The Pitfalls of Parenting

Corporal punishment is a no-go. So is yelling. What exactly can you do to raise your kids right?

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My mother, who was a stay-at-home mom, was a hands-on, attentive, loving and organized parent who set clear boundaries and always followed through. She was always confident and self-assured, even when she had no idea what she was doing. There was no way to pit her and my father against each other because my father always, always, always deferred to her, and neither of them made a major parenting decision without consulting the other first.

She also believed that you tailored how you parent based on how your child is, and I was an emotionally needy, sensitive child who was overinvested in getting my mom and dad’s approval. Hitting me or yelling only scared me so bad that I wouldn’t remember what the “discipline” was for anyway. But the thought that my parents wouldn’t love me if I wasn’t well-behaved was pretty strong.

If my parents said they were “disappointed” in me, it was like being stabbed. If I was told that my behavior was ruining everyone else’s day and was rude, I felt bad for being such a burden. Once, I watched an old episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show with my father about teens sneaking out of the house. After the show ended, my father said that it would break his heart if I ever lied and did anything like that to him. Not that it was wrong or potentially dangerous to sneak out, or “Don’t do that because I say so,” but that I would hurt the man who cared for me and loved me dearly.

“Oh, no! Daddy won’t love me if I act like a normal teenager!” was all my brain said. So I was an extremely well-behaved teen who complained about how strict my parents were but never truly challenged them on their right to be in charge, out of fear that they’d stop loving me.

Guilt was very effective for my parents. And I grew up to be a fully functioning adult ... who’s also pretty neurotic and probably too focused on people-pleasing. Sure, there are worse problems I could have, but the point is, every style of parenting has consequences. With my parents’, it was that I didn’t feel capable of taking care of myself or making my own decisions without their help until I reached my 30s.

I still love my parents. And for the most part, most kids will continue to love their parents even if they don’t have much of a clue as to what they’re doing. Because there is no way to be perfect. Every parent is sort of fumbling about and guessing what’s right or wrong, comparing notes with other parents while keeping an eye on the experts. You should try your best no matter what, hoping that in the end your love and guidance will get your child to adulthood, prepared to be a healthy, functioning member of society.

But you probably still shouldn’t hit or yell at your kids.

Danielle C. Belton is a freelance journalist and TV writer, founder of the blog and editor-at-large of Clutch magazine.

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