Controlling or authoritarian parenting is characterized by the incessant demanding nature of parents, who expect excellent behavior and high standards (could be grades, projects, etc.) from their children. The parent takes all decisions with hardly any scope for input or thought about the child's preferences. There are no open discussions and the child has to obey the parent's orders without any explanation or exceptions. If a child fails to do so, he/she will be 'punished' even though the child might not be at fault. While the aim is to attain perfection and excellence, the parent often neglects the emotional needs of the child, and there is little laughter or carefree banter and play in the house.
Some parents might control their children through emotional manipulation. On the surface they might appear 'normal', but will use silence and love to make the children do what they want. They may instill fear or guilt in the children or tell them that it their obligation to do as the parent demands.
Then there are parents who are simply too involved in their children's lives. Termed 'Helicopter Parents', these parents try to control every aspect of their child's life, stifling them by being overprotective. This behavior stems from excess concern and love for the child, but may cause the child to become a dependent and immature adult.
Signs of a Controlling Parent
To some extent, every child feels his/her parent is being unreasonably demanding, harsh, and inflexible. But here are a few things that characterize a controlling parent -
A controlling parent pressurizes the child to succeed at every task. On the other hand, a more reasonable parent would encourage achievement, but support the child and help him/her regain her confidence if the child fails.
Children are not allowed to discuss or disagree. A more lenient parent will explain the reasoning behind the expected behavior and encourage the child to express himself/herself.
Me! Me! Me!
The child has to follow the parent's wishes and desires, overlooking those of the child's. A healthier parenting would involve the parent guiding so that the child achieves his/her own aspirations.
In a controlling household, the children have to 'earn' love. In a more open household, children would be loved unconditionally, without the need to prove themselves.
Feelings and Emotions
A controlling parent will often ignore the emotional needs of a child and discourage him/her to show their emotions or feelings. A more accepting parent will acknowledge and help the child deal with feelings like fear or anger.
Controlling parents often do not give a child much freedom and privacy. Everything from their social life to clothes might be closely monitored. A more balanced approach would be to set appropriate boundaries and limits.
I'm Always Right
A controlling parent will never admit he/she is wrong, while a more accepting parent would accept his/her failure and be open about it.
Effects of Having Controlling Parents
While growing up in a balanced and nurturing house is likely to help the child acquire excellent social and life skills, having a controlling parent can adversely affect a child's personality and self-esteem. Following are some effects of having a controlling parent -
- Children, especially teenagers, are more likely to become rebellious and aggressive.
- They might become distant and cold towards their parents, rarely asking for advice or guidance, even when in trouble.
- Are more likely to be asocial and develop addictions.
- Find it easier to follow rules, but lack spontaneity, creativity, and leadership skills.
- Are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
- Have lower social skills.
- Are more likely to be poor decision makers and dependent.
- Find it difficult to be assertive.
Dealing with a Controlling Parent
Living with an overprotective or controlling parent is a nightmare, as the child feels constantly at loggerheads or manipulated. There are, however, ways to balance the relationship and regain control of your life -
Try to Understand Your Parents
Controlling behavior could be due to insecurity, frustration, desire for perfection or simply a parent still thinking of you as a 'child' rather than as a young adult. Understanding the reason will help you figure out a strategy.
Talk to your parents calmly about things that are troubling you. For example, if they are choosing your clothes, tell them you would like to do it yourself. It will work if you say it nicely and when your parent is in a receptive mood instead of blurting it out in the heat of the moment. This will also drive home the point that you are mature and capable of taking care of yourself.
If the behavior of your parents stems from insecurity, reassure them that they will always have a special place in your lives. Calling them up for advice or just to say 'How are you?', every once in a while, will bring down their anxiety.
Value Your Desires and Needs
Think or talk with a close friend or therapist to figure out what you want in your life. Accept that your preferences and choices come first, if your parents are 'living through you', have a talk and make them realize this; involve a counselor, if required.
Stop Feeling Guilty
Don't feel terrible when you don't agree with your parents. Of course, your parents are doing what they think is best for you, but this is their perspective. For example, if you are inclined towards a different career path, make it clear and follow your dreams. Do not feel pressured or guilty of living up to you parent's expectations and end up in a job you hate.
If all else fails, distance yourself from your parents and do not let them take decisions for you. Do visit or call them occasionally, but make it clear that you will not tolerate any interference in your life.
Taking Control of Your Life
Your father or mother's parenting technique might have had a damaging effect on your life or personality. However, as an adult it is important that you recover and reestablish control over your own life. Every person's struggles and weakness are unique, but you will benefit from the following -
Have a long, long talk with yourself and try to understand who you truly are or want to be. Try to think of what gives you pleasure and enjoyment, for example, if music inspires you, find if you can pursue a career in music or make it your hobby and set apart time for it.
Stop People Pleasing
Don't focus on approval from people around you. Take advice and apply what is useful, but do what you want, instead of bending to peer pressure.
It is OK to Fail
Failure is a part of life and no one can make the right decisions all the time. Experiment, and let yourself make a few mistakes, but learn from them and do not despair.
Your decisions and choices are yours, no one has the right to take them for you. But, if things go wrong, don't run away from your mistakes, accept them and try to overcome your difficulties.
Don't Pity Yourself
Self pity never helped anyone, don't mull over your past or how miserable your parents have made your life. Look for solutions, not problems.
Controlling parents do not mean to harm their child, but they do inadvertently end up restricting the child's emotional growth and maturity. If you are a parent, try to relax and let the kids discover the world under your gentle guidance.
If you have controlling parents, try to understand where their behavior is coming from, but make sure they do not run your life. Make boundaries and take steps to improve your confidence and assertiveness.