Michele is having a very difficult time with her 8 year old daughter, Kimberly.
Kimberly talks back to her and rarely does what she is told even when she is being threatened with a punishment. Michele is so frustrated and doesn’t know what to do. Michele feels very competent and capable as a bank executive, but her 8 year old’s behavior is enough to bring to her tears.
Michele tries to reason with her daughter. At times, Kimberly will listen. Kimberly even apologizes for her behavior and doesn’t want her mother to feel frustrated with her. At school, Kimberly is the ideal student. She completes her work and she is never a behavior problem in the school setting.
Michele tries to do everything she can to improve her daughter’s behavior, such as reasoning with her. Sometimes Michele punishes her daughter but at other times, she will retract the punishment when her daughter is remorseful. She says she has a close relationship with her daughter and they both feel sad and upset when they have difficulties in their relationship.
Michele discusses her feelings with her life coach: “I have tried everything to get Kimmie to cooperate. Her behavior is such a drain on the family. Every time she doesn’t get her way, she throws a fit. She yells and nags. She refuses to cooperate if we’re going somewhere. I don’t understand it. She gets the best of everything and it doesn’t seem to faze her that we are doing so much for her. We take her everywhere she wants to go and the first time she can’t have something, it’s as if the world has ended. I am so exhausted that I just give in. When I was a child, I appreciated everything my parents gave me. We didn’t have much, but I could see how hard my parents worked to give me nice things.”
Parenting can be exhausting. It becomes exhausting when you believe you are doing everything you can and you keep getting the same bad result. Michele and Kimberly are in a vicious cycle. Michele is exhausted because she can’t see that she is participating in the misbehavior and causing it to continue.
Parents assume certain roles with their children. Sometimes the roles vary and at other times they become fixed. In Michele’s relationship with her daughter, she has become the doting mother. She describes how indulgent she is with her daughter, but Michele’s expectation is that with the indulgence of Kimberly’s wishes will come cooperation. Kimberly is cooperating but not in the way Michele expects. Kimberly keeps asking or even demanding what she wants and her mother is expected to comply. When she doesn’t, Kimberly escalates her behavior so that they continue in the relationship of demanding daughter and doting mother.
Jim has a teen age daughter, Marissa. She, like all teens her age, wants to go out and socialize with friends. Her favorite activities are to hang out and go to the movies. Jim thinks this behavior is a waste of time. He is very strict with Marissa. He expects her to come home straight from school on weekdays and do homework and help around the house. He allows her to go out occasionally on weekends when he knows that an adult will be around for supervision.
Marissa has been rebelling against her father’s rules. She has been skipping school and hanging out but with the wrong crowd. In response, Jim has become even more stringent with is rules requiring Marissa to be accompanied to and from school and not allowing any social activities.
Jim’s role is the disciplinarian. He has very little contact with his daughter except to discipline her and to evaluate her school work. As he continues to intensify the role of disciplinarian, Marissa is increasing her rebellious behavior.
Jim expresses his feelings about teens and their behavior: “When I was a teen-ager, I had to work. My father expected me to do chores around the house, watch my younger siblings, maintain a part time job and bring home good grades. I had responsibilities. The teens today think life is about having fun and hanging out. I don’t see how Marissa is going to be prepared for life if she thinks it’s all fun and games.”
Michele is playing the role of the indulgent parent as she perceived her parents to be. She felt loved and cared for when her parents gave her something nice—like an outing to the movies or a toy. She saw these behaviors as acts of love because they didn’t have much. Michele was expressing love to Kimberly in a way that was familiar to her, but as a result she raised a daughter who expected to be indulged. Their relationship then formed a cycle or pattern. When Michele grew tired of the pattern, she wanted Kimberly to change.
Jim formed a relationship with her daughter based on his understanding of parenting. He wanted her to grow up in his image—a hardworking, responsible and driven person. Marissa has no younger siblings. The household income is more than substantial and there is no need for her to work. She is very bright and doesn’t need to work hard to get A’s. She thinks she is entitled to enjoy herself. Jim sees her way of thinking as irresponsible and likely to lead her into trouble.
Jim believes he has to assume the role of strict disciplinarian in order to be a good parent. His own parenting set the stage for his expectations of his child. All parents face the same dilemma—they parent in the way they have been parented. Sometimes parents choose to do the opposite. They disdain their own upbringing and as a result will choose to be substantially different than their own parents. Either way, being in a fixed role as a parent will lead to repetitive behaviors in your child.
Kimberly and Marissa are different children than Michele and Jim were. Their children are growing up in very different circumstances. The environment that children are growing up in today is much faster paced and the challenges are different. Kimberly and Marissa need different types of parenting.
Michele is aware to some degree that she needs to set limits and be firm with her daughter. What makes it so difficult is that she herself is in a habitual pattern of indulgence. Jim is also stuck in a pattern. Whenever he faces a problem with Marissa he provides more rules and takes away more privileges. Michele and Jim don’t see alternatives because they continue to do what has become a habit.
Michele and Jim received coaching in a parenting skills workshop. With role playing and feedback, they were able to see how they responded to each problem situation in the same ineffectual way. They learned to exercise alternative responses. Michele realized that by providing limits, she was not withholding love. She learned to see her daughter’s desire for a new outfit as just that and they learned to communicate their affection and closeness for each other in more meaningful ways. Jim was able to learn different responses and to step outside of his role as strict disciplinarian to someone who could spend leisure, playful time with his daughter.
Jim describes the new relationship he has with his daughter: “We are spending time together doing some of the things she enjoys doing. I got to see my daughter in a different way—not just someone to discipline, but someone intelligent, funny and with a good head on her shoulders. I relaxed a little with her because I realized I didn’t have to mold her into a responsible adult—she was already becoming one.”
Dr. Vanessa Gourdine is a psychologist, executive and life coach and Director of Specialized Therapy Associates, LLC and Life Work Strategies, LLC. She can be reached at DrG@LWSCoach.com. She has a behavioral health column in BC Magazine and is a regular contributor to lifestyle publications. She has developed a coaching model based on using strategies to influence growth and change for successful living. She can be reached at 201-224-5200.