Do You Parent In A Fishbowl?

May 10, 2013  |  

“You better act like you have some sense!”

“I know your mother taught you better than that!”

“Why are you behaving like you have no home-training?”

Most children have been on the receiving end of these words and there is not doubt that mother’s created these statements in an attempt to keep from hearing “She needs to do something about her daughter’s behavior” or, “It’s like that boy was raised by a pack of wolves!”  Most moms stress when their child misrepresents them in the playground, at school or God forbid, in front of her friends.  This is fishbowl parenting!

When children display unsavory behaviors it can cause moms to feel anxious and judged by others.  At some point (or at many points) your child will be disruptive, aggressive, defiant, wild or uncooperative—or, at least we hope so!  Yes, that’s right.  I said it.  We should hope so!

I understand the historical context behind parents over-controlling their children with the intent of keeping them safe. The impact of slavery and segregation was recent enough that our grandparents can still recall painful experiences. Today, things like racial profiling and police brutality are very real in our communities. Parents want their children to fly below the radar and find ways to get through their day without being harmed or labeled ADHD, PTSD or just plain ol’ bad. While we want our children to be liked and successful, we must be sure that our controlling behaviors are not hindering the very success we want them to experience.

In my work with families I often discuss with parents how to reframe their attitude about their child’s misbehavior. One way to do that is to imagine your child’s frustrating trait being played out by an adult.  All of a sudden, these “bad” behaviors become admirable qualities.  Let me give you some examples:

Michelle Obama (first Black First Lady), Madame C. J. Walker (first female billionaire) and Sandra Day O’Connor (first Supreme Court Justice) did not get where they are by being cooperative.  Sure, they cooperated at some points but much of their achievements can be attributed to their not cooperating in the face of being perceived as insubordinate and defiant.

Barak Obama’s run for President certainly disrupted the status quo in America and while I am sure there are Americans who find his accomplishments frustrating, many admire him for his willingness to deviate from the norm.

Sasha Fierce (otherwise known as Beyonce) is certainly wild and the way she has attacked the entertainment world can easily be described as aggressive.

Steve Jobs led Apple to the top of the mobile technology industry because he and his colleagues deviated from and defied all the standards of technology, while moving aggressively create beyond their own imaginations.

These honored and admired adults were all children once and I’m sure their parents have had a tale or two to share about their frustrating child.  This may surprise some of you but we actually want our children to push the envelop in a child, this is called antagonizing, stand up for what they feel is right (in a child, this is called defiance), chase their passions tirelessly (in a child, this is called wild or unruly) and tend to their own needs and emotions [in a child, this is called selfishness].

The same applies to parents of mean-spirited children. No one wants to be the parent of the class bully but if that’s your child, then acknowledge it and work with your child on self-reflection, compassion and tempering impulses. Children are simply small adults journeying through time, finding their way as they go along. The spirit of a child can be nurtured or suppressed.

Yes, we have to guide and educate our children about the pitfalls of excessive impulsivity and the necessity of forming genuine relationships with healthy people but we mustn’t dampen their spirit in the process. Try not to allow a school detention, playground fight or dismantled cell phone cause you to lose faith in the promise of your child.

Parents must check themselves to be sure we are supporting the essence of who our children are and not attempting to force them into being a child we are comfortable with. Let’s imagine our children as spirited, thoughtful, passionate adults and get to know them before we have to share them with the rest of the world.


La Shell Wooten is a licensed therapist who spends a part of each day trying to master these skills herself.

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