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Sunday, 25 March 2001

Deconstructing Jenny: A Therapist's Comments on Powerless Mom

Written by  Michael Tobin

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Jenny doesn't see herself as a grown up. When dealing with her kids, she easily regresses to being one of them. She says things like, "Aw, come on..." and "I don't care." Children deeply resent a parent who is afraid to parent.

Being an adult is a scary thing. It means taking responsibility for our lives and our actions. Jenny may have grown up with parents who did everything for her or she may have grown up feeling discounted rather than supported and secure. She has little self-confidence and looks outside herself for reassurance.

Jenny is not in touch with her own inner authority. She's not able to look her kids straight in the eye and say, "Turn off the computer and come to the table." Instead, she argues, cajoles and becomes frustrated. Jenny doesn't believe that her kids will listen to her so she stands around and makes a nuisance of herself. Since she doesn't respect herself, her children don't respect her.

Jenny needs to become an authoritative parent. An authoritarian parent is one who says no just to prove that she is more powerful than the children. An authoritative parent, on the other hand, understands her children and gives each child the amount of independence and freedom needed for his growth. An authoritative parent says yes far more often than she says no and the no's are well chosen and designed to make a clear statement about what's important in life.

It's much more challenging to be a parent in the year 2000 then it was in the 1950s -- you cannot manage children by being the boss (authoritarian). You need to develop a relationship based on trust and openness while at the same being prepared to make the hard and sometimes unpopular decisions that go with the job description of being a parent.

Jenny doesn't trust herself. She's afraid that if she puts her foot down, her kids won't like her. She's afraid of her kids making a scene, but in her desire to avoid scenes, she creates them. She's so afraid of making a mistake that she ends up making the biggest mistake of all: She stops being a parent.

I'm assuming that Jenny resents her husband for his lack of involvement but since she's afraid of conflict, she doesn't have the strength to confront him appropriately and demand a more involved relationship with the kids. So she expresses her resentment through what we call passive-aggressive behavior: She becomes ineffective. She unconsciously sabotages the job of being a parent because it doesn't seem fair that it's all on her. If she felt she had a partner here, then when she said no, she would feel backed up even if Jim weren't physically there. She doesn't feel like part of a team.

A family is only as good as its management. If the two managers -- mother and father --are not a team, then the children will take over. And that's exactly what Jenny's kids have done.

What does she need to do?

  1. Talk to her husband and get him involved.
  2. Try taking a class in assertiveness training.
  3. If after these two steps, Jenny still feels powerless with her kids, she may need more in-depth counseling to overcome this challenge.

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 15:27
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Michael Tobin

Michael Tobin

Dr. Michael Tobin has been a psychologist since 1974, specializing in marital and family therapy. He is the author of numerous articles on marriage and family relationships and is the founder of WholeFamily.com. He's  been married to Deborah for 38 years and is the father of four children and grandfather to five.

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