Loving vs. Yearning
Having suffered rejection by your parent, it’s understandable that you would fear becoming a mean, rejecting parent yourself, and that you’d want to make sure your son knows that you love him.
Yet, your fierce desire to show acceptance and love may cause you to go overboard, and to lose your personal authority and ability to set boundaries.
When parents are unwilling to stand up for themselves and when their tone of voice betrays a longing for acceptance, children sense it and become burdened by it. Some will respond with appeasement, others with annoyance and anger.
Respect vs. Fear of Rejection
Most parents don’t want to be rejected by their children. Yet, when their fear of rejection is so strong that it outweighs their own self-respect — “I fear, more than anything, total rejection from my son” — they may cheat their children of the gift of having respect for their parents.
It’s wonderful to be loved by your parent. It’s also beneficial to have respect for your parent. They are not mutually exclusive. However, when you crave a child’s acceptance too much — at the expense of your own personal authority — you invite your child to lose respect for you.
Parent vs. Doormat
There is a world of difference between rejecting a child and rejecting rude behavior.
It’s important for children of all ages to learn to respect boundaries and to have some consequences when they are disrespectful. It doesn’t do anyone any good when you allow others to rage at you. You’re doing them a favor in cutting short their rudeness, because they generally will not feel good after being angry and mean.
They need to be called on their behavior with an “Excuse me?” or “It’s tough to talk with you when you sound this angry.” Or you can say, “If something’s bothering you, tell me, but be more respectful.” Your own tone of voice is highly important — be firm, without pleading. Be willing to end the conversation if they start battering you verbally by saying, “It’s unpleasant for me to listen to your berating me with this tone of voice. We can talk later.”
Not only will you curb your child’s rudeness, you will be setting an example of how to set boundaries firmly without being harsh.
More Space vs. Engulfment
Often, all that’s needed is a little more distance, a more impersonal attitude, and less inquiry. Just imagine a good cocktail waitress at a busy bar. She would be friendly, but not overly-personal and inquisitive.
By calling less frequently, asking fewer questions, and giving less advice, you can give your irritated adult child the room needed to feel independent and free of the parental umbilical cord. Often more emotional separation, rather than fusion, promotes appreciation.
Like rehearsing for a play, it’s very helpful to practice the demeanor and attitude you want to develop. If you have a partner and/or friends who are willing, have them listen to you practice speaking in a more impersonal way. Find examples on TV or among your friends who have the desired tone and approach, and emulate them.
Once you are able to pull back your yearning to prove your love as well as your tolerance of unacceptable behavior you will realize a grand pay-off, namely mutual respect — the very basis for a loving relationship. You’ll also feel less temptation to be mean, because when you stand up for yourself when there’s only mild disrespect, you can do so without big resentment and drama.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD