Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
I have been taking care of my sister’s kids since they were taken from her due to neglect. When I first got them they were allergic to things like structure, expectations, or discipline. My therapist told me that they were “feral” and I had to put a stop to their resistance, otherwise I would be enabling their behaviors. I was scared and was expecting all kinds of trouble. But I tried it anyway, all the time wondering if I was doing the right thing. I hated being so strict but at the same time I was surprised by just how fast they changed and how well they took to it. I have rarely an issue with their behavior now and it’s been less than 5 months.
Clearly, structure, expectations, and discipline are the right thing to do. I wouldn’t change a thing, but why did I feel so guilty when I began being strict with them?? Why do I still?
Dr. Mrs. No,
When you read the biography of a person who grew out of chaos or dysfunction, you often hear, “I just wanted to know the rules and what was expected of me.” Kids need to know the rules and they want to see those in their environment be consistent to these rules as well.
Humans learn through role modeling. Clearly, you not only set limits with your sisters kids, but you were consistent in your own behavior as well. Excellent job!
You feel guilty doing this because our culture has a codependent dysfunctional view of love. We see love as indulgence. But for children, love isn’t total indulgence or total protection from suffering. Love is preparing your children to be self-reliant individuals.
Love is reflected in one’s self-esteem but only if it’s base is in self-respect. If you allow yourself to be treated badly in order to appease someone else, that isn’t self-respect OR love, it’s just poor role modeling.
Putting others’ needs before your own if you completely neglect your own just doesn’t work; it isn’t love, it’s enabling. There has to be a balance.
You are doing a great job, keep it up.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I found it interesting that Dr. Brilliant should mention reading the lament in biographies of famous people: “I just wanted to know the rules and what was expected of me.”
Anyone who begins life in chaos and dysfunction, and grows out of it to make something of themselves,
has a drive to find order and reason that is not necessarily shared by their peers. I think that it is, however, the drive of every HEALTHY being to find order in chaos.
It seems you are lucky, Mrs. No. You inherited some kids who have good healthy instincts. And you happened to have the sense to do the right thing. The guilt might be a vestige of the dysfunctional upbringing I suspect you may have had. If your sister can’t take care of her own kids, you are lucky a second time. You had the healthy instincts to find reason and order in your own life, despite your beginnings.
Just ignore the guilt. It has no more relevance than a vestigial tail.