May 17, 2017

When fearful parenting takes control

As I sat in the chair Sunday and listened to the speaker share his story, I was overtaken by his message. He reflected on how his passion to be a protective father manifested into becoming a controlling one. His determination to have his son not make the same mistakes growing up as he did, drove him to take control over his son’s life rather than allow him the space to develop and evolve in his own way, free to receive a father’s wisdom and guidance.

The speaker’s story took a powerful turn as he reflected back on that defining moment when he realized what he was doing to this wonderful, sensitive, beautiful boy. The minute this dad made this powerful discovery, he got out of the car, walked over to his son, got on his knees and tearfully apologized to him. This little six-year old boy, watching his father shed tears of regret, gave his dad that understanding look of forgiveness because he knew his dad was doing this out of love and said, “Dad, I know you’re doing this because you love me and want the best for me.”

Before I became a father, I made a commitment I would never raise my children the way I was raised. I was a very, very difficult, challenging and troubled child. At some point, my exasperated parents gave up on me. When they finally did, I knew it. When I went away to college, I sensed their relief that they were finally free of me. In that experience, I made a commitment that no matter what, my children are going to know how much they are loved, regardless.

I was reflecting on my own parenting journey that Sunday. I was determined my children were not going to make the same mistakes I made or struggle in life the way I did. I was just as determined, I was not going to raise my children the way I was raised. Instead of raising my children under the protection of my love as I had intended, I was raising them in my fear of not letting them or me mess up our lives.

When my youngest child had issues at school, I took control of the situation and very determinedly made certain this wasn’t going to become a long-term problem as they had become in my life. While I had the best of intentions, my approach didn’t do much to improve the dialogue between us or foster an effective learning or coaching environment. For I wasn’t teaching my son, I was managing him, controlling him, making certain he didn’t mess up my parenting plans or protect him from the journey I took in my life.

Though he never said anything, my son resented this approach and was often frustrated by it. There were times he hated it. It caused a great deal of conflict between us. He felt like I didn’t understand him and he came to believe there was no way to satisfy or please his dad. He was right. I had set a pretty high bar, established by my standards for him, and having very little to do with what he wanted, needed, or desired to be. It was established by the standard I had set for myself as a parent and my regrets as a child.

It has been a long journey for the both of us. It has taken a great deal of time to heal our relationship. It wasn’t until I stopped fearing being a bad parent and focused solely on being the dad my son needed me to be did we begin to build a relationship of trust.

My son was also in the audience on that Sunday, as well. He was sitting right next to me. He heard the same message. He heard me sob as I my feelings of disappointment and failure poured out. We quietly hugged each other in the middle of the service and didn’t say much afterward.

The next morning, he came up to me, mentioned the talk we, gave me a big hug and told me he had long ago forgiven me. He told me he that he knew I loved him and he understood I did the best I could.  Even though I hadn’t quite forgiven myself, my son had already gone there. He understood and forgave me.

I have been reflecting on the pressures we put upon ourselves as parents to be perfect, to not make mistakes, and to define what parenting success looks like by how we define our outcomes. What we bring, what I brought into, the parent-child relationship does not give our children the space to experience the true gift of our unconditional love for them, or grow into who they truly are.

Rather, they experience a controlling, fearful environment that leaves little freedom for independent personal development or room for honesty, trust and protection. Rather, it is one that tells them how we define and experience success, happiness, and fulfillment; all by our standards and driven by our worries of how their successes reflect on us.

I still sometimes struggle with my concerns of brokenness as a parent. Fortunately, I have been blessed to have experienced the healing and freedom which comes from meeting my children exactly where they are, in a place where I can simply love them for who they have become and where they are going, without the fear of how that outcome looks on my parent scorecard anymore. It is a valuable lesson for me and my children as they begin to explore their own responsibilities as parents.


I would love to hear from you. What issues are confronting you today? Where are you currently experiencing fear and shame relating to the struggles in your life? I have some pretty cool tools to guide you and would love to help.  Please let me know:

Please take a moment to go to the Cycling for Recovery 2017 page and learn more about ways you can participate in this year’s cross-country cycling addiction awareness campaign.









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About Dave Cooke

Dave Cooke is a dad on a mission. His mission is to help parents get control of their lives over the powerful, destructive influences of a child's addiction. As the father of a son in a ten year heroin battle, Dave knows all to well the challenges parents and families face. He also knows there is a way to find peace in the chaos. It is his mission to help parents discover their path to a healthier, balanced life even if a child's active addiction is still part of their daily journey.