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Confessions of a Reactionary Parent

Ever said to yourself,

“I’m NEVER going to do X,Y,Z like my parents did!”

I have — Often

I grew up in a critical and argumentative home. At times people slammed doors, walked out of the house, refused to speak for 2 minutes (silencing a Bennett requires the miraculous) and shed tears. Arguments were my parents’, especially my mother’s, love language, even before culture coined the term. In my late 30’s I finally acknowledged that the telephone was her hug and inciting anger was her kiss. When arguments took a turn she didn’t like, personal attacks were her recourse,

“You always were too goody goody for us Cinda”

I remember thinking once, “Why are we doing this? This subject is so inconsequential and we’re getting so agitated, it’s just not important enough to argue about.” So I took a different position. I said “You’re right mom, I agree” to which she replied,

“Don’t patronize me Cinda”

At that point I realized it was all about the fight. Mind you, these were long distance phone fights. Calling plans were mom’s currency, she was first in line to sign up for unlimited long distance service. A headset was on her wish list. When cordless phones arrived she shivered.

You can see then, why I vowed to never argue with my children, NOR would they argue with each other. Arguing was taboo, verboten, forbidden. Unless it was between Bruce and I. After all, how can I get what I want or get him to change if I don’t argue with him?

The flesh is a challenge to crucify…

But children were not allowed to argue with us OR each other. We had discussions around the dinner table, we laughed and teased and they could voice opinions and we listened. Bruce was always quick to point out flawed thinking and generally managed to do it with a healthy measure of kindness. The girls learned that we were always right and they, while brilliant, were often wrong.

It’s just how life rolls…

What I didn’t realize I was doing by vowing not to argue, was that I was swinging the pendulum too far the other direction. I was a Reactionary Parent. It lives in EVERY generation. My mother read Hiam Ginott’s book “Between Parent and Child” and her takeaway was to not call her kids stupid because that’s what she was called…she never saw the connection between labeling them lazy or stubborn though,

EVERY generation!

Dominant parenting swings to permissive parenting. Republican parenting swings to Communist parenting (these days anyway), patriarchal parenting to feminist parenting. Disrespect to respect, money wasting to money hoarding, In our home, argumentative parenting swung to — peace at all costs.

We all take a reactionary parenting vow, somewhere somehow. What I realized, a bit too late to fix, was that that by outlawing arguing I’d never taught my daughters to fight and make up. I intervened, settled squabbles and kept a tight lid on fights so that I wasn’t forwarding the behavior I had lived with to the next generation.


I’ve always envied women who had healthy sister relationships. I have 4  but I’m only close to one. I’m 15 yrs older, when she was born it was like having a teen mom experience, minus the whole pregnancy/birth thing. She slept in my bedroom for a year or so. I woke up to her eyes peeking over the crib bumpers, huge smile on her face just waiting for me to acknowledge her. Today we have a mature adult relationship and we don’t fight, so I haven’t learned how to make up with her… no help there.

As I get to know women of all ages who have sisters, I’m learning that shared childhoods are often something women (and men) flee from. To be connected to a person you grew up with can invite pain that you’ve worked hard to heal. It’s true for me. I’m blessed to have many chosen sisters in life who are dearer to me than the ones I grew up with, but though we might disagree about things, we don’t fight.

No making up there either!

I’ve looked for Biblical examples of sisterhood, or even healthy family hood, they don’t exist. I dare you to find me an example of what a healthy family looks like. Even old Joshua probably had his issues when he declared that “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. I can just imagine one of his kids saying, “If the grapes aren’t locally sourced I’m not going to the promised land”.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, Saul, David — troubles all. Even the disciples left their families to follow Jesus — bet that went over well with their wives and kids. It certainly doesn’t fit the focusonthefamilyradiobookandspeaker definition of healthy family leadership. The Bible is chock full of advice for parents but examples are thin.

Our girls are as different as night and day. To be in the room with each other they need to be bi-lingual. One is a science nerd, the other is a writing geek. They’ve never shared clothing, makeup and especially music (god forbid). They played with entirely different toys. Dated and married very different men. One is so analytical you have to put the phone down and come back while the other is so cut and dried you can’t keep up. Their lives have traveled entirely different paths and places.

I can’t really say they are friends. The simple answer for their lack of friendship would be to blame myself for not teaching them to be better sisters to each other. I didn’t let them squabble and fight so they don’t know how to cross the divide they inhabit now. But I’m not taking that route even though I admit my error in reactionary parenting.

Instead I’m learning to accept that my adult family looks different than what a Christian Poster Family looks like. My girls may never be close to each other and it’s okay. As long as they walk the walk we taught them, fulfill their God given callings, know they are loved beyond measure and that we think they’re brilliant and exceptional,

I’m content

If you’re one of the people in the world who are blessed with close siblings, treasure your gift, hold it dear. If, however, you are like me… I hope you’ll be able to accept your family however it grows. And to take your eternal family seriously! Jesus said this;

Matthew 12:50  “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” 

As we approach the holiday season, which can be fraught with the very worst of family pain, I pray that everyone is comforted, knowing that who we live with eternally is more significant than who we are raised with.

And on that note…

Happy Fall!










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