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"What could turn intelligent, independent-minded adults into virtual wimps!"
Barbara Walters asked this question at the beginning of a recent ABC News 20/20 segment about small children tyrannically controlling their parents. During this valuable piece of television journalism, viewers were subjected to videotaped scenes of a mother climbing in and out of bed with her little child. For several hours, the child manipulated the mother, bargained, sabotaged and pretty much ran the show, and Mom just kept playing the game. We watched another child who had a whole cup filled with toothbrushes in an obviously failed attempt to get the child to brush his teeth by giving him "choices." We watched a child whine about wanting a can of soda with breakfast. Her mother said "no," but her father almost immediately turned around and gave the soda to his daughter "to keep peace." It's hard enough to watch these painful examples of well-intentioned parents trying methods that seem logical on the surface--but don't work. It is even harder to watch children who, if allowed to continue running the show, will be psychiatric basket-cases by the time they reach adulthood.
Eric and Pamela first approached us during a break at a seminar we were presenting. They wanted to know how to handle what they described as a normal problem their son was having. They seemed appropriately tentative about how much detail to offer, saying that he was a little resistant to brushing his teeth twice a day. We responded with an answer that matched the detail we were given; they seemed satisfied with the answer, and we moved on to the next person in line.
Eight weeks later, we noticed a new appointment in our book for an Eric and Pamela Jamison. When we greeted them at their first appointment, we recognized them as the couple who had asked the question several weeks before. Bobby, their five-year old son, indeed resisted brushing his teeth on a regular basis, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. He also threw tantrums whenever he didn't get his way. Subsequent systematic measurement indicated that he was having as many as four major tantrums per day. He typically refused to eat what Pamela prepared for dinner, demanding something different, and then refusing to eat that after Pamela had gone out of her way to prepare it just for him. Bedtime was a nightmare that was causing an increasingly dangerous rift between Eric and Pamela, and mornings before work were so stressful that Eric was seriously thinking of moving out for fear that he might do something harmful to Bobby.
And there was more. Much more. But as we listened to their family structure unfold, what struck us most was the family's lack of definition. We were witnessing a family that had been unraveling for months and was now on the verge of despair. We told Eric and Pamela the following:
We will continue with this family's story, and their successful resolution of their problem, in chapter 11.
Raising children is by far the most rewarding and daunting experience any human being can have. We say this from our own experience as well as that of the many people with whom we have worked. Raising children tremendously strains a couple's emotional, financial, intellectual, spiritual and physical resources. Not surprisingly, research on marital happiness shows that couples are most satisfied with their marriages before the first child is born and after the last child leaves home. We therefore greatly respect those who currently engage in the daily tasks of leading their offspring from infancy into the independent adulthood that is the ultimate goal of parenting.
Parents who search for books of wisdom on child-rearing will discover a bewildering, nearly infinite array of titles on the subject, which suggests that we are more confused and concerned about how to raise out children than almost anything else in the universe. Despite their confusion and lack of confidence, the majority of parents care about what happens to their children: And this is good. As we are catapulted into the twenty-first century, along with our laptop computers, internet connections, cellular phones, fares, pagers, digital video disc players, five hundred channels of cable television, and the ever-present CNN news instantaneously informing us of major happenings around our tiny planet, it is incredibly important that people continue to care about the basics of life.
Which brings us to the origins and purpose of this little book. We have been psychologists for a long time and are continually grateful for the work that we are able to do. Some people are grateful for their artistic talents, some for their business acumen and some for their scientific wisdom. We are grateful for the daily opportunities we have to work with people who choose to struggle. We do nor find it boring. We do nor go home at night feeling drained and empty. And contrary to what you might already be thinking about us based on the title of this book, we by no means believe that we have all the "right" answers for people. But we do have many years of experience helping people work through their problems, and as a result, we have formulated some fairly clear opinions about what works and what doesn't, for many people.
We have also been around this field long enough to know that the instant anyone suggests a universal rule for child-rearing, an exception will appear somewhere, giving us all cause for great humility. On the one hand, life is much too awesome, mysterious and complex to be reduced to a simple formula. On the other hand, without principles and guidelines for living, we become little more than wild animals prowling the earth in search of our next meal, ready to kill anyone who gets in the way of our quest. This is one of the paradoxes of living--too many rules and guidelines squeeze the life right out of us, while too few result in life threatening chaos.
With the above considerations in mind, we set out with the limited goal of sharing with you seven of the most important parenting considerations that we have identified over the years. The list is by no means conclusive. And we are well aware that some of these items will not apply to you; for some people, none of them will apply. As with the other books we have written, all we ask is that you give this material a chance—grapple with a particular concept a little bit rather than reject it out of hand. While we don't claim to have all the right answers, you may just find that some of the pain you experience as a parent is at least partly caused by one of these seven parenting errors. So here they are. Each one is a chapter in this book. We hope they challenge you.
(c)1998. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from The 7 Worst Things Parents Do by John C. Friel, Ph.D. and Linda D. Friel, M.A. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc.