By Kim S. Hwang, PsyD
Health Care Dialogue
Dear Dr. Hwang:
“My adolescent child has become good friends with another adolescent at her school. I enjoy her friend, however I see her mother is overly harsh and punitive with both her daughter and mine at times. How do I address this?”
Parenting styles vary considerably. Sometimes, I tell my niece that there isn’t just one way. I become a bit wary when I hear the infamous words, “When I was young, I . . .” followed by a self-proclaimed cure-all which is supposed to be viewed as, “The way!”
Your adolescent child is at an age where she is beginning to learn about and identify different styles of how parents yield power. She is also learning how to handle oneself under a variety of circumstances and with a broad range of personalities.
At the same time, overexposure to unhealthy and truly dysfunctional behavior isn’t necessarily the best-case scenario either. While time consuming, I believe it is best when a parent is able to listen to what meaning and sense their child is making out of another friends parents interactions with them. Your daughter may actually have a pretty healthy outside perspective of the situation and therefore an overprotected reaction on your part may not be needed?
I noticed the use of the words harsh and punitive, which implies to me that the mother’s interactions are less gentle than you might prefer? It’s hard to know if the mother’s behavior borders on abusive? If someone’s behavior towards someone else is abusive, my response may be different altogether? Either way, I prefer to focus on the behavior rather than the person.
In any situation, whether it is with a child’s friend, neighbor or relative, I would not condone abuse. However, if behavior exhibited towards a child is less than respectful, I think it is smart to do a risk analysis, monitor for ongoing patterns of behavior and assess for potential harm and impending impact/doom.
More often than not, situations can be creatively set up so that the least possible impact or harm occurs. Maybe, your daughter’s friend can spend the majority of time at your house? Or, maybe the four of you can spend time out in public where there may be less risk of the mother acting out?
It’s hard to tell what increases specific behaviors and what reduces other negative behaviors. Keep in mind, your daughter’s relationship with her friend is equally important. It’s great that you have noticed the behavior of the mother, but keep in mind, the friendship of the girls as well.
Sometimes, modeling gentle and less punitive behavior can also help. Some adults don’t always have a lot of ideas of how to parent. We want ideas, but good ideas are not easily at our disposal.
It’s always refreshing to watch other adults parent their children effectively and in ways that communicate mutual respect and kindness. Parenting isn’t a gene. It’s a learning process that never ends. Maybe, being as gentle with her as you would like her to be with her own child, may be just what she needs to understand that there are other and more respectful ways to connect with her daughter?
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD has a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is an adjunct professor at the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology. Email questions to [email protected]
The purpose of this column is to invite you, the readers, to ask questions related to psychological and emotional healthcare issues that you are seeking an opinion to.
This column is not intended to diagnose or offer absolute answers. Instead, it is a very informal platform to begin a dialogue with you the reader, about psychological and emotional healthcare issues that you would like to discuss. Your identity will be protected.
Kim Hwang, PsyD