Recently I heard from one of my friends about the challenge of dealing with a 15-year old who was using curse words at the rate of two a sentence. My friend, let’s call her Jenny, was very distressed about this, and wanted my help in figuring out how to get this behavior to stop.
This got me thinking. It was evident to me right away that if the same behavior came from her partner, she would have responded differently, and even more differently if this were a neighbor, a co-worker, a supervisor, or a staff person she supervises. What varies, I realized, is the nature of the relationship, not the effect of the behavior itself. In each type of relationship we have some belief about whether or not we have the “right” to expect a behavior change from the other person.
Jenny knows me well, including what to expect of me in terms of my parenting philosophy, so I knew she would be open to hearing my very radical views about parenting. So I shared with her my own memories, from very early on, of how I wanted to raise the children I thought I would have (before deciding at 17 that having children was not for me). I’ve been both blessed and cursed to have vivid and acute memories of what it was like to be a child in a world of adults. I thought then, and I still think now, that no one asks children if they want to be born or if they want to live with the very particular parents they have with their very particular preferences. The whole idea of children “owing” something to their parents never made sense to me. Not as a child, and not even as an adult. And yet I know that most parents have a sense of both responsibility and entitlement to influence their children’s behavior.