Over-parenting begets childish men

I hesitate to write this because I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying all my selfishness and self-pity came from my mother.  Several points along the way, I could have chosen to take responsibility for my actions and for the way I viewed the world.  I’ve written about the cultural roots of my problems and the inconsistency my mother taught.  I have a few more thoughts on this, as I try to find root causes of my sick thinking.

First, my parents spent most of my early life shielding me from the consequences of my own decisions and actions.  They blamed others for any problems I faced.  They did not trust me to solve my own problems.  If I got a bad grade, they would insist on intervening with the teacher. If I had a conflict with other kids, my parents blamed the other kids or blamed fate, tried to micromanage the way I handled it, and generally treated me as though I was a toddler, incapable of handling social interactions without my parents interfering.

If I did something wrong — a prank, for example — my parents never exactly punished me.  They yelled, sighed, shook their heads, and talked about shame and disappointment.  They never grounded me; in general, I wasn’t really allowed to leave the house except with specific permission, on a case-by-case basis.  They did not spank me.  They talked about spanking often, but never did it.  In short, there were no tangible, measurable, specific consequences for my misbehavior.

At the same time, my mother did create severe and unreasonable consequences for my failures to meet her hopes or expectations.  On one hand, she did not do what we try to do for our children:  warn them that there will be a consequence if they misbehave, and follow through with the reasonable punishment, as well as let them suffer — within reason — the natural consequences of their choices.

On the other hand, my mother imposed consequences that were not tied to my choices.  Rather, they were tied to her evaluation of me.  It wasn’t, for example, something like, “If you fail to do your homework I will ground you.”  Instead, it was more like my mother having an emotional breakdown if I lost the district spelling bee.  Her consequences were not related to my choices, but to my performance.  And, I feared her emotional outbursts, so much so that I began lying and hiding many aspects on my life in order to avoid my mother’s reactions.

I think this upbringing might be part of how I came to do such risky, heartless, illogical things during my years of adultery and lies.  I was used to having no consequences for my actions.  So, I gave no thought to potential consequences of cheating, consequences such as diseases, death, arrest, public humiliation for myself and my family, and more.  God — actually my parents — had always ultimately shielded me from consequences, so I subconsciously assumed God would continue to be my safety net.  Do you think that is a sick, twisted misuse of theology?  It is.  That’s my point.

Second, my parents also did not teach me accountability.  They didn’t tell me I needed to try harder or practice more to improve.  For example, instead of  saying that I might want to practice baseball, they just talked about how some people are supposedly naturally good at it and some people are not.  They made a big show of telling me I was smart, for example, but they never really provided consequences for bad grades, forgotten homework, or general laziness and evasiveness.  Similarly, I never bothered to hold myself accountable for my actions.  Mother had always been in control of my accountability.  So, why should I bother weighing my choices against their potential effects on me or on others?

Third, my parents actively discouraged me from growing up, and I failed to resist it courageously.  My life is a story of me allowing my mother to control me.  I didn’t fully escape it until D-day.  For example, to this day, my mother goes on and on about how she thinks I handled certain friendships wrong in seventh grade.  To this day, I disagree.  She viewed me as a toddler and treated me as such.  That continues to this day.

She discouraged me from playing team sports, from leaving the house, and from dating.  She made it clear she disapproved of every girlfriend I ever had.  She didn’t even try to be subtle, saying awful things about each girl.  I finally got away, by going to college out of state and never again living in my parents’ home.  Even then, I didn’t get away completely.  By the time I married TL, just two years after college graduation, I still had one credit card my parents had given me.  TL helped me see that my parents were using that leverage to control my choices, and I was letting them do it.  TL and I cut up that credit card.

My mother continued her habit of saying awful things about my girlfriends, or wife in this case.  She spent 18 years making little mumbled remarks, inappropriate comments, and flat out rude critiques of TL, me, and our children, as though it was perfectly normal to behave that way.  As I had been all my life, I was afraid of my mother.

I cut off contact with my mother for several months once when she harassed me non-stop for several days, at home and at work, to insist on inserting herself into the move TL and I were making.

A few years later, my mother made a big scene of reportedly purchasing funeral plots for her immediate family, including me but not including TL, “because a son should be buried next to his parents.” She told me it would be inappropriate for me to tell TL, my wife, of this plan and that I should not do so.  I did tell TL, but never informed my mother that I told TL, nor did I confront my mom about her inappropriate behavior and expectations.

Years later, after our first child was born, my mother began criticizing our child. TL, who had patiently held her tongue for years, would not allow our child to be dragged into my mother’s psychological warfare. TL told my mother her house was not an appropriate place for our family and we would be moving to a hotel. My mother went ballistic. I told TL to pack-up, so we could just leave town altogether. But, I said nothing to my mother.

I sent TL into the house to pack us up, while I loaded our child and the car. My mother approached TL, blaming her for everything under the sun. TL let my mother know she knew everything my mother had tried to do to undermine our marriage, including expressing joy over a miscarriage and about the funeral plot secret. We again cut off contact with her for several months.

Each time, I eventually, gradually let my mother slip back into our lives, returning to her way of questioning with implied criticism, questioning with intent to control, and outright criticism.  More importantly, I had a decades-long habit of not confronting my mother, not calling her out on her inappropriate behavior.  She said something, and I would ignore it or try to change the subject.  What I should have done instead is to calmly but bravely tell my mother she was behaving inappropriately and that I would not accept it.

Shortly after D-day, we visited my parents, and I began practicing relating to them as an adult, as well as not being afraid to show my love, pride and affection for TL in front of my mother.

After D-day, I tried very hard to get my mother to apologize for undermining our marriage.  She never really did. She supposedly had my father apologize on her behalf to me, but never directly to me and absolutely never to TL.

After D-day, I considered a couple of things about my relationship with my mother.  First, I had signed up to protect TL, and I had been failing in that responsibility, for years.  I failed to protect TL from myself, from my psychological problems, from the world, and from my mother.  If I was going to become a better husband, it had to include protecting TL from my mother.  Second, my lies and adultery came, essentially, from my failure to grow up, failure to take responsibility, failure to see the world through the eyes of an adult man.  This, in turn, was related to my failure to grow up with regard to my mother, to stop being cowed by her, and to have the compassionate courage to set limitations for her.

For three years now, I’ve been putting a stop to my mother when she tries to say or do something hurtful to TL, me, or our children.  It has helped.  It’s not easy.  About a half a year ago, my mother tried to criticize TL in my mother’s own uniquely manipulative way, this time bringing our children into it. The children did not understand, and I put a stop to my mother.  At this point, I no longer have any real relationship with my mother.  It’s now crystal clear, even to my mother I think, that she has nothing to say to me aside from her attempts to control me.

In sum, I can’t stress enough the importance of learning responsibility, accountability, and self-control early.  Let kids make mistakes.  Let them receive punishment, from parents and teachers, when they do wrong or neglect responsibilities.  Let them make choices.  Within reason, let them control their own lives.


5 thoughts on “Over-parenting begets childish men

  1. ooh I think you have something here except my husband grew up with divorced parents only seeing his father 2x per years and an absent mother who worked third shift.

    “I was used to having no consequences for my actions. ” This teamed with no accountability and actual responsibility for himself, I believe are what spurred on my husband’s selfishness completely and fervently. They never held him accountable for his failing grades ever. They never showed him what the right thing to do was nor did they seem to care. His mother has learned helplessness and it is awful even now. My husband growing up had way too much free time on his hands and so got into trouble and was somewhat responsible at the same time. Without guidance he became lost in his own world of selfishness. This was NOT seen by me until too late after he had his affair and I will never ever understand that level of selfishness ever.

    I am glad to read you are setting boundaries and actually helping TL in her recovery from hurt from you. That is a big step! I wish my husband was being introspective like you have posted here.


    1. Thanks, Bugsmetwo. I can’t imagine what your husband’s childhood must have felt like. It sounds like he had too little parenting, whereas I had too much. I know that, sadly, under-parenting is all too common in our society and brings plenty of problems. But, it’s like a foreign concept for me. I’d be interested to hear your husband’s thoughts on this. Does he see any links between under-parenting and his adultery in later life? MC

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We haven’t made it that far in therapy yet. I of course see the links, but I’m waiting to hear what he says. When I find out, I will let you know. Definitely too little parenting.


  2. I do think there is a bit of learning to be a victim, being protected from natural consequences, as well as assuming a disappointment and lack of trust from parents that all feeds the bad wolf. I am sure there is some fundamental issue among some cheaters here, but trying to pin point the fundamental issue.

    I know for MC he was not allowed to make choices for himself ever. In high school, his mom still picked out what clothes he would wear to school each day. Even when we would visit as adults, she would go through our bags and critique his choice of clothes, not allow us to: do our own laundry; get our own glass of water from the kitchen; arrange to see other family members on our own schedule; drive ourselves anywhere; leave the house to do our own thing; and many other examples. Absolutely EVERYTHING had to go through her, be controlled by her.

    What would happen if we attempted to have choice and control? She would throw a temper tantrum. After the fight about our child, we still visited from time-to-time (once ever few years, for a maximum of three days), but would rent a car and stay in a hotel. It did help. I think she actually preferred it in reality, but hated how she perceived the outside world would view it.

    I seriously think the only reason she wants us to visit is for appearances, because when we actually visit, she seems very stressed to have visitors that might upset the order of her pristine home. This is a woman who cleans up the kitty litter immediately after each time the cat uses the littler box, who writes down every time the cat uses the littler box to ensure the cat is staying regular and who vacuums the entire floor the litter box is on each time the cat uses the litter box. Last time I was there, she actually got upset at the cat for pooping off schedule. She was also surprised to hear that I did not keep notes of and schedule my children’s toilet habits.

    MC was really nothing more than one of her many “collectible” trinkets, a doll to be dressed and manipulated and then put back on the shelf as a show piece only to be seen and heard from again when she decided to take the doll off the shelf to be shown to others. She is all about appearances and not at all about substance, funny that.


    1. Perhaps, among other things, my mother’s example taught me, inaccurately, that love is conditional. She loved me if I won prizes and recognition. She loved me if I made her look good or boosted her ego. If I did not, she was disappointed with me. I was her “trophy son.”

      Similarly, before D-day, I “loved” TL if she gave me sex or made me believe in my worth as a man. If she presented me with uncomfortable realities or expressed her own needs and wants, I was disappointed with her.

      Part of the solution for me was to learn that really loving TL is not conditional nor transactional. I can and should love her, separate from and regardless of what she does for me. MC

      Liked by 1 person

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