Who's in Charge in Families, Parents or Children? A Paradox

In a recent column, my favorite parenting columnist John Rosemond asked a mother and father, “Who are the most important people in your family?” They replied, as many of today's parents are wont to do, “Our kids!”Rosemond essentially read them the riot act:  “There is no reasonable thing that gives your children that status... many if not most of the problems they’re having with their kids—typical stuff, these days—are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage, and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around... without the parents, their kids wouldn’t eat well, have the nice clothing they wear, live in the nice home in which they live, enjoy the great vacations they enjoy, and so on. He added: "This issue is really the heart of the matter. People my age know it’s the heart of the matter because when we were kids it was clear to us that our parents were the most important people in our families. And that, right there, is why we respected our parents and that, right there, is why we looked up to adults in general."I absolutely agree with Rosemond that the parents' marriage should be the most important relationship in the house—not the relationship between the parents and the kids—and that the parents should be the authority figures in charge. The idea that this is the proper hierarchy within the house is in fact the basis of one of the more effective forms of family therapy, Salvador Minuchin's structural family therapy. On the other hand, I do have a slightly skewed take about the phenomenon of parents thinking their kids should be the most important people in the house that differs slightly from Rosemond.The part I disagree with him about is when he say that, because of the parents' behavior, it is no longer clear to children these days that the parents are in charge. In fact, our brains are biogenetically programmed to put our primary adult attachment figures in charge. Our very survival depends on it.When the children seem to be in charge, I believe they are just acting like it is not clear to them who is in charge, and are acting as if it is they, and not the parents. So how to explain the paradox? It may seem confusing, but it is actually quite simple. If children do in fact know that parents make the important decisions in the home, and the parents in their wisdom have decided that the children are more important and that the children's choices should be paramount, than who are they to question the parents' judgment? They will go along with it: They will act like they should make all the decisions, because doing so is in line with precisely the important decision the parents seem to them to have made.

 
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