Is Your Love for Your Kids Controlling?

29 10 2007

Controlling them, I mean. (Of course you believe love controls YOU.)

But is controlling children the best answer to loving them? Have you considered the collaborative model instead?

Our articulate, introspective friend Pam Sorooshian is a real-life unschooling inspiration to so many loving parents. As her own three daughters grew into (very smart and well-socialized!) young women, we’ve been privileged to see Pam focus more of her prodigious compassion, intelligence and educator skills on helping younger moms understand and begin living by unschooling principles.

Like Sandra Dodd, I think this is Pam’s calling, her mission — her way to help make the real world a better place not in the gauzy possible future, but right this minute.

She’s really good at it, too. At least she sure does get to me! 🙂

And because that IS her whole purpose when she writes about unschooling, I think she won’t mind me blogging a connection to something she wrote, her modeling answer to a question about limiting tv and computer screen-time.

I’ve been reading at Parenting Beyond Belief, a series of posts examining the Christian control meme as semi-pornographic advice online and off, advice on spanking with love, no — that spanking IS love. And that love is control, shown through an elaborate system of limits and consequences.

And that the child’s resistance is natural; expect it and prepare to subdue it early and often. Beat it out of the children you love, show them who’s boss every minute of the day and night. This is divine commandment and the more ritualistic and intimidating, the more memorably painful, the more thoroughly it breaks the child’s spirit, the better. Love is thereby defined as power, absolute control by any escalating means that crushes challenge to authority of any kind.

I tend to focus mainly on the horror of all that actual hitting, but along comes Pam to remind me love-as-control is a whole mindset, a parenting meme. There are ways to control and disrespect (and spoil) a beloved child, to reap what you’ve sown with your “love as control” even while congratulating yourself for not PHYSICALLY abusing your child’s precious spirit, trust and love for you.

Posted by “Pamela Sorooshian”

Sat Oct 27, 2007

Instead of putting our focus on whether or not the kids are watching
too much, we can put our focus on supporting their interests and
offering them lots and lots of possible experiences.

If their interests include tv-watching, then far from restricting them,
instead, I supported that interest. I did that by enthusiastically watching with them, playing tv-show based games online or as video games, getting tv-based hands-on games and toys and puzzles, noticing when there might be a “special” on tv they’d want to watch, noticing which shows they really liked and finding all kinds of tie-ins — use Google to look for all kinds of things related to their favorite tv shows — bring up things happening in their favorite shows when you’re having conversations about other things, dress up like the tv show characters for Halloween or just for fun anytime, get books and coloring books and activity books that are related, BUYING whole seasons of their favorite shows, getting cd’s of the music from their shows, getting books based on the shows or on which the shows are based, AND finding creative ways of extending some of the inevitable connections that every show brings up.

Maybe sometimes people really just can’t imagine how to respond to tv
in a way more consistent with showing the deep underlying trust in
our children on which unschooling is based.

For those restricting tv, maybe just try this as an experiment: Next time you have the urge to make them turn it off, instead, look for a way to support their interest and enrich their lives. A simple and obvious way is to go cuddle up with them and enjoy watching together.

Ask questions, get involved. Maybe join them with a cup of cocoa and some cookies. Or get online and look for connections to offer. Choose your time – don’t interrupt, but in between shows you can say, “Oh, look, I found these Sponge Bob coloring pages for you and I brought you some crayons, if you’re interested.” And talk about the show, “Did you know that the guy who made up SpongeBob is a real marine biologist?” Or, “I wonder why he didn’t make SpongeBob look more like a real sea sponge? I mean, he looks like a kitchen sponge.” (You can buy a piece of sea sponge at a craft store or in paint dept of Home Depot – get some and have fun sponge painting with it.)

Decide to take that moment to SHOW you honor and support their choices. I wish I could get across to parents of younger children how VERY wonderful it will be for you when your kids are teens if you have created that atmosphere of real trust. Don’t you want to end up with teens who live up to that confidence you’ve shown in them? You undermine it every time you show your lack of trust – every time you arbitrarily restrict tv you are telling them, “I don’t trust you to know what’s good for you.”

Instead, start from the beginning saying,
“I trust your choices and will support them.”

This is not trivial;
this is building the relationship you will have in a few years and during a time of life when most parents lose that closeness and honesty and confidence in their own teens.

If you restrict tv now,
will you try to restrict them from the things they want when they are
teens, too? It won’t work and everyone knows it, but parents don’t
know what else to do. They act like they can control their teenagers,
but that is so obviously not true, teens whose parents are restrictive will often put themselves in much more risky situations than otherwise. Start trusting them now if that is the relationship you hope to have when they are teens. You can’t just manufacture it later, it is built on years of showing trust and confidence and support of their interests.

Pam says she was introduced to this collaborative love meme by Sandra Dodd. Pam in turn made it explicit for me, when I met her and worked with her at NHEN. Now I’m spreading it here for Thinking Parents. Who can *you* help with it, to teach themselves to love and trust a child without limit?



23 responses

29 10 2007

Favorite Daughter’s newest post touched on this topic, btw — radical unschooling taught her the world is crazy! (She expresses this in literary allusions because I joyfully collaborated with her on books and movies the whole time she was growing up — power of story to her heart’s content!)

By the time I turned 16 and my boyfriend revealed that he, too, had been spanked more than once, I didn’t even react with surprise – just a vehement, ”Oh, God, you, too?”

When did Alice become the mad one? When did The Duchess publish a self-help book? I don’t have any answers right now. But I’m thinking.

31 10 2007

“Unschool Gospel for Christian Dads”:

My offbeat idea is that Christian dads could enlighten themselves with this material to offset the rigid left-brain control tendency of paternalism (in all religious dogma), the scary-absolute definitions about what “should” and shouldn’t happen, what children “should” be, do, and believe, what they should be taught, about sin and punishment, always failing each other and falling short of Christ’s perfection, and the meanings of Christ’s example for marriage and family and rearing of children.

This Infancy Gospel describes the early learning of the human Jesus as a boy in terms that sound more like a spontaneous, singular journey of self-discovery than daily school lessons delivering a canned curriculum built on a set of absolute and measurable standards, codes, high-stakes tests and trials by fire. His devoted parents and teachers are unable to deliver what he ultimately must discover for himself through imperfect childish experimentation, even some spectacular boyish mischief.

. . .So I’m suggesting this as a useful frame that might mean something to these particular dads, dads who obediently struggle every day in every way to make their children conform to the image of Jesus and thereby save their souls.

“. . . the young Christ displays all the precociousness, cleverness, and even destructiveness of the child-gods in pagan mythology. In the early passages of the story, Jesus shows a disturbing tendency to kill off his playmates when they displease him. He eventually learns to channel his divine abilities in more constructive ways and realizes his calling . . .”

6 12 2007
Sandra Dodd

I should get in here more! That’s beautiful, and thank you for the kind words. Pam Sorooshian is EXTREMELY inspirational; I love her writing. I’ve collected some here: Pam Sorooshian

6 12 2007

Do, when you can. Nance and I refer folks to your collections of writing (and Pam’s and Joyce’s) all the time.

Pam once told me a story about flying in to visit you and Holly, and upon leaving the airport, y’all detouring to three markets looking for something special Holly had wanted (I remember it as strawberries?) — you may not remember it at all! — and that one story stuck in my mind all these years, as a vivid example of love-without-control that like good journalism, shows rather than tells.

Then a few weeks ago, I retold the story to new unschooler Colleen in a comment on her blog, and it seemed to communicate the point to her pretty well too. 🙂

Favorite Daughter was officially “graduated” from state-sanctioned home education Monday, because her two-year eligibility for college dual enrollment was ending and she wanted to apply as a regular degree-seeking student. It’s been so much fun to collaborate with her on this, making jokes about going to lunch together after filing the paperwork as her “ceremony” and then buying her college books for next term ten minutes later. Not just without grades and testing but also no artifice or showy expense or stress, no invitations in the mail . Just living another real and really good day in a real and really great life. . .

26 06 2008
Sandra Dodd

Holy cow, I’m slow to get back. I’m so sorry. If you hadn’t given me more academic credit than I deserved on another blog, I would still be over working on SCA obituaries. People who joined the SCA in the 70s (when I did) or sooner are dropping like flies. High-class flies with medieval titles and nice costumes, but hey…

It was plums, the story Pam has about Holly and fruit. It’s in writing here, and if I mess up the link it’s

26 06 2008

Oh plums, of course, silly me. The strawberries were Captain Queeg! 😉

12 02 2009
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1 03 2009

Pam has her own blog now, and to me she’s writing to be the change she hopes to create in the world:

This will be my epitaph.

I think an epitaph is supposed to sing the praises of the deceased, but this is what I want written on my gravestone:

“Be nicer to your kids!”

People will probably take it as regret that I wasn’t nicer, but that’s okay with me if it gets any parents thinking about how to be nicer, themselves. I’d like to think that I could keep on helping kids have better lives, even after I’m dead and gone.

5 04 2009
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27 09 2009
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13 05 2010

In my local tv news this week, is monstrously immoral power of story, how a father indelibly branded his teenaged children like herd animals as his living property, physically but worse to my mind, psychologically. He somehow taught each of them to believe that his literal burning of ownership and control into their very flesh, was belonging and love:

He’s been charged with assaulting the sons but not the daughter because she was old enough to give consent.

Seamands’ ex-wife says she was horrified when she saw the scars on the youngest boy’s chest, the other boy’s arm and the back of the daughter’s leg.

The station says the boys are expected to testify in defense of their father because they are proud of their brands. Seamands also is expected to take the stand and show his own brand.

We’ve had horrible hazing rituals in the news before, like FAMU Marching Band tattoos and actual branding. In those cases I always figured submitting to the group was some sort of desperate substitute for not having had a strong enough sense of family belonging. Did this dad lack for that real belonging in his own family growing up, and that’s why he thinks this is “better” now that he’s the dad — or is he just a sick sadist? Don’t know, don’t care, this is taken-to-logical-extreme power of story proof, for parents who still think their controlling ways are love.

13 05 2010

NYT blogger Tara Parker-Pope wrote something important about this last week:

“We live in a culture that assumes if there is an estrangement, the parents must have done something really terrible,” said Dr. Coleman, whose book “When Parents Hurt” (2007) focuses on estrangement. “But this is not a story of adult children cutting off parents who made egregious mistakes. It’s about parents who were good parents. . .”

. . .parents and children have very different perspectives. “It’s possible for a parent to feel like they were doing something out of love,” he said, “but it didn’t feel like love to that child.”

13 05 2010
Nance Confer

And it fit the parent’s idea of being a “good parent” which they had been carefully taught — in all its wrongheadedness.

13 05 2010

I think parents resort to control tactics not out of a lack of love, but out of fear. They fear their kids will be screw-ups and so they apply the control methods because they think that will give them some kind of “guarantee.”

I also think these kinds of parents have a viewpoint that doesn’t truly see their children as people — simply, human beings — with thoughts and feelings all their own. Their viewpoint sees children as an extension of themselves and as property. If they could let go of that materialism, they could begin to relate to their children as other PEOPLE, and that would make all the difference.

13 05 2010

Isn’t that interesting, though, considering the conservative conflation of fetus life to full-fledged individual human life — why then wouldn’t a born child keep growing in their estimation of valuable autonomous human life, rather than regressing into some unformed (and full of original sin) lump of potential, to be trained like a lower animal form?

13 05 2010

Because that’s how THEY were treated as children? Aha — we may be onto something central.

13 05 2010

I do think part of it is a vicious cycle. Another part is the sphere of influence surrounding these parents. Controlling factors in their lives prompting them to act out in similarly controlling ways.

And… just for the record… I also happen to think that lower animals forms have the right to be regarded as distinct individuals. I think anyone who has ever had more than one pet or has had livestock will recognize the distinctiveness of personality. Even animals aren’t just animals. So, certainly children aren’t.

13 05 2010

I wonder if this isn’t partly why “School” is damaging as well as liberating in our society. The concept of School as we still structure and deliver it culturally, is really subhuman, as in — the kids aren’t treated the way adults are entitled to be treated.

13 05 2010

And where do future parents learn to BE parents? Only two places — Home and School.

13 05 2010

Since this post originally went up last year, Pam Sorooshian has ANOTHER blog and has posted on this topic again:

It is very hard to get out of that mindset – but children are not circus animals, to be trained with reward and punishment. Unschoolers drop that “trained animal” paradigm – and that is a HUGE huge gigantic big change that requires us to re-examine every aspect of parenting – and to treat our children like real human beings, with complex needs and nterests.

Making these changes in our thinking isn’t easy. Not everybody starts out with the same level of interpersonal intelligence . . .for many people it takes effort to develop. And, we are SO steeped in behavioral psychology ideas that we tend to think of them as axiomatic – unquestionably true.

It takes almost all of us time and practice to accept that there are other, much stronger, forces at work in child development than positive and negative conditioning and, especially, to realize that conditioning techniques can often [be] counterproductive.

24 10 2011

Pam treats tv and computer time too, as valuable family interaction fun together, not as passive for the child and a break from the child for the parent, so this mom’s view isn’t needed and doesn’t apply to whole-life unschoolers, but maybe it can help some others relax screen time concerns and limits?

What’s more is that we are now spending loads more time actively interacting with our children: Playing with them, reading to them, and even talking with them. Just yesterday I was on the floor of our garage for 45 minutes painting pictures with finger paint and molding animals out of clay. This was on top of reading countless stories on princesses, taking the girls to the playground, and helping them dress their baby dolls.

After all that intellectual and creative stimulation, we all needed thirty minutes of Sprout rest time.

Thirty years ago parents didn’t have the time, nor the sense of parental responsibility, to do any of this. With the ever-increasing expectations placed on parents, maybe we also need to allow for some latitude when it comes to giving parents the occasional break.

3 11 2011
“Spanking”: This is what’s wrong with it « Cocking A Snook!

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