Parentalism – You should read this!

I don’t know about you but I am quite offended when others are parental towards me yet some don’t seem to care or are perhaps oblivious. Take for example someone about to set off on a hundred mile plus journey – as they were about to step through the front door they were asked ‘Would you like to go to the toilet before you leave, it’s a long journey’. No this wasn’t an adult talking to a child it was another adult talking to another adult. The motive to ask the question may have been one of consideration but it was also something of an insult. Did the one asking the question believe that the other could not be responsible for their own needs, was incapable of controlling their own bodily functions or able to ask where the toilet was should they have a need for one? What the questioner was doing was denying the other their autonomy.

Another example: An adult told another adult that they ‘should do’ something. The ‘other’ responded by saying something to the effect that they considered the first as being ‘parental’ to which the immediate response was ‘But I am not a parent. I don’t have any children’.

Both people in these examples indicate a lack of awareness of ‘parentalism’. The first probably remains oblivious of being so whilst the latter may now know what it is but continue to behave in a similar manner as they ‘know best’.

So, what are the possible underlying issues of such a way of being or behaviour? Is it a need for control perhaps brought about by feelings of insecurity, or inadequacy? Possibly there is a need to control others as there exists a feeling of a lack of control in some aspect of the controlling person’s life. It is far easier to see ‘faults’ in others than it is to see them in ourself. In the first example it is perhaps the need to be seen as a caring person, a giver. In which case it may be the person is seeking affirmation of the kindness and generosity shown. If this were the case I would suggest it could not be seen as altruistic (See post – What’s in it for me?). In the second there appears to be a great need to control the behaviour of others.

Controlling people perhaps gain comfort from having a sense of authority. Perhaps they believe all people ‘should’ behave and think as they do. Perhaps that gives them comfort believing that if more think and behave as they do their way of being is the ‘right one’.

What is it that those who are being parental are not doing? For one they do not value another’s autonomy, the ability of others to conduct their lives to the best of their ability. They do not respect the right of people to have different ways of being, nor do they respect the feelings of others though they may claim to know how the other feels or what they are thinking. They ‘know best’. Perhaps it is the need to be seen to be strong whilst inside feeling quite the opposite. In which case, the ’parental’ person may be projecting their feelings of weakness, or inadequacy, onto the other. They tell the other to behave in a way they believe they should behave themself.

How are such people going to change? Only when others are prepared to say something like ‘when you speak to me in that way I feel devalued’, or ‘thank you but I am quite capable of making such decisions for myself’. You will need to be very tactful. If you get it wrong you may need to stand back whilst a minor nuclear explosion takes place!

Life in 5 chapters

I am grateful to my friend Isobel for drawing my attention to the following poem.

I walk down the street.
There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk.
And I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street and there is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there, and still I fall in.
It’s a habit.
But my eyes are open and I know where I am.
It is my fault and I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down a different street.

By Portia Nelson