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How to deal with a controlling parent, one with an authoritarian parenting style, who is so strict and unforgiving, it destroys family peace.

A mother writes: My teens are wonderful and normal. Their misbehavior is neither extreme nor excessive. It's my husband who drives us all crazy. He expects the children to behave like little soldiers, and he can turn family life into boot camp with all his rules and regulations. How can I convince him that he's the problem, not us?

What Causes Controlling Parents?

Just like the children they love and guide, fathers come in different varieties and assume various roles in the family. Sometimes their chosen role, though well intentioned, leads to great difficulty for all other family members. At any given moment, overbearing and critical parenting attitudes, mired in a militaristic delivery of expectations and punishments, descends upon the home . In addition to alienating children, promoting marital strife, and sabotaging the quality of family life, drill sergeant dads squander opportunities for bonding and understanding in their quest to turn children into "conformity cadets."

Help for Controlling Parents, Overbearing Parents

Examine Origins of Authoritarian Style Parenting

Excessive accountability, exacting standards, and onerous interactions are some of the ingredients that create a boot camp atmosphere when dad is around. If this unwelcome recipe is cooking up conflict at home, consider the following parenting tips:

Identify and examine the roots. Fathers with this strict and narrow parenting approach often follow a parenting compass from childhood. Prior experience with their own fathers have carved reactions and rationales forming the basis of their parenting mentality. Allegiance to their own father is at odds with today's changing conditions. Children with different personalities, families with new stressors, and mothers with different values, are just some of the changes that don't mix well with rigid parenting. Despite positive perceptions of their own childhood upbringing, fathers are urged to consider whether their parenting roots are enriching or eroding the soil for family growth.


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As fathers boil, mothers recoil. One key difference for fathers to thoughtfully consider is the parenting preferences of their wives. Is she on board with this boot camp idea? While some mothers may be subservient, this often belies their strong objections and deep concerns about the emotional scars left behind.

Wives of drill sergeant dads typically report that they "walk on egg shells" when their children and husband occupy the same room, hoping that an emotional tripwire is not activated by a mistake or rule infraction on the part of a child. Fathers might ask themselves, "Is this the kind of legacy I want to leave behind in the minds of those I love?"

Develop a mutually agreeable list of parent priorities. Substitute the rigid wielding of authority over children for a shared parenting plan based on mutually held values. Such values might include that children's feelings of physical and emotional safety should not be threatened by punishment, standard parenting expectations and imposed consequences must be agreed to by both parents, children should have an opportunity to respectfully voice their feelings and thoughts about parents, and that parents will calmly air their disagreements behind closed doors. Once this new plan is agreed upon, periodic follow up will ensure its continued application.

Mothers are urged to monitor and mediate so success is realized. The lynchpin in discarding the old police state and installing an acceptable co-parenting mission is the mother. Children will continue to test the father, fathers will continue to test the children, and mothers will continue to have their patience tested over and over again. Signals that wives that send to their husbands when they sense the drill sergeant is about to appear can be agreed upon.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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