I recently received a letter from a grandmother who told me that her 14-year-old grandson is afraid of his single mother. When told this by her ex-husband, who was concerned, Mom said, “He’d better be!”
Mind you, the grandmother was not concerned in the least. She celebrated the fact, proudly reporting that her grandson is well-mannered, respectful, does well in school, performs chores willingly (even when he doesn’t want to) and has “above average” social skills.
In all likelihood — and I base this conjecture on many years of professional experience — the boy’s fear of his mother concerns his father because the overwhelming majority of today’s dads are trying to be their kids’ best buddies. They think that good parents try to please their children.
The boy’s mother understands just the opposite: good children try to please their parents. She is spot on.
I was afraid of my mother (who was single for most of the first seven years of my life). That fear, I maintain, is the beginning of respect for women, something obviously lacking in all too many of today’s young “men.” (Even worse, too many young women don’t seem to care.) But let me be clear on this. My mother never yelled, spanked or even threatened to spank. In other words, I was not terrified of my mother. But I was afraid of her.
The question is, why? The answer is that she conducted herself as if she was in complete control at all times. She acted like exercising authority over me was the most natural thing she’d ever done. She made it clear that she was not there to be my friend, playmate, go-fer or fixer. She expected me to entertain myself, do for myself and fix my own problems (although she did fix those I was incapable of fixing). She was not, as are all too many of today’s moms (and dads), a vending machine to be taken for granted and disrespected when it doesn’t produce on demand. By the time I was three, Mom had created and was enforcing an emotional and physical boundary between her and me. Mom was a part-time job for my mother.
“John Rosemond,” she sometimes said, “you don’t need a mother right now and I’m not going to be one. Now, run along or I’ll put you to work around here.” And I ran along. And I was better off, although I rarely realized it.
A child does not possess the ability to comprehend such a natural display of power. Therefore, the child is “afraid.” I use the term to refer to a sense of respectful awe. By the way, according to my thesaurus, fear and awe are synonyms. The parent who is feared in this sense of the term doesn’t care what her child thinks about any decision she makes. She’s not a politician; she’s a leader.
The “fearful” child, therefore, doesn’t always like his parent’s decisions, instructions, and expectations. Nonetheless, he obeys because he intuitively knows that said parent is always acting in his best interest.
Sometimes, the child complains that this parent is “mean.” By that, he means that he realizes the parent means exactly what she says. That’s one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child, especially when it’s a woman giving it to a young man.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.