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Rosemond: Parental leadership is lacking these days

POSTED: March 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

If, in a 50-employee workplace, several employees are misbehaving, one can reasonably assume that the problem lies with the employees. On the other hand, if half of the employees are misbehaving, the only conclusion to draw is that the problem lies with management.

I travel the United States eight months a year talking to a variety of parent, teacher and professional groups. I probably talk face-to-face with more parents about parenting issues than anyone else in my somewhat peculiar profession. From all that I gather, it is most likely conservative to venture that half of America’s children are misbehaving in significant ways and frequently so. Today’s children are also doing things that would have been unimaginable to parents who accomplished most of their child rearing before the psychological parenting revolution of the 1960s.

Case in point: the “hidden” epidemic of children older than 3 who are hitting their parents (especially their mothers) on a regular basis. It’s time for American parents to face up to the fact that the problem does not lie within their children in the form of unusually strong wills or genes and biochemical imbalances but rather with management. The evidence supports no other conclusion.

Whether in the workplace or the home, if the problem lies with management, then the issue is leadership, or a serious dysfunction therein. Since the principles of effective leadership do not change from situation to situation, the question becomes: Are today’s parents acting in ways consistent with established leadership principles?

That’s the question I’ve been posing to my parent audiences of late. I will ask an audience, “Do effective leaders talk a lot?” The answer is a resounding no. Then, “Do today’s parents tend to talk a lot?” to which I obtain a resounding yes.

“Do effective leaders explain themselves a lot?” No. “Do today’s parents explain themselves a lot?” Yes. I then point out that politicians, who do not generally make good leaders, talk and explain themselves a lot in an attempt to persuade and garner approval. Leaders just tell it like it is. Obviously, this is a generation of politician-parents.

“Do effective leaders become highly involved with the people they are charged with leading? Do they enter into intimate relationships with them?” No.

Effective leaders understand that there must be a boundary between themselves and the people they lead. That boundary distinguishes them. It causes the led to look up, respect, admire. “Are today’s parents highly involved and often found in intimate relationships with their kids?” Yes. The fact is that in most American families, the parent-child relationship is more active than the husband-wife relationship. That just ain’t right.

In all fairness, one cannot blame parents for the fact that there is no boundary between themselves and their kids. After all, the eradication of a parent-child boundary is exactly what most of the pundits have encouraged.

Today’s parents are even encouraged to believe that the marital bed should not be a boundary. (Please don’t misunderstand me on this point. The parent-child boundary should be permeable, and moreso when a child is very young, but the boundary’s permeability should always be controlled by the parent.)

“Do leaders say exactly what they mean and mean exactly what they say?” Yes. “Is this generally true of today’s parents?” No. (At this point, I feel the need to reiterate that the people answering these questions are parents.)

I ask, “Are leaders always found at the center of attention in any organization?” Yes. “Who is at the center of attention in today’s typical family?” Children.

FACT: You cannot lead from anyplace other than the center. FACT: You cannot effectively lead someone who is at the center of your attention. FACT: A child will not pay sufficient attention to a parent who believes that good parenting is about paying as much attention as possible to the child. FACT: Today’s parents have been led to believe exactly that.

The bad news is that home-based leadership deficiency disorder (LDD) is ubiquitous. The good news is that parents who are willing to emerge from denial and accept that whatever problems they are having with their kids are problems they have created are well on the way to solving those problems.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to Affirmative Parenting, 1020 E. 86th St. Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240.



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