A column of mine that originally appeared in January of 2017 has been circulating on the Internet ever since, accumulating over a million hits to date. In a nutshell, its message is simply that parents, not children, are the most important people in a family and the husband-wife relationship should greatly “trump” that between either parent and the kids.
In other words, mom and dad are secondary roles. Spouse should rule, in both directions.
That is likely disorienting to most folks who are raising children today, but neither of those propositions is regarded as radical by people over age 60 – folks who were raised prior to the onset of the psychological parenting revolution that has throttled the functionality of the American family since the early 1970s.
Individuals in that demographic don’t need a college education to see that the primacy of the parent-child relationship in today’s typical family is what’s causing most if not all of any given family’s problems, and especially those involving child discipline.
How, pray tell, can one successfully discipline someone else – irrespective of that someone’s age – while at the same time be focused primarily on having a “wonderful relationship?” Answer: There is no “how.” It is an impossible proposition.
Effective leadership is cancelled by the attempt to have “wonderful relationship.” When relationship priorities are properly ordered in a family, the discipline (leadership) of children is relatively simple and painless for all concerned.
The column in question has generated lots of comment – pro and con (as usual, I am some variety of monster to parenting progressives) – and questions. One such question was recently posed to me by a single mom in the beautiful state of Kentucky: “How does your advice apply to the man I’m dating and my relationship with him?”
Given that my mother was single for most of my first seven years, I am eminently qualified to answer: to wit, as regards a single parent, the same principle and priorities apply, actually. Children of divorce should know that whereas they are loved and will always be adequately protected and provided for, both parents’ primary relationships are with other adults, not them. Likewise, children – regardless of their parents’ marital status – should be in primary relationship with other children.
Adult-child relationship boundaries are maintained for the benefit of all concerned. Adults are diminished, especially concerning their authority, when they strive to be friends with children (not friendly, mind you, but friends with). Children, furthermore, fail to develop proper respect for adults who are striving to be liked, and as I said in a recent column, child mental health is inextricably tied to respect for adults.
That respect should encompass any and all adults who are identified by a child’s parent or parents as responsible and morally upright, and with that respect should come obedience (because, in this context, the adult in question is not going to give inappropriate instructions to a child). So, to the question at hand, if a responsible, morally upright boyfriend gives a child an instruction, the child should obey.
It should, at this point, be somewhat needless to say, but the same applies to a stepparent. To be clear, a stepparent’s authority over children should be regarded as completely equal in all respects to a biological/adoptive parent’s authority. When a stepparent is a second-class citizen, there’s trouble in the future, for sure. “You’re not my mom/dad, so I don’t have to do what you say,” just doesn’t cut it.
One final word: Parents, you do not want your children thinking that it is somehow “cool” to have an adult friend. Adult-child friendships are always the result of adults who invite children into relationship with them. That renders a child vulnerable, and that vulnerability should not be fostered in the home, period.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist and can be reached at johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.