or needs were devalued, you may have inherited distortions of self and identity. You may underrate your abilities, undercut your potential, or underplay your strengths. You may banish parts of your personality, present a false front to others, or see yourself as an object instead of a person. Distortions of self leave your primary relationshipthat with yourselfunderfueled.
But remember: Knowledge is power. By recognizing these distortions in your life, you can heal them.