Survival Parents

Some parents give survival gifts. These parents give their child “whatever” just to make it through the child-rearing years.

One day last fall we were at a local park. After the girls played on the slides and swings and enjoyed the ducks on the pond, we headed for the van. As we walked across the play area, we saw a mother with a baby in a stroller and a young child, maybe three years old. The three-year-old had decided that she wanted to stay at the park; her mother was trying to get her into the car. First, she tried firmly telling the child that it was time to go. The child turned her back, whining, “I don’t want to go.” Next, the mother raised her voice and insisted, “You come get in this car right now!” The child didn’t even look up from her play. Third, the mother walked with the stroller to her car and called, “OK, I’m leaving. Goodbye!” The child glanced up, then returned to her play. The mother got the baby transferred to a car seat, stowed the stroller in the trunk, and walked around to the front of the car, apparently wondering what to do next to get her young one into that car. Suddenly, she got a brainstorm. She called her daughter’s name and said, “If we leave now we can stop for ice cream on the way home!” The child looked up. You could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Then she began slowly sauntering in the direction of the car.

That mother was operating from a survival mentality. She was giving her daughter anything she could think of just to survive. Her survival gifts were empty threats and bribes. Her threat to leave the child at the park rang empty, and her daughter knew that she would never carry it out. Her invitation to get ice cream on the way home was a bribe, plain and clear. In reality, the mother was saying, “If you’ll obey me, I’ll give you some ice cream.”

Parenting by survival happens when parents have a vague idea that, as parents, they are to somehow make their child behave properly, but they haven’t invested the thought or effort to discover the best way to accomplish that feat. Often they have heard horror stories about certain age groups or seen examples of “problem” children and think those stories and examples are unalterable universal truths. They expect their children to be terrible two-year-olds and rebellious teens, and they believe that there is nothing they can do about it. They begin to dread the journey and adapt the mindset of “If I can just make it through somehow, I can get my life back.”