Don’t Be a Bully

I’m talking to parents.

Wendy Anne Clark
(c) 2010

Some parents are bullies.

I’m not talking about parents who teach their children to be obedient.  I’m talking about parents who bully their children into being obedient, and there is a significant difference. One way parents bully their children is to silence their children without giving them a chance to be heard.  “Do it because I said so” or “Just be quiet and do what I say” are the words of a bullying parent.  While these parents may think their approach is successful, for they never have to listen to any challenges to their position, what they get is a silent child, not necessarily a subdued child. Inside the child may be seething or intensely frustrated.  This just may be the child who says to himself, “Just you wait–as soon as I graduate . . .” and eventually ends up living in opposition to everything he was taught growing up.   This may be the child that coming into adulthood puts as much distance as possible between herself and her parents.

Wise parents allow room for their children to express their opinions and feelings and to ask questions.  It’s fine to set up boundaries for the time, place, and way these things are expressed, but it’s important that they have an opportunity to be expressed. Another way parents bully their children is to deny them any control. The parent who walks into the room in the middle of a TV show and flips the channel without speaking to the child has demonstrated that the child has no control.  Certainly a parent should take charge and change the channel when needed, but respecting your child as a person means explaining what you are about to do before flipping the channel midstream.  The same applies to the parent who suddenly enters the room and says, “We’re leaving,” expecting the child to drop everything instantly with no prior warning.

How would you respond if someone came in the middle of you doing your favorite thing and asked you to suddenly drop everything and leave?  Would you be likely to say something like, “Just a minute while I finish this up”?  Wise parents think ahead and warn their children.  “You’re going to need to start cleaning up in five minutes.”  Obedience is still required, but is accompanied by less frustration and annoyance.

Similarly, parents bully their children when they deny them any sense of dominion.  Dominion is the idea that something belongs to me, and I’m in charge of taking care of it. Parents who make their children share everything, all the time, violate their children’s sense of dominion.  A child needs to have a special item or two to hold back, protect, and care for.  A wise parent understands this need. Parents who leave their children wondering whether or not they will have privacy, rob their children of dominion.  A child needs some sense of some things being private. This means being able to dress without someone walking in them or being able to share a private thought without it being repeated to others.

Much as a mom of young children wants to know that at least the bathroom is a private place, children need a place, somewhere that they can have privacy.  And just as you wouldn’t want your children telling your secrets to their friends, your children need you to keep their private matters private. A wise parent understands and respects this desire.

Bullying parents manipulate, shame, order, and otherwise compel their children to obey.  The feelings these words stir up in you as an adult also stir within the heart of the bullied child. We’ve all been bullied, pushed around, forced into a direction we didn’t want to go at ties in our lives.  The job of the parent is not to bully their children into obedience, but to teach, train, coach, and inspire them to obedience.  That takes much more work on the part of the parent; a wise parent understands that obedience that begins in the heart is true obedience.  Obedience that comes from being bullied is really just compliance.

Compare the teacher, leader, or boss you despise to the one you would do anything for.  Don’t they both want the same thing from you?  Which type of person really gets what he or she wants?  Isn’t that the one who is wise in the end?  Be the wise parent.

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