I read an article today about a daughter of famous, The Color Purple author Alice Walker. In this article, daughter Rebecca, writes about her struggle against her Mother's ideals and way of life. I urge you to take a moment and read her story.
Rebecca's struggle for approval from her Mother and her battle for her own identity struck many chords of thought that are now playing in my mind like the symphony of a child's first encounter with a piano. They are all over the place.
I want to first discuss the Parent-to-Child relationship angle. I think as parents, one of the most difficult moments we face is when our children strike out on their own, and choose for themselves. Especially when they choose against what we had envisioned for them or raised them to be. There are many times as a parent of a blossoming, attitude driven teenager, I find myself struggling with the fact that I am losing power over her, because of the power she has within herself to make independent choices and ultimately become an independent person.
So how much influence do we really have over our children? Are we really in control of their upbringing? Or are we merely exemplars they can or cannot follow? Let me bring to light another point the article brings up. Divorce, or the Parent-to-Parent angle.
As a divorced parent, I see the dramatic difference my children face when with one or the other parent. I consider myself to be an open minded, open loving, Christian that lets my faith fuel my choices but not get in the way of someone else's. I dress conservatively with a mild mannered sense of flare and colour in my fashion and wardrobe. Sir and Ma'am are common place in my vocabulary and I enjoy the uncommonly used phrases that add humour and dynamic to an otherwise bland palette. I love being creative and consider myself musically inclined. I also find great joy in service, I teach the youth on Sundays at church and the idea of pleasing others is at the top of my list. I am LDS and very proud of it. I parent with an iron fist at times. Rules, chores, privileges and consequences, along with family unity is how I run my home. In a caricature, I'd say I look like this, the one on the left:
My ex on the other hand is someone who is of a "dark" nature (his words, not mine-though I agree). He wears make-up, paints his nails, dyes his go-tee odd colors like purple or blue, has tattoos, piercings, smokes and drinks, and almost always wears black. He is musically talented and plays guitar and bass in multiple bands or projects-all music that is of a "darker" design, like goth, scream-o, or heavy metal. Most of that music I find inappropriate for my girls to view. He is open and liberal. He is kind and I see how much he loves his girls. He is not religious and is not around my girls very often (his choice, not mine). And when he does have them, there are no rules, no consequences, and no real structure. In a caricature, I'd say he looks like the guy in the above picture, on the right.
So again, how much control do we have over our children's choices? Expectations, limitations, and control are placed upon kids every day. Do this, do that, No, Yes, etc. etc. etc. Each day of their lives are patterned by the power, or lack of power we place over them. Most "parental power" is used in a positive way, to sculpt and guide our children into adulthood. Unfortunately, it can also be used negatively and cause issues for them in their lives.
As a parent, I tend to reflect upon my own childhood in order to raise my own children. Let's look at the Child-to-Parent angle. As a child/teen/adult, we struggle for our own identity separate from that of our parent's. For me, I wanted to please my parents to no end. I was crushed any time they didn't approve of me. The slightest negativity still haunts me to this day. My parents gave a certain expectation of how I should turn out and I did all I could to live up to that expectation. I felt like if I didn't they viewed it as a reflection of them and I held the burden of their disappointment on my shoulders. But once I reached crossroads where my very own individuality was to be it's strongest, I failed. Why? I believe I failed because I didn't really choose for myself who I wanted to be. I let other's expectations dictate my choices. It wasn't until I was around 30 years old that I really discovered who I was, who I am. It was a "breaking free" time in my life to really choose for myself my own path. I challenged every expectation placed upon me and took back the power I'd let others have over me.
I believe most children do this. There is usually a stage labeled as rebellion one will go through in order to gain the power needed to become their individual self. Some times that means going against what Mommy & Daddy say, or what Society says is appropriate or correct, to get there.
Some of the things I challenged were, to name a few:
I decisively went against what I was raised to believe in on these subjects and more, to be able to choose for myself what I honestly believed in. So if I did it, why would I say my girls can't? Well, it's because I made some mistakes on my path to individuality and self discovery and I want my girls to not make the same mistakes. So I use as much of my "power" as I can to keep them from making those poor decisions. But bottom line, How would you as a parent feel if your kids went completely against your parenting and chose something else, something ultimately opposite?
In Rebecca's article, she did just that. She chose the exact life opposite of her mother's. In spite of everything her Mother did to teach her one way of life, Rebecca chose what was more natural to her. It was a life long struggle of power. Rebecca let her Mother have such power over her that she was still heartbroken when she finally took that last step into owning the power for herself and disappointing Alice.
This power struggle between Parent and Child is a daily lifestyle. It's somewhat the definition of what that relationship is, a power struggle. Parents hold power over their children by setting rules and boundaries. Children take that power upon themselves and break given rules and boundaries. Which in turn, they place power over their children and then those children break those rules/boundaries and so on, and so on. It's a cycular pattern. So now I go back to my original question, Are we really in control over our children's lives?
The answer is No. We are only in ultimate control of our own choices. We cannot make our children follow one path or the other. We can only do everything in our power to convince them our path is the path they should be on. And we do this by setting said rules and being the equivalent example of such in hopes that they follow suit.
I am very much afraid that any one of my girls will follow their father's path. I dread the day that one of them comes home with an odd placed piercing, or hasty chosen tattoo. I am their mother and so it is innate that I worry for them. Will I be okay with a tattooed daughter? Will I be okay with a "darker" version of what I envisioned them to be? I don't know. All I can do is continue what I can by implementing structure and by example, live the life the way I feel it is best for them, whether it is what they choose is best for them or not.
So I ask you this, What type of power do you really have?