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ANNE RAWLEY SALDICH, Ph.D.
THE NUMBER ONE ADDICTION IN THIS COUNTRY
Anne Rawley Saldich, Ph.D., MFT
That's Robert Spear speaking. He's the chief operating officer of a "school of last resort".
Spear tells us that kids who come to him are often addicts. They don't have wisdom or experience. That's the parents' job. Doing it well may mean being unpopular in their own home. Responsible parenting scares lots of adults. They won't do it.
Do you remember when you first said "No!" to your child?
I do. When our son was crawling he was getting into things, as babies are supposed to at that age. I had taken the usual precautions, putting away what might be dangerous, locking up cabinets in the kitchen, except for the one with pots and pans which could be a source of fun for him. However, I hadn't thought about the books. My books.
Most things with children happen in the "twinkling of an eye". Have you noticed that? You're six inches away when he falls off the bed. You're looking right at her while she's getting an electrical shock: It's the old finger-in-the-outlet attraction - like a moth to a flame.
In retrospect I should have known better. We were both in the same room. I at my desk, correcting papers. He on the floor. All was quiet, too quiet. Mothering was new to me. When I finally turned around he had every book off the bottom shelf in my office and was crawling among them, crunching pages, drooling spittle from his mouth and you know what from his runny nose.
They were my books. My mind was in them. Their contents were in me, part of my formation. I had schlepped them around the country even though I never read them any more and none of them were beautifully bound.
My first impulse was to shout "No!". But, I didn't. Instead, I froze with fear as I watched our darling baby smile up at me and crawl over history, philosophy and literature to reach his Mommy. I had never said "No!" to him. Would it ruin his psyche? Hamper his urge to explore and be creative? Not likely.
In my mind's eye, I saw and heard my Dad: "You don't have to like it, Anne. You've just got to do it!" A widower, a single parent of four kids, under nine. I have never had a doubt that loving us wisely and well was his passion in life. He never had a doubt about who was in charge and responsible to prepare us for life.
I got down on the floor and firmly said the "N" word. Then I put the books back. Our son thought it was a new game: I put them up; he took them down. So, I said "No" again. He smiled and took the books down.
Saying "No!" that first time was so hard to do that I remember clearly where we were, what was happening, the fear I felt, and the gradual realization that I am the parent, he is the child and I need to have him play with his own books, not mine.
"No!" gets less easy as the kids get older because they learn how to whine, charm, defy and manipulate us in myriad ways. They're supposed to test the boundaries. Adults are supposed to keep them in place. When they blur, "No!" is gradually manipulated into "Yes!".
Kids at the ever-so expensive schools of last resort are the products of parents who loved them, but not wisely. Now they pay $55,000-$60,000 a year for someone else to teach their children to be respectful and responsible. That could have been done when those teens were tots. By the inch it's a cinch. By the yard it's too hard.
Time and effort are needed if children are to understand that you say what you mean and you mean what you say. Otherwise, the kids will see and be wounded by your incongruity. I think that's what is meant when parents are urged to be consistent.
For example, an attorney-mother didn't go to some of the parent/kids' sessions at the school because she was "too busy earning the tuition". A father signed a contract with the school, promising to vacation with his son for two days, which he dutifully did. But he also vacationed with his car and cell phone, talking to others and ignoring his son during most of the visit.
There are strategies you can use to stay connected to your kids while still insisting on responsibility: humor, distraction, affection - as in "I love you too much to let you get away with this," making it clear that there will be appropriate consequences for bad behavior. I coach parents to use interventions that work. But, and it happens to all of us, sometimes you're sick or tired, or sick and tired. Other times it's not your fault. There's a biological problem, the gene pool, peer pressure, other adults who were too cruel and you didn't know...
It can seem easier to just give in to our kids, especially if you are the primary caretaker who does most of the discipline while your spouse gets away with being the good guy, or if you are a single parent. Believe me, it's not easier. If you cave in when they are little it will not be easier when they are big.
As those darling babies grow into adolescents they have a way of getting back at the Disciplinarian: "You don't trust me!" "I hate you!" "You're a nag ... a spy ... a cop!" Maybe, but you are also a parent. You are setting standards of behavior. If you let your kids kick over boundaries at home you are teaching them how to misbehave in society. Not a good idea. Society wants commitments kept, assignments done and laws obeyed, employees who are responsible. When our kids do not respect Society's boundaries they are at risk for heartrending consequences.
In sum: A judge is speaking to the parents of fourteen year old Melissa. Mercifully, she is not present. "You did not love your daughter enough to say 'No!' when she lived with you. Now I, who do not love her at all, will sentence her to three years in juvenile hall. She will be on probation for another three, after that. I wish I were sentencing you but it is she who will be locked away from family and friends, all because you thought parenting is a popularity contest."
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