There exists in the wide torrents of the internet a meme photo (which probably has at least thirty-seven incarnation. The design is irrelevant (although I’m a fan of simplicity). What brings me to comment is the text. It reads:
I am not your friend.
I am your parent.
I will stalk you
Flip out on you
Drive you insane
Be your worst nightmare and
Hunt you down when needed
Because I love you.
Now, replace ‘parent’ with ‘husband’. Sounds pretty creepy, right? In fact, it might even hint at abuse. Wait, did I say ‘hint’? I meant ‘scream from the rooftops’. It’s an easy mistake to make.
This relationship between partners and lovers goes beyond ‘unhealthy’. It’s downright sick. It’s the sort of thing women’s refuges were created for. So what makes it acceptable when it’s a parent-child relationship? Because it really seems that people are fine with it when it’s Mum or Dad and Junior.
The power dynamic is the same – it’s a powerful person asserting their dominance over a less powerful person. The mindset is the same – it’s a powerful person overriding the decisions and desires of the less powerful person because the power-holder ‘loves’ the less powerful. The attitude of disrespect is the same – the less powerful person’s choices are ignored by the more powerful.
So why do people think this is ok in a parent-child relationship? I think it’s to do with the way people see children. Historically, children were valued for the work they could do and the political and financial value of their marriage. Girls especially were often more restricted because their virginity has always been precious. From these historical roots, we’re trying to push ourselves somewhere toward the 21st century.
Children are no longer valued for their help on the farm or their sealing of alliances. They have freedom to play and to learn. But people still cling to antiquated views of children, which become particularly strong in the teen years. As babies grow up and leave behind childish things, the parents often cling to their authority in the face of a child becoming an adult. Parents want their kids to stay children, and they do not want their babies to grow up and become independent. On top of all this, it’s still widely accepted for a girl’s father to threaten her suitors, because it’s his little girl – when really, she’s her own young woman.
I’m not saying that parents should not look after and discipline their children, or that children should be given the same rights as adults immediately. I’m saying that parents have to let their spread their wings (for want of a better cliche) and learn to fly. They need to be there to pick up the pieces when things inevitably go wrong, and sometimes they need to be pulled out of a really bad situation. But stalking them is taking things way too far. Parents should probably get to know their child’s friends and their parents, but accessing their Facebook or listening in to conversations is taking it too far.
I think a fair way to treat a teen making their way out into the world is as you would a close friend. You don’t stalk or scream at your mates. You don’t lecture them, and you sure as hell don’t hunt them down (special circumstances aside). You treat them with respect, but you intervene if you’re worried. You help them out of difficult situations, and figure out how not to do that again.
That’s the way I want to treat my girls as they grow up. With the dignity and respect that I would a friend. Not like they need to be virgins for their bride price to be released.