Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

No-Obstacle Parenting

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 21, 2010

        Sienna, fifty-one, told me “the thing I am most proud of in my parenting is that I did not get in their way. My parents, with all of their problems, luckily, did not get in the way of my being a good parent to my kids, so I learned that kids develop on their own and a parent has to learn how to stay out of the way.” “You mean that it is really important not to insert your own agenda on your child” I say, thinking that I am stating the obvious. “Yes” she says, “but that is not an easy thing to do.”

     Sienna has four children, two from her first marriage and two from her second. They are ages 30, 28, 17 and 15.  They have all had major struggles in their lives, including behavior problems, drug problems and learning problems. Despite the tremendous anxieties that she has had while raising her kids, she feels “very close” to them. Her oldest, Rachel, is getting married to a “wonderful” man. Sienna and Rachel are really enjoying planning the wedding. Sienna cries as she describes the intimacy she feels with Rachel. “Rachel raised herself” she says. “She knew she wanted to get married and have kids from a very early age. I told her to follow her dream and now it is working out. I am so happy.”

     Rachel did not finish high school. She was with a “bad crowd” and then she dropped out. She had a bunch of odd jobs, before she landed a good job in a medical office. Sienna, a professional, accepted  Rachel’s path. Some of Sienna’s friends were critical that she did not force Rachel to go back to school, but Sienna felt that Rachel would make her own decision about that. As Sienna reflects on that time in Rachel’s life, Sienna believes that she made the right decision. Rachel is very happy now and they have a good relationship.

   I see Sienna’s point. Some kids have a way of knowing what they want out of their lives and they find a path that gets them there. For these types of kids, a parent has to “stay out of the way.” Other kids need  guidance. The trick is to understand your child such that you make a wise decision whether to intrude or whether to stand back. Therein lies the art of parenting.

3 Responses to “No-Obstacle Parenting”

  1. Shelly said

    A previous post of yours said that kids need order and rules, and, by extension, guidance from their parents. When are we supposed to teach (guide) them, and when are we supposed to let them find their own way? Rachel’s not finishing school cannot be “what was good for her.” It is short-sighted and limiting. Finishing school is not an obstactle towards marrying early, if that was what Rachel really wanted. Besides saying that finding that balance between letting our kids find their way and helping them along is difficult, how are we to know when to step in and when to let go?

    • I understand the contradiction. I think this is about parental intuition. Some kids find their way by trial and error, whereas other kids will get stuck and not move forward. Sienna feels, rightly or wrongly, that letting Rachel find her way through trial and error was a wise decision. I am not sure I agree with Sienna with regards to Rachel, but I do agree that in certain situations letting a child find their own path is a good, although difficult strategy. I am not sure a parent ever really “knows” what to do. Rather, I think that parents need to be thoughtful and reflective and at least consider the option, that letting a child make their own decisions might in the long run prove to be growth-promoting. In essence, parents need to use their “best guess” to decide how to handle each child. It is not easy.

      • PS..My previous post about kids needing order and rules, applied to kids up until age 12-14. After that, parents need to adjust their parenting styles to adapt to the child’s budding autonomy.

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