Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
When we first become parents, we find ourselves caring for a helpless baby. Without us, the baby has no means of survival and so we have to make all the decisions – when to feed, when to hug, when to change the baby, when to put it down for a sleep. These are not always easy decisions, of course, as the baby can’t communicate with us – and so we have to make the best guesses we can about what the baby needs at any particular time.
As the baby grows, it develops the ability to communicate and ask for what it wants. But as parents we are still in a caring role and that means that sometimes we often need to be firm about boundaries, to say “no”, to be directive. Through this process we teach our children to care for themselves – they learn that it is not a good idea to cross the road without looking, or to jump off a tall building, or to pour boiling water over themselves – and hopefully they learn these things by listening to us, rather than by experience.
So, as time goes on, we as parents learn to trust our children to make the right decisions – at least about some things. So we probably don’t feel the need to remind our teenage children not to eat dirt or to go to the toilet before they go out – we know they can make those decisions on their own. On the other hand, we may find it more difficult to trust them on other things – like doing their homework on time, or practicing safe sex, for example.
Why is it easier to trust our children on some things rather than others? I think there are various reasons. One is that our trust depends on their experience. When they first start getting homework from school, they may need (or we may feel they need) guidance about how to plan their work – they may benefit from our experience. Our level of trust also depends on their behaviour – if they are constantly getting into trouble at school for not doing their homework, it is difficult to trust them on that. A third, and sometimes very significant factor here is that our level of trust depends on our own experience and behaviour.
I remember counselling a family where there was a lot of friction between mother and teenage daughter. The mother was very worried that her daughter might get pregnant and constantly reminded her daughter of “what boys are like” as well as trying to control the way she dressed and how much makeup she used for fear that she might make herself too attractive to boys. Her daughter, of course, felt very controlled and mistrusted by this – and also felt that her mother was hypocritical, as she had herself been a teenage mum – a fact that do doubt contributed to the level of her mum’s concerns for her daughter.
In this case, the daughter felt that her mum had crossed the line between caring behaviour and controlling behaviour, although of course her mum didn’t see it that way. For the daughter, it was an invasion of her personal space – her area of responsibility. And so, of course, she put up barriers, as we do when we feel invaded. And of course, her mum wanted to break down the barriers, as we do when we feel shut out.
When does caring behaviour become controlling behaviour? Although it is easy to think of extreme examples, there are many grey areas here. But the controller/carer is not the person to ask, it is usually the person cared for (or controlled) who needs to point it out, and the controller who needs to listen, properly, and examine their behaviour and their motives. This can be true in all relationships – adult relationships as well as parent-child relationships.