Google+ Authentic Parenting: Are you Damaging Your Child by Demanding Obedience?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Are you Damaging Your Child by Demanding Obedience?

In our current culture, parents are praised when their children are obedient – it’s a mark of good parenting. The quieter and the more obedient the child, the better.  In truth, parents are doing a disservice to their children and to society when they demand that their children do exactly as they are told, no questions asked.  In other words, expecting children to dutifully comply with their parents commands, right away, is not such a great idea in the long run.


Here are six reasons why obedience is potentially damaging and why you may want to reconsider demanding it from your child:

Demanding obedience damages self-worth.
When a child is made to do something, with no choice or reasoning, their sense of self worth is affected. They must override their own needs to do that which the commanding person expects. A child that is made to stop focusing on their own needs long enough will soon not even bother, afterall someone else will be dictating their needs for them.

Demanding obedience instills shame.
Along with overriding their own needs and damaging self-esteem, a child that has no say over their own body and choices will feel ashamed, over and over again.  Being repeatedly told that a child has done something incorrectly and that they must instead do something in a certain way imposed by someone else causes emotional pain. This quote from Gershen Kaufman sums it up well  "Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in the moment of shame the self feels wounded from within."

Demanding obedience is a set up for bullying:  Parents often demand that a child follow orders and then threatens with consequences and punishment in the name of obedience. How is a child to recognize when a peer or stranger is bullying them, if this already happens at home? Even worse, a child will come to believe that relationships are built on a foundation of demands and threats and may turn into a bully himself.  It’s actually quite a scary thought, but if we take the time to carefully examine the current culture which expects obedience from children at all costs and the ever rising number of problems with bullying in schools it’s enough to make one pause and think.

Demanding obedience hinders critical thinking.
A vital part of the learning process and development of a child is asking questions and exploring alternate outcomes. If a parent is making a child obey with phrases such as “Do this right now and just stop asking why!” or worse “Because I said so”  they are ultimately denying the development of an incredible life skill; thinking!

Demanding obedience kills trust between a parent and child. 
Parents can demand and then a child may do as their parent tells them but, ultimately  the child will not feel good about what they did. In addition to damaging their self esteem,  they will also start to question their trust in you as a parent. Why should a child want to do something, want to please their parent if it comes at a cost of feeling bad, unworthy and deflated? Children that are secure in their relationship with their parents tend to WANT to do what the parent asks but part of that security comes from being able to express themselves, question things, have their own ideas and still feel loved and wanted even if there are disagreements or difference of opinion.

Demanding obedience hinders the development of self-discipline.
Some parents nag and demand that their children dress, wash, finish homework, etc...and yet the struggle continues daily. The culprit? Demanding compliance and obedience.  The thing is, constant pushing can make a child become dependent on or worse indifferent to those very reminders. A child may start to think “Why bother until that yell comes about” or "if they really mean it, they'll yell at me."

In no way do I mean to say children should not be getting dressed, doing homework, respecting limits and so on, but demanding obedience does not create the inner guidance to do what we know is best and correct for that moment, in fact it squashes it.

Do you find yourself demanding that your children be obedient? Frustrated that nothing works? You are not alone, after all, society really expects children to quietly behave and do as they are told, and of course it's sometimes much easier if our children would just do what we want. So, Wondering what to do instead of demanding Obedience?

On Positive Parenting Connection  I am talking about: If not Obedience, then what?  I hope you will join me over there and on the Positive Parenting Connection Facebook page. Until then,


Peace & Be Well,


Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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47 comments:

  1. A brilliantly written post! Will send people this way next time they seem inable to 'get' my explanations of the same!

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  2. As a child of parents who demanded complete, absolute obedience, I can attest to the fact that these points are true.

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    1. I hope you are finding ways to heal and find your own voice. hugs to you and thank you for reading.

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    2. Thank you! I am -- including raising my own daughter the way I should have been raised. She's only 5 months old so far though!

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  3. I admit, obedience makes my life easy. When my toddler follows protocol, the day goes so smoothly for me. That said, I actually hesitate to tell my son to obey and don't tell him to do it often. Instead, I just say, "Now it's time to brush your teeth." As if these things are just what we do in this house.

    I also pick my battles, so that if it's really not a big deal, I let it go. I try to take a step back and see how petty it actually seems when you compare it to a bigger picture. I mean really, does he *have* to change t-shirts right this second instead of staying in his pajama top for the morning? That type of thing.

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    1. Sounds like you are working to strike a really nice balance between the needs of everyone! thank you for reading.

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  4. i love this! and i'm gonna fb it. readers may like this related blog of mine http://goodjobandotherthings.com/do-you-scare-your-kids-do-you-think-they-deserve-it/

    "If you think a child stopping playing and cleaning up on a dime is the be all to end all, I’d like to share with you a different perspective.

    Compliant kids are kids who don’t stand up for themselves. Their need for love and approval is so strong that they just do what they are told. I know lots of people who do what they are told regardless of what it is. (Hell six million Jews were killed because people obediently followed orders.)

    I don’t want a child who isn’t passionate about their lives. Their friends. Their buildings. Their playing. Their love of staying awake and living life. Or their need for autonomy. I wouldn’t want a kid who doesn’t try to stick up for themselves and their point of view. Their joy in what they’re doing should be a good sign, a sign of total engagement, not a bad one...."

    thank u!

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    1. Jennifer, nice to see you over here ;) thank you for sharing this post and for sharing your own as well. I saw it when you first posted it, lots of good things to think about. thank you for stopping by!

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  5. What a load of hogwash. I am glad my children and I do not have to encounter you and your children in real life as I am fairly posiitive we would not get along. I deal with many challenges day-to-day and I need to rely on my children to accept that when I say something they need to do it. That is an essential foundation for our family to operate with. I detest encountering poorly behaved children in public

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    1. i agrree, give them at least some education

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    2. Thank you, but my children receive countless comments on how well-behaved and lovely they are. Most shop-keepers comment on how amazed they are that they don't fiddle with things and muck about. My children do what I ask when I say because they trust that there's a valid reason because I haven't insisted on obedience just because I'm the parent all their lives.

      When I say 'don't touch things in the shop because if they break I'll have to pay and I can't afford to do that', they listen. When I say 'I'm feeling really anxious that we're going to be late, and being late really bothers me as it's rude and stressful. Please can you get your shoes etc. on so we can leave on time', they listen and do it.

      My children are amazing, and I think it's very short-sighted and narrow-minded of you to believe that there is only one way in the world to bring up lovely children!

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    3. If I said things such as I'm feeling anxious were going to be late to my toddler she would just look at me like I was crazy. She is extremely independant and strong willed and pretty much marches to her own drum. I think this is ridiculous. Children need discipline. You cannot honestly tell me that your children listen to you 100% of the time no questions asked, no one is perfect and your way of parenting isn't perfect. If I didn't demand the respect and cooperation from my child she would be completely out of control. I am not narrow minded either. I know what works for my child, they are all completely different.

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    4. You don't have to be mean to you kids for them to be well behaved, and fearing your kids into you preferred behavior will not teach them anything but to fear you for the rest of your life.. that being sad I would MUCH rather have poorly behaved kids then have them feel the kind of depression, self loathing, and anxiety that I do from they way my father treated me. Our relationship will likely never heal and I will never feel emotionally safe around him nor will ever spend any time with him that I don't have to. I weep for the children of parents who desire to instill fear and self loathing into them, and pray that those kids are resilient enough to overcome it and get the hell away from that situation when they no longer have to be in it.

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  6. I agree with Sleeping Mom..there is a balance between respect and obedience and complete dominance of your child. Allow them to be themselves but let them know that YOU are the parent, not their friend. They have friends, they need parents to love and guide them into adulthood, not let them flounder by "letting them be free to make their own decisions". I can't stand that parenting philosophy! Children need and crave structure and guidance, not free for all structureless environments. There is definitely a compromise so your child can express who they are in a safe, loving environment and learns to respect people and boundaries at the same time.

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    1. rdhddramaqn - I agree with you, children need structure and limits, limits that allow them to learn to make good choices and good decisions so they can grow up to be empathetic, responsible and contributing members of society. Expecting obedience is not the same as setting limits! thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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  7. This is a great reminder. I have very strong-willed children, so I'm trying to find that balance between letting them make most of their choices and them just outright controlling everything. I can't wait to read tomorrow's post!

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    1. Such a delicate and difficult task isn't it? My oldest is very determined! Thank you for reading :)

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  8. Great post. I look forward to a follow-up on how to explain this to family members completely steeped in the idea that children must be obedient. To me it makes sense but these ideas are foreign to them.

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  9. Wow. Victoria, I don't know why you would bother reading the article of you have so much contempt towards this way of thinking. You could have critiqued the article in a much more respectful way, but your anger clearly prevented that.

    I am wondering if obedience also subjects a child to a greater chance of being molested. They are so used to doing what they are told that when someone older than them asks them to do something, the child complies. No thank you. I wonder if Victoria has considered this.

    I would have liked to read an example of each point you made in the article. The concept will stick in my mind better. I love the respect you show children!

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    1. Yes, demanding obedience does open children to molestation by adults - and letting it go on and on, because they have been taught not to question authority. This happened to a friend of mine.

      So glad I'm not Victoria's kid... goodness

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    2. Oh good lord. You give children no credit. They aren't stupid. Just because parents expect them to behave and mind doesn't mean they will just lay down and let people walk all over them or molest them. Maybe you should reevaluate who is present on your child's life. Victoria I agree with you, mine is expected to behave and do what she is told the first time especially in public. I cannot stand listening to parents "try" to get their children to behave in public. People do not want to listen to your child scream or throw a fit in a public place.

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  10. Tgreenwood@yahoo,comMay 15, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    Love this. My MIL once told me that getting sick when her children were small was the best thing she did for them. She was forced to back off and stop giving detailed minute by minute instructions. Her children all ended up being highly intelligent, critical thinking, well-adjusted adults.
    She is also an awesome grandmother. She has no opinions on anything. She taught her children how to be parents the past few decades by her example.

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  11. I disagree with some of this. I allow my children to ask why and I do my best to explain to them. However, there are just some things they are too young to understand or for you to put on their shoulders with explanations. When my two year old wants to run off in the grocery store, I'm not going to explain to him that he needs to stay with me because there are bad men out there that will snatch him up and molest and or murder him. When they get old enough, they realize you do things for their own good, and that builds trust.

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    1. Hi Annonymous,
      what about creating ways in which your two year old chooses to stay by you at the store? Would you want to try that? I would love for you to check out the follow up post to this, the whole idea is that we can meet our child's needs with age appropriate alternatives to just demanding their obedience.
      thank you for stopping by.

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    2. I was in a fruit store once with my 18month old son (he is now almost adult). He started to run off towards the street. I yelled out his name followed by 'STOP!!' just on instinct. He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to look at me. I was pretty amazed, but I think it was because our bond was so close that he heard the urgency in my voice and knew there was some danger. He stopped out of trust, not blind obedience or fear.
      I'm not saying that always 'works' but it made me realise the importance of trust and that close bond between parent and child.

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    3. Running off in the store is one of my primary concerns with my two-year-old as well. When I can follow her, I love to give her the opportunity to explore. My concern is that she not run out in front of a cart, a concept she doesn't seem to grasp yet although I have tried to explain it to her. I ask that she stay in my sight if I have shopping I need to get done, and she normally does. But if she's in a contrary mood and wants to wander off I scoop her up and wear her in the sling until I'm done with what I need to do. I try to leave room in my shopping trips to follow her where she wants to go, so both of us get to "shop" and it's not all about me. Everything we do together is a great learning experience, and having the patience not to be demanding of "obedience", but keeping the child who doesn't quite understand safe, is a very delicate balance. I'm learning as I go.

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  13. I shared and brought this point up as well:

    "Respect your elders, obey authority, first time obedience. These are situations that make kids ripe for abuse on every level- emotional, sexual, physical, spiritual.

    If they learn to obey authority without question as to WHO is trustworthy and WHAT is reasonable, they have no way to determine what is crossing boundaries and what is not."

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  14. This is a satire piece right? I'm supposed to walk away from this and realize I SHOULD be doing those things...because this a scary way of thinking. This reasoning is why we have an entitled, self-absorbed society. IMO, of course.

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    1. I think you are referring to the opposite extreme, in which a child gets everything they ever ask for without having to work for it. There is a happy medium between legalism and licentiousness.

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  15. I think there is a huge difference between having a dictatorship in your home and loving leadership. I am not an overbearing parent but yes my children do have chores and limits (they are 3 and 4). They are expected to obey the first time I ask them to do something. I don't boss them around while I sit around watching, I am not taking advantage of them or abusing them. I am simply trying to shape them into contributing, responsible members of society. I thank them non stop for their help which leaves them beaming with pride. I show them respect by using words like please and thank you, they in return show that respect to myself and others. I work along side my children to show them what is expected of them when they become adults. When I discipline them I am showing that there are consequences for not following rules. I was recently pulled over for driving over the speed limit, I used that real life situation to show that even as adults we have guidelines to follow, that even mommy has to answer to someone. We also want our children to put others before themselves, we don't want them to be self absorbed. This does not mean we do not teach them to respect themselves. I feel this is the way parenting should be. As someone said earlier, we are not here to be our childrens friends or let them run the house.

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    1. Kelli, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  16. I think Kelli has the right idea! Kids need to have boundries - parents do too. Obedience should be encouraged but parents should explain why a particular behavior is important.

    "Johnny, never put your hand in a electrical socket because it could electrocute you!"

    "Amy don't call Pam names. You wouldn't like her calling you names. Just because she's different doesn't make her a bad person."

    Kids should also need to learn that they need to make contributions. Asking and insisting that a 5 year old pick up his toys is not a bad thing. On the other hand, listen and talk to them when they ask "Why?" Blind obedience is not a good thing either. The "why" explanations are important and can create a dialogue that will help them apply principles to new situations. If kids are not obedient, find out why and discuss alternatives the their behavior.

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    1. Yes Michele, boundaries and limits are important. there is a difference between expecting blind obedience, which is "don't touch that socket" or "get your hands off of there" and actively teaching or guiding our children to make good decisions for example with sockets, aside from putting child safety caps on, we can explain before the fingers go anywhere near them: "look here sweetie, these are sockets, they may harm you. they are not for touching. these are your toys. Look, some blocks, how about we build a tower together?" thank you for sharing your ideas.

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  17. Brilliant post! Seems like some commenters are mixing up obedience with boundaries and consequences.

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  18. I really enjoyed this post (and I just found this blog today and already love it). This goes very much in line with my parenting philosophies and ideas. I have been reading a lot from Allyson Schaefer who is a Canadian Physiologist who writes about parenting with Adlerian ideals. I was also intrigued to read about unschooling (as we are currently homeschooling our children - but I use that term very loosely). I very much look forward to reading more from you in the future :)

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  19. Hi friend...I hate to be a dissenter, but I don't agree with what you've written at all. I (as the parent) am ultimately not the one demanding obedience from my children. God is. He tells them to obey me, and when they don't, they are sinning against me and against Him. I'm obeying Him by expecting them to obey me. It's His rule, not mine.

    That being said, while I work hard to call out obedience from my sons, and allow repercussions when they don't, I work hard for their hearts. I'm much more interested in working to capture their hearts and have them obey me out of love than I am producing little Pharisees who look good on the outside, but are far from God on the inside.

    Teaching children to obey (not forcing, not hurting, not abusing in any way) to loving parents sets them up to more easily obey God in the future. And ultimately, their sense of self-worth must come from Him, not me.

    I'm just concerned that as a society, we place way too much value on self-esteem and not not hurting their fragile little egos. I love my boys, and I want God's best for them in every possible way, but in the end, His opinion of their hearts is what matters most.

    Even though I disagree, I appreciate your boldness in stating what you believe. Thank you for that!

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    1. What a fucked-up god.

      I grew up with parents who said having any sort of self esteem was selfish. It really messes you up. My parents also believe kids should be obedient to them because it sets them up for obedience to the Christian god. I hated myself for years and am only just in a healthy enough place where I can start learning to love myself. It's a bad place to be in.

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    2. Learning to obey God is important, but think of how God wins our obedience. Does he punish us and order us around, or does he gently ask, and then leave it to us what we do? He allows us to reject him completely if we want to. He allows us to discover for ourselves what the consequences of our actions are. And he allows us to use our reason to come to him and figure out what he wants ... there's no dictating with no reason behind it. I think God would like me to raise my children with the same respect that he treats me with.

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  20. Excellent points! I need to read this to my husband to help him understand...

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  21. There are many things I agree with in this post. Coming from an physically and mentally abusive childhood I have vowed to never treat my children as though they should be little robots ready for their commands and punishments. They have a lot of freedom and many rules. I feel that if you let your kids know that a family must work together to get things done and be successful and rules are set to protect them they would be more accepting to do what you ask of them. For instance when we are at the grocery store my son who is 8 is in charge of pushing the cart and my daughter who is 5 is in charge of checking off the items on our list, this has eliminated the whole running around like maniacs thing. Also they know they have to stay within my sight when in public at the most 10 feet because people will take kids. Its very amusing because once we are out of the car they stand next to me then count 10 steps to know what the distance should be. My son is extremely imaginative and needs more rules to stay on task but my daughter is a natural enforcer who often keeps him on task. She is by no means bossy or rude simply saying something like hey don't forget what mom says is all she needs to remind him of the task. I have never had to tell her to do so she just understands what has to be done. I often come across children that are very rude in public and it truely aggrivates me I believe in teach by example, I call everyone older then me by mr or ms and their first name and hold open doors and ask people if they need help...so do my children because of this. Like I said families need to work together to succeed!

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  22. Some parents clearly are overly demanding, but children will always have someone they need to obey and you are not helping them or even loving them if you let them do whatever they want.

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  23. That's right Jennifer. As adults, we need to obey authority - traffic laws, our nation's laws, our bosses and company's regulations, etc. Living like this, where you have to explain every little thing to your children and having to think of "creative ways" for them to follow you is completely exhausting on the parent.

    It also goes completely contrary to what the Bible says, which I believe. The Bible says that "foolishness is bound on the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him" - before you say that children aren't foolish, think again. It is foolish to cross the street without looking, to put your hands in electrical sockets, it's foolish to throw temper tanturms and have screaming fits. Yes, foolishness does reside in the heart of a child and only loving parents will take on the responsibility of consistently disciplining them with love and gentleness.

    I understand - the Bible is not everyone's axiom, but it surely is mine, and God has never let me down. I'm thankful for His wisdom. - For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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    1. Yes... but at the same time, parents can claim the name of God when it has no business being claimed. "You need to play baseball because I failed at playing baseball and you can do better than me, and that will make me feel good!"... "Get straight A's in school because I never did but God will send you to Hell if you don't" ... ""Have kids so I can change their stinky diapers and feel better about myself!"

      It's no good. If you're going to raise kids in GOD'S name, then raise then in GOD'S name... not your own. If you choose to give your life to God, and offer your children and grandchildren to God, then you sacrifice your right to DEMAND that they do as you want them to do (gymnastics, football, baseball, eat fiber so their poop smells better, etc). They are GOD'S when you give them to GOD. They are no longer your own.

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  24. My dad's wife, Lynn, has 5 granchildren from her 1st marriage and I have seen in the past how she cannot handle it when all the kids are around playing and being goofy in a small confined room. My child is the oldest grandchild of all of them between my dad and her, and has been recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder. She has a hard time dealing with her loud voice and overbearing comments, and her controlling behavior, like having to only have 1 cup all day in the house, and god forbid you use 2 cups in one day, since the sink might have 6 dishes in them for a few hours. She acutally yelled at my daughter one day about too many cups or dishes in the sink "who puts dishes in the sink!" So with all the arguing and yelling that my dad and his wife display in front of us when we visit, and her controlling, neat freak tendencies, her grandkids wouldn't dare say anything for fear of being yelled at again. My daughter loathes visiting, so we restrict to only 1 overnight stay there, because Lynn will invitably point out something in my daughter that's "wrong" and then later on say about how HER daughter's kids are so well behaved on he she hands it. LOL However, her grandchildren are very quiet at her house and Lynn even recently posted a comment as how "well-mannered" they are, and I feel it is a dig as to how "unpolite" my duaghter is. However, I have seen their grandkids "act up" at their parents' house when she visits from out of town, and she can't handle more than a couple days of their "behavior" and then needs to go home and take another Zanax and Prozac. Yes, go take another Zanax Lynn. You need it.

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  25. I mostly agree with this post. Indeed, the screaming brat in public is a piece of shit, but there's a fine line between structure and tempting the child to one day ask you to replace them with a foster brat and forget they ever existed. Long story short, I'm convinced that mommy dearest has driven me insane with her nonstop commands, out right putdowns, and bitching about everything. It is customary to take your child to the doctor when they say something hurts, right? Mommy didn't seem to think so. :-D I walked on a broken foot once until it healed... Lord knows that will give me hell in a few years. 20 years old and already looking forward to walking problems, what fun.

    A word from me, (I decided against saying the "advise" word) if you feel the need to try to choose who your offspring can and can't date, do so carefully. Guess who, thought it was a good idea to tell me to marry a man twice my age, an alcoholic, currently MARRIED, being fought with by his wife (she wants a divorce, he does not), and, as mommy has said, a possible murderer. Nice, it was a great way to celebrate my 19th birthday, thank you; I needed to shed tears of pure anger.

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