A journalist recently asked me to name the No. 1 problem facing today's family.
To her surprise, I said, “A confusion of roles.” In today's parenting universe, married women with children think of themselves first and foremost as mothers, and married men with children think of themselves first as fathers.
This is confusion. If you are married with children, you are first and foremost a wife or a husband. In your wedding vows, you did not say, “I take you to be my (husband, wife) until children do us part.” I've been telling recent audiences that parenting has become bad for the mental health of women. Today's all-too-typical mother believes that whether her child experiences success or failure in whatever realm is completely up to her. If she is sufficiently attentive to her child's needs and sufficiently proactive in his life, he will succeed. If not, he will have problems. The natural consequence of this state of over-focus is anxiety, self-doubt and guilt.
The more attention you pay a child, the less attention the child will pay to you. The 1950s mother went about her child-raising with an almost casual attitude. It was “all in a day's work,” as opposed to being all of her day's work.
Today's mother often feels as if she is under assault from her children from the time they wake up until they consent to occupy their beds. In any relationship, a well-defined boundary is necessary to respect. For example, men may “like” women who do not establish clear boundaries, but they have no respect for them. Most of the discipline problems today's parents experience with their children have their genesis in this dysfunctional family model. These discipline problems are not going to be corrected by manipulating reward and punishment with clever behavioral methods. They will correct themselves when the dysfunction is corrected.
The problem here is that it's difficult to accept that what one is doing is dysfunctional when everyone is doing it.