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Why do many of today’s parents act as though they are afraid of their kids? Why do they let them run wild in public, eat junk, watch all the TV they want, and act awful in restaurants?

Let’s get personal. Why are we sometimes or always parent wimps? Why don’t we feel in charge? Why are we afraid of our children? Why are we afraid of disciplining our kids?

Lots of reasons I can think of. Demographic: most mothers are in the work force and may feel guilty about their work status or just plain tired. Temporal: today’s parents are baby boomers who grew up in the “me first” generation in smaller families with fewer opportunities for baby sitting and observing children and parents. Fear: some parents were abused or treated harshly and are determined not to parent that way. Lack of confidence in parenting abilities: you may have a degree in astrophysics but I bet you didn’t have any parenting classes at school.

Simple ignorance about what to do is a biggie. Parenting is NOT INSTINCTIVE although most of us were told that it is. What some thought was instinct was that we lived in a tribe, village, or extended family where there was always someone to correct our parenting mistakes or help us out. Now we live in isolation, far from our extended families. And kids don’t come with owner’s manuals. No wonder we are puzzled about what to do!

I find that parents today are obsessed with the fear they will do something that will have adverse and permanent effects on their children. Because of this fear many parents seem frightened to discipline their children or even say, “No!”

For many years I wondered where all this fear and guilt was coming from. In the 80s while researching the parenting literature for my first book I found an article by Arlene Skolnick pointing out that Americans are obsessed with, anxious, and guilt-ridden about parenting.

Why? Because throughout the entire 20th century we have been bombarded with “expert” advice based on two conflicting theories of child-rearing.

On the one hand the Freudians warned us that the child is VULNERABLE, kids are delicate, easily damaged creatures. On the other hand the behaviorists told us that children are MALLEABLE, kids are blank slates with nothing written on them until they are molded by their parents.

Both the Freudians and the behaviorists, though diametrically opposed politically and though proffering very different kinds of advise to parents, stress three things: 1) Parents must do the right thing at the right time. 2) Parents, if they try, can raise superior children. 3) If something goes wrong and the kids don’t turn out OK, guess who’s to blame? It’s the parents, stupid!

All the advice based on both these theories completely overlook two very important points. Parenting is bi-directional–the kind of child that is born to you determines how you parent–and parents are not the only influence on their children. Children are very much influenced by their peers.

So parents it’s not entirely your fault that you are afraid to parent wimps. All of us advice-mongers, including me, could add to your guilt. I agonize over my columns and website to avoid adding to the burden of guilt. I try, instead, to suggest strategies and skills for parents to use and not make them feel they have been doing something stupid.


The happiest children in the happiest homes have parents who feel in-charge and act in-charge while respecting their children. These parents don’t wimp out when there’s a tough issue to face.

They understand that they are not their child’s friend, buddy, peer, comrade, or crony. You are your child’s PARENT. You are strong enough to do the tough bits of parenting. You’re wise enough to know how important a strong parent is.