I Don’t Control My Kid and Live for Myself but Everyone Thinks I Am a Bad Mother
Many parents believe they have the best interests of their children at heart. They try to influence their children’s choices of education, friends, and appearance. But this can prevent the children from finding their own happiness and identity.
Only by learning from their own mistakes, they can grow as individuals and become independent of their parents’ expectations. Unfortunately, not everyone around me agrees with this view.
My parents sacrificed a lot for their children. They always gave us the best things they could afford, even when times were tough. My mom used to donate her blood to buy us treats or necessities because her nurse salary was low and my dad’s pay was often delayed. She would work a whole shift having only a cup of tea and candy for lunch.
I wanted to do the same for my son. He was the only child, he deserved the best. I enrolled him in various activities. I would skip ice cream for myself, bring it to him, and buy him a new LEGO set, even though he barely played with the old one. My husband agreed with me, recalling his hard childhood.
But it didn’t seem to make him happy: he was always bored and restless in any class. He tried dancing, swimming, drawing, karate, wrestling, playing the flute — nothing interested him. He didn’t want to try anything new or choose a hobby himself.
His room was always a mess that I couldn’t stand. Papers piled up on the table, and clothes were thrown everywhere. When I asked him to tidy up, he snapped back, “If you don’t like it, don’t look.” And slammed the door in front of me.
I finally had enough and decided to change things. Why should I waste money on something that doesn’t benefit my son, but only makes us both stressed and unhappy? I stopped buying him subscriptions to various classes, and instead, I signed up for theater courses and dancing lessons that I always wanted to do, leaving my son at home to play on the computer.
I let him do whatever he wanted for about a year. I didn’t force him to take any extra classes. I didn’t check his homework, I just asked him if he had done it. I would sign his diary full of A’s every week. And then I would check the online diary to find out that those A’s were mixed with many B’s, C’s and even some D’s. I don’t know how, but he managed to finish the year with a good grade.
I ignored the mess and only occasionally reminded my son that he should clean up his room a bit: he had a friend coming over to play with him on the computer. He showed all kinds of annoyance, but he cleared up his clutter so that the room looked somewhat decent.
My husband was not happy with my approach. He thought that I was being too lenient and that our son needed more discipline. He told me about his childhood when his older brother made him study hard and do his homework. He would say things like, “A man is a lazy bird, he won’t fly until you kick him.” And then his older brother came to visit us one day.
We were sitting in the living room, having a nice chat, while our son was with us, playing on his phone, ignoring our boring adult talk. I asked him, “Son, could you please go to the kitchen and get some snacks for your uncle, me, and Dad?” He didn’t respond. And then my husband’s brother shouted, “Do what your mother says, or I’ll smash your phone against the wall!” And he grabbed the phone from our son’s hands.
We were all stunned by his outburst. Our son, who was not used to such treatment, was even more shocked. He went to get the snacks, and my husband’s brother kept ranting that kids nowadays are spoiled and disobedient and that he only lets his kids use their phones, and doesn’t let them touch the computer at all.
I argued that phones and computers are not just for entertainment, but also for communication and learning. And that it is wrong to deprive children of something that can help them grow. I also told him that he shouldn’t have yelled at my son. He gave me a scornful look and sneered, “What do you know? Your son is out of control.”
Still, my way of raising my son paid off. When I came back from work and the theater studio, I could tell that he was glad to see me, even if he didn’t say it. He would join me in the kitchen for a cup of tea, and he would chat enthusiastically about Minecraft, Dying Light, and other computer games, sometimes even sharing stories about his classmates or friends.
One day, as he was telling me about another epic sword fight, I casually asked him, “Would you like to try that in real life?” I didn’t expect him to say yes, but to my surprise, he soon enrolled in a fencing school that was only one mile away from our home.
He loved it. He has been going there for six months now. We don’t know if he will stick with it, but life is about exploring new things. How else can you find out what you want?
Many times, we treat children as if they are incapable of making their own decisions, and we forget that they need to learn how to be independent. And when we try to force our opinions or preferences on them, we only damage the trust and bond that we have built with them over the years.
One of my friends was a controlling mother who never let her son have any freedom. She feared that he would fall into bad influences if he went out with his friends. She always picked his friends for him since he was a kid.
When he was 15, he wanted to go to a concert of his favorite band. He had saved up money for the ticket and made plans with his friends, but she forbade him to go. She yelled at him and called his friends freaks. That was the final straw. He packed his bags that night and ran away. He ignored his mother’s frantic calls and messages.
After two days, he was found with one of his “bad” friends. He had no choice but to return home. After this situation, my friend understood a lot of things. She is now starting to give her son more freedom and not to judge his friends harshly.
I have a friend who is very protective of her daughters. She is afraid that something bad will happen to them, or that they will make a mistake that will ruin their lives. She is obsessed with preventing her daughters from getting pregnant.
Her older daughter, who is 21, has no social life because of her mother’s strict rules and constant supervision. She only focuses on her studies and comes home by 10 p.m. every night. She has never had a boyfriend or a date.
But her younger daughter, who is 13, is more rebellious and adventurous. One evening, I saw her in the yard, kissing a boy passionately. I was curious and called her mother to ask if she knew where her daughter was. She said she was at a friend’s house, working on a geography project. I just smiled to myself.
I tried to talk to both of my friends and persuade them to give their kids more freedom and trust. The first one (who has a son) started to listen to me. She is slowly letting her son hang out with his “bad” friends, who are teenagers who play in a rock band and practice in a garage. She is worried that they will influence him negatively, but their relationship has improved a lot. The second one doesn’t want to hear any advice. I look at her daughters and I feel sorry for them.
Trying to make a child do something they don’t want to do is futile. They will find ways to resist, lie, and avoid. I learned this the hard way two years ago when I tried to control how much time my son spent on his smartphone with a special app. But he was smarter than me, and he would sneak into my phone and remove all the limits whenever I left it unlocked. And whenever I tried to scold him for staying up late on the computer, he would slam the door and say, “This is my life.”
I once read a theory that Romeo and Juliet’s love would have faded and ended if their families had not opposed their relationship. I think this shows that teenagers have a natural tendency to rebel and defy the odds.
They are already unstable and aggressive because of the hormonal changes in their bodies, and their brains are still developing. The part of the brain that is responsible for rational and balanced behavior, the frontal lobe, is undergoing a major transformation. It will not fully mature until they are 25 years old.
So the best thing to do is to communicate calmly and set a good example. Last year, I was doing a huge pile of dishes, and I complained to my husband, “Why do I have to do the dishes and clean up after everyone when I earn as much as you, or sometimes even more?” He realized that I had a point. We started to take turns doing the dishes: one day me, one day him, and one day our son.
I won’t lie: sometimes the dishes are not very clean after them. But now I have days when I don’t have to worry about it, and my son is learning how to be orderly and helpful. Sometimes he even makes pancakes or crêpes for me when he sees me cooking.
When I was sick, he even baked potatoes and fish for me. The stove gets messy with grease splatters, and the pancakes often burn because he gets distracted. I have to remind him to go back to the kitchen and tidy up. But I know he will be able to take care of himself in life.
And even though I know we will have more conflicts in the future — maybe he will want to get a tattoo on his forehead or dye his hair in some crazy color — I won’t forbid anything that is not directly harmful to his health. It won’t work anyway. I will just be patient and wait for this phase to pass. Everything does, sooner or later. And I have my own life, and I’m not here to be a guard.
There is no universal advice on how to raise children, of course. But thanks to the following recommendations, you can avoid many of the mistakes that parents of teenagers make.