Parent versus child

I must confess: when my parents first brought me into their home, I was a pretty useless blob of flesh. I just lay there, eating all their food, soiling myself every few hours, and wailing loudly whenever they fell asleep. 

I didn’t wash the dishes, I didn’t cut the grass, I didn’t even provide the pleasure of amusing conversation. I’m sure I must have been both annoying and boring.

My parents didn’t seem to mind though. They dutifully fed me, washed me and put me to bed, every day, for years. It was a thankless job. That whole time I didn’t even send them a hand-written card.

It was only after I started talking and retaining memories that they realised what an ungrateful little brat they had on their hands. I was sometimes petulant, contrary and even downright rude. As soon as I became a sentient person, we began the classic parent-child power struggle, a constantly evolving dynamic that only ends with death.

All relationships, platonic or otherwise, contain elements of a power struggle.  This sounds a bit scary, but it’s not as bad as it seems. It’s how boundaries are set and expectations of each other are made clear. Ideally, it’s sort of like drawing up an imaginary relationship contract, then amending it whenever problems crop up. If both are willing to compromise on the terms and conditions, congratulations! You have a compatible friend/lover/whatever. If not, you dump the idiot, unfriend them on Facebook and tell everyone was an ass they are.

Which is all impossible to do if it’s your kid. Not only are you irrevocably stuck with them, but they’re constantly changing, going through weird stages nobody really understands. And just when you think you have it right, they shift the goalposts and the power dynamic changes.

Stage 1

It goes something like this: in early childhood the power is emotional, and if they’re doing it right, the parents are in complete control. Little kids love their folks, and want their attention all the time. This is why the time-out is such an effective form of discipline. The last thing a child wants is to be separated or ignored.

But the situation turns on its head soon enough. Obviously, a time-out is not going to work on a sulky teenager with a KEEP OUT! sign on their door. Teenagers do their own time-outs, whether parents like it or not. They still love their parents to death, of course. They just want to be as far away from them as possible.

Stage 2

Now the power dynamic has shifted to the financial stage, where parents find themselves saying classic parent-y things like, “Not while you’re living under MY roof!”, confiscating pocket money and preventing them from seeing their friends.

This is the stage when parents are most acutely aware of the fact that they have turned into their parents, and their kids display all the symptoms of Stockholm syndrome.

Stage 3

The third stage kicks in when the child gets a job and moves out. The child is now emotionally as well as financially independent. But if the parents have played their cards right, their children will not only still love them dearly, but accept the fact that no matter how old they get, they will always be loved and supported as children. 

This is the final stage in the power dynamic. Once again it’s an emotional one, but now based on a mature parent-child love that lasts to the end. And since this is the stage that lasts the longest, the good news is that this is the best one of all. 

Because now the tables have turned. The power is now in the hands of the children. They can visit their parents, take them to dinner, buy them presents or take them on holiday. Or they can completely ignore them. How children treat their parents in stage three is entirely dependent on how well parents handled stages one and two. 

If the parents were successful, now is the time to reap their hard-earned rewards. 

If not… Well, at this point, parents have only one weapon left in their arsenal: guilt.

Is there an ongoing power struggle going on in your house?

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