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What is Defensive Parenting?

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My article in Newsreal last week about politically correct parenting prompted many comments, as well two subsequent articles --here and here -- along with my response to those articles.

The response to my article didn't surprise me, but it did remind me of the importance of a subject that lies dormant in our culture: defensive parenting. I say dormant because few people care to address this topic; talking parenting always gets people in trouble.

Take, for example, the awkward conversation David Forsmark (the writer of one of the above articles) and his wife had with another couple. The other couple mentioned the fact that too many unnecessary C-sections are being performed today -- and, as it happens, David's wife had two c-sections. According to David, his "wife’s lips got tighter and her eyes turned the color of those on the demon sheep in Carly Fiorentino’s silly political ad."

There are countless problems related to parenting about which people remain tight lipped, and the reason they do is precisely because of the scenario above: When you put yourself out there, you're going to risk offending someone. There's no way around it.

I understand people's reticence to speak up, but here's the thing: The politically correct environment in which we live has literally crippled our ability to solve social problems. Literally. David's wife's c-sections may or may not fall into the category of "genuinely necessary" -- none of us know. But the fact remains that their friends were correct in their assessment: There are far too many unnecessary c-sections performed today. It seems to me that if a person is certain he's done the right thing for the right reasons, there's no reason to get upset over someone pointing out a simple fact. Defensiveness only comes into play when a person has already felt as though he's done something he shouldn't. This is precisely what I ran into last week when I wrote about parenting.

Reb Bradley discusses this phenomenon in his excellent book, Born Liberal, Raised Right. There's even a chapter called "Defensive Parenting."

What do we know? We know that in the past 50 years, morality in America has declined exponentially; we know violent crime has tripled; we know there is now a casual disregard for life; we know student success is near an all-time low; and we know sexual activity outside of marriage has increased markedly -- resulting in STDs and unintended pregnancies. And at the same time all this has occurred, the stability of family relationships has plummeted. Forty percent of mothers today are single mothers (this is an astounding and disturbing social change), absentee parenting is par for the course, and being soft on discipline is politically correct. To say there's no connection between modern parenting and the issues listed above is to bury one's head in the sand.

The problem with solving these issues is this: If we concede that the decline in good parenting has harmed children -- and thus society -- then a certain segment of the population is going to feel guilty about being part of it, and today's Americans refuse to feel guilty about anything. Nothing is ever our fault. So what do we do? We sit around and pretend modern parenting is not the major social problem it is because the alternative means we'd have to judge some parents -- and that's the ultimate taboo in the 21st century.

So what does defensive parenting look like? Meet "Cheri," who got into a battle with some other commenters over my article last week. Cheri is a mother of six who sleeps with her children and took offense at some of things I said about discipline. (Her remarks then took on a life of their own, and Cheri went off on tangents totally unrelated to the point of my article.) Here's one of her many responses to another commenter:

"Sick bastards (referring to "Frank(ly) M'Dear"). Formula companies and crib companies LOVE parents like you."

Nice, huh? Cheri's basic argument is this: "I say you can never be too kind to children. They are children. Prisons are full of people who had strict harsh parents. Nice parents have nice children."

Putting aside her factually incorrect statement for the moment -- prisons are not full of people who had strict parents; they're full of people who come from broken homes and abusive environments -- Cheri is a mother who doesn't believe in tough love. She is, as she says, "nice" to her children -- which usually translates to being indulgent. Thus, she becomes defensive if someone says anything negative about this parenting style.

Bradley, a retired pastor and author of several other parenting books in addition to Born Liberal, Raised Right, writes this about defensive parenting: "Indulgent parents are highly resistant against any interference that there is something wrong with their parenting or their children. All they know is that they love their children and want good for them -- and it seems that's all they want to know.

Indulgent parents are hyper-defensive and lack objectivity. In [their] eyes, the child is always innocent or misunderstood -- and those who suggest otherwise are the enemy. These parents don't want to be told they need to change. And they definitely don't want to hear they're responsible for the moral struggles of the country.

Yet if we are to see any real turnaround, the next generation of parents must change how they rear their children."

Personally, I am very sympathetic to parents who struggle with discipline. I happen to believe society is more to blame than individual parents, for most people are followers and will do what society says is the "thing to do." And the "thing to do" today is to be soft on discipline out of fear of offending children's psyches and crushing their self-esteem. So that's what most people do.

What's really unfortunate about all this is that those who speak up about the problems of modern parenting are often assumed to be arrogant, as if they believe they're perfect parents. This is a shame, for this is not at all what separates them. What makes this group different from the silent group is not that they believe they're perfect parents or have perfect children -- there is no such thing! -- but that they're willing to look in the mirror when their kids behave inappropriately and ask themselves, What did I do wrong -- and how can I do better? And they believe if all parents did this, society would be much better off.

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