Is My Permissive Parenting Hurting My Family?

“Daddy’s always angry” my son said to his grandmother who later related it to me. I panicked. What was going on? What could I do to save the relationship? What should my husband change?

I talked about it with a friend. A caring and honest kind of friend. She gently suggested that it may have very little to do with my husband and everything to do with me. Because I always play good cop, because I always say yes, it has left my husband with nothing but bad cop. She wan’t being unkind. She had hit upon a truth.

I think in every parenting relationship you have the one who says yes and the one who says no. I am the permissive parent in our family. The one the kids go to when they want something. I don’t allow rudeness, violence or unkindness. I am pretty strict on what I consider the big things. But I let the little things go. Constantly. 

You want that lolly? Why not. You want me to make pancakes on a school day even though I know you probably won’t eat them all? Sure. Prefer to crawl over the front seat of the car to get your seat rather than use your own door? What’s the harm. A litany of yeses. Then my husband comes in. Practical and strict and none of this flies.

Why do I adopt this “yes” attitude with my kids? There are a few reasons. Sometimes it is laziness. I’ll admit to taking the path of least resistance. The one that will lead to less fights, less tears and less emotional energy expended by all involved. Perhaps my mantra of “don’t sweat the small stuff” has gone too far. 

Some days I am enamoured with the idea of being the fun and reckless mum. The one who says “yes” to all of life’s possibilities. The mum who grabs the spare water gun in response to being soaked by a water balloon rather than yelling about it. The mum with acres of time to be part of the small wonders of childhood. The mum who takes her children’s curiosity and unravels it, following its path and joining in on incredible discoveries. The mum who will get dirty, who will play on the swings, who will read and paint and laugh and sing and dance. I love this version of motherhood and it’s something my own mother did so well. But she was also quite strict. She measured her yeses in a way I do not.

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Perhaps the biggest reason I say yes is out of fear. I have lost a child. I know what it is to have a baby ripped away before you gave all the words you had to give. Before you were totally sure they knew that you loved them. What if. What if. What if. What if I deny my sons and they are mad at me and that’s the day they are taken away from me? I don’t think I am alone in this fear. But it has a sharp edge of possibility for someone who has lived through the death of their child. I know it’s a terrible parenting philosophy. I know in the long run it will do more damage than good to the sons I love with all my heart. But every time I leave them I need them to know just how very loved they are. And I need to know in that moment they love me back.

When my middle son died, my eldest was three. I had no energy to say no. I got into a pattern of permissive parenting. When it took all my strength to hold myself together, day in, day out, there was nothing left at the end of the day. After spending hours pretending I was okay, I would come home and crumble. And I went with whatever was easiest. It was a survival strategy that has turned into a bad habit. I am no longer weary with grief. I can no longer use that as an excuse. But my eldest son has gotten used to a mummy who says yes.

In reality it’s not fair on anyone. It’s not fair that my husband is always the disciplinarian and misses out on being the fun parent. It’s not fair on my kids to bring them up thinking the world will cater to their whims. It’s not fair on me to say yes to my kids all the time when sometimes I need to say yes to myself and my needs. I am a “yes” person. Not just to my children. To the world in general. This was the year I was going to learn how to say “no”. I suppose it would be best for my family if I started at home and gave my husband the chance to say “yes”.

Are you always the good cop too?

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