Around the household, High Control is not the opposite of Out-of-Control.
High Control says no before the question is finished. There’s nothing to talk about, really; the rules are clear. There’s no room for interpretation because there’s no need for interpretation. If a child can’t grasp that, he certainly can’t be trusted to operate outside the rules now can he?
Controlling is neat, clean, and counterproductive. A child who perceives his parents are too controlling—especially if he thinks the control is hostile—tends toward resistance, aggressiveness, destructiveness, acting out sexually, and a bit of his own hostility.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying High Permissiveness is any better. For reasons that may or may not be obvious to a child, the permissive adult sets no boundaries.
To be sure, it’s hard to find an adult who’ll admit she doesn’t set boundaries. I set limits, she’ll say. The kids just ignore them. Reminds me of the No Trespassing signs where I hunted small game with my boyhood pals. The signs were posted on barbed wire fences which we figured were there to keep cattle in—not to keep us out.
So we climbed most of those fences. But not all. We learned which signs were for real by the consequences attached to being caught on the wrong side of the fence.
Children who believe their parents are too permissive feel out of control in a different way than those who believe their parents are too strict. A child in overly permissive circumstances is likely to be manipulative, disrespectful, unmotivated, excessive, and unable to draw boundaries between herself and others.
If we put permissiveness and control at two ends of a continuum, the ideal lies in the middle. All things being equal, children who perceive their parents to be neither permissive nor controlling feel like they have a fighting chance in the relationship. They believe they’ll be heard fairly in nearly any circumstance, be it a request or a dispute. Therefore, manipulation makes little sense and there’s minimal cause for resistance. In the event that the parent seems unusually controlling on some matter, the child is more likely to seek dialogue to understand why this normally reasonable adult seems unreasonable at this point. In the event that the parent seems irrationally permissive in a given circumstance, the child may initiate a dialogue to ensure she fully understands the situation and may even offer additional information to help the adult make a more informed decision.
I hear someone snickering at my naiveté right now. The reason you laugh my friend is you’ve never seen permissiveness and control in equilibrium. Don’t mock what you haven’t witnessed.
Seriously. Applied consistently, this balance works. There will be tests; don’t doubt that. But overall this approach engenders a win/win atmosphere and unless something else gets seriously out of whack it tends to be self-perpetuating.
Balancing permissiveness and control can even be retrofitted in relationships. But not overnight. If you have a history of controlling and it seems to your child that you suddenly begin listening before you decide, I promise the kid will test you. By the same token, if you’ve never drawn a single line in the sand and you start requiring more reasonable standards of conduct, your child will squawk so loud the neighbors will think you’re killing him.
In either event, here’s a way forward:
Begin by acknowledging past failure. Something like this may be appropriate: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and I have to admit I’ve been too strict about some things.
Or, if permissiveness is your poison, try something like: Yadda yadda yadda...I have to admit I haven’t given you very clear guidelines about some things.
Having said your piece about that, the two tracks converge:
First, I want to say I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair to you. I hope you’ll forgive me for not thinking more clearly about this in the past. The other thing I want you to know is that I’m going to try to do a better job in the future. I’m going to try to listen more carefully and make decisions that make better sense to both of us. Okay?
That’s enough. If your child wants to know more about what you mean, tell him. But don’t let it turn into a long explanation, and certainly not an argument. Consider this as your press conference. Make your announcement, answer a couple of questions, then excuse yourself to take care of some urgent matter of national security.
Or not. If things go particularly well, move right into the next step:
Discuss the new plan. Begin with something like:
When you need something from me, or want to ask permission for something, please try to time your request so it’s convenient for both of us to give the conversation our full attention. I’ll try to do the same when I need something from you. Does that seem fair?
Reiterate your promise to listen carefully and ask for more information if you don’t understand. Ask for the same consideration.
Acknowledge that sometimes things come up suddenly: When that happens, I’ll try to give you the best decision I can under the circumstances. Does that seem fair? Keep talking about it until it seems fair to both of you.
Create a safety net:
I told you I’m going to try to do a better job of listening, and I am. But I have to admit I’ve got some old habits that may be hard to break. Could we come up with a signal for when you don’t feel listened to? I don’t mean throwing things. Let’s come up with something either of us can say when we don’t feel listened to. When you give me the signal, I agree to stop and ask you to help me understand what you’re feeling or what you mean—and you can do the same for me, Okay?”
Rinse and repeat: Do what you said you’d do. Listen carefully. Ask for more information, including emotional information: This seems pretty important to you. Tell me about that.
Be responsive when your child tells you he doesn’t feel listened to. If you don’t feel listened to, use the signal you agreed to (Don’t, under any circumstances, use the signal to manipulate your child. She’ll figure it out and she won’t trust you for a long, long time.).
Negotiate a plan together with your child and set out to make it happen in good faith. If things go according to plan, congratulations all around! If they don’t—and I can just about promise they won’t in the beginning—check the training tips in Raising Adults, chapter 3.5 to find out why. I figure there’s about a 25 percent chance you’ll find you’re the one who screwed it up.
Don’t get all cocky about that guesstimate. Because the likelihood you’ll learn it’s your kid’s fault and not yours isn’t 75 percent—it’s about the same: 25 percent.
There’s about a 50 percent chance you both got it wrong.
Which is fine; you’re still learning to do this, right? If the deal falls apart acknowledge it, set up a new plan and try again. And again. For as long as it takes.
For what it’s worth, I don’t recommend assigning stern consequences to your first agreement. Try to establish a first agreement around something with a low impact—just in case things go awry. The consequences for not getting it right in the beginning are that you revisit the agreement and start again. Ease into more significant consequences as necessary.
Once your kid buys into the new deal, you may seldom have to set specific consequences for failure. But if you believe you’re being taken to the cleaners, by all means set reasonable natural or logical consequences in advance.
— from Raising Adults
— from Raising Adults