I never really liked Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or any selected day of the year that is designed to lionize a parent or any one particular person in general. But because today is Father’s Day, and because I have written about my father and my stepfather on this blog, I feel like it is necessary to explore what it means to be a tough parent and what it means to be an oppressive one, using both real life and fictional examples.
Let’s start with the fictional examples, just to get them out of the way as well as just to create a point of reference. We’ll then work from there with the real life examples.
A little over a decade ago, I saw a trailer for a movie called Georgia Rule. Although I never saw it, I knew enough about it to know that it was presented as a dark comedy about the struggles of an oppressive, out of touch parent who struggles to micromanage her daughter and granddaughter. Although the movie itself touches on other very significant subjects, I will still use Georgia Rule as an example of oppressive parenting and oppressive parenting only.
Seeing the trailer for the movie instantly reminded me of my own father and my childhood friend’s mother. In Georgia Rule, Jane Fonda (who plays as Georgia Rule) micromanages her daughter and granddaughter to no end, viciously dictating all of their actions. If Judge Dredd had a family, I imagine he would be doing the same kinds of things, only following it up with violence, which Fonda does not do in Georgia Rule. If she did follow it up with violence, it would make her a malicious parent.
Oppressive parents live and die by their own terms and conditions. And they make the people they are raising know that the only person who is allowed any real agency in their lives is them. They want their children to succeed…in doing the things they tell them and in following their way and their way only. If anyone they do not approve of appears in their child’s life, they will tell their child to get them out of their lives or else face serious consequences. And if the person they are raising breaks the law or something…then it gets worse.
This is what happened to me when one of my crushes framed me for stalking. After everything was ended and settled, my father physically told me that if I got convicted of a crime similar to that just once, that he would disown me.
The shocking and crazy thing about oppressive parents is that they act this way all the time. Most parents act oppressive when under the influence of substances or because they had a fit or rage because they were stressed out or something. Then they take the things they said or did back. Truly oppressive parents act oppressive because it is a lifestyle; they use the fact that they are raising people to play God. They do not need to be under the influence of any substance to achieve this. They do not take back what they say or do either.
My father was an oppressive parent. As I said in my series about him that I wrote two years ago, he was an alright person but not a good parent. My childhood friend’s mother is the same. She is a wonderful person, much more supportive towards people in general than my father was, but again, not a good parent.
Are oppressive parents malicious? Absolutely not. Many of them have good intentions. But as the great Milton Friedman says, “Good intentions often do not lead to good results.”
This brings me to tough parents. Indeed, there are similarities between tough parents and oppressive parents. They both say harsh things to the people they are raising. If you are the child of an oppressive or a tough parent, you know that you need to put in an honest effort to earn the support of either one. And as I mentioned previously, neither are truly malicious (perhaps some oppressive parents are, but those are a rare exception).
For example, Johnny Lawrence, the main character of the youtube series Cobra Kai, is very tough on his students. He calls them names. He beats them up. But he also teaches them things, and tells each and every one of them that they have potential. Different than an oppressive parent, Lawrence does not trap his students into thinking that there is one perfect way to do everything (in the beginning of the series he does, but not towards the end).
My stepfather is very similar. There will be times where he will come at me and tell me that I am clearly not living up to my potential. He does this because he cares about me, and I know that he cares about me because with each insult he delivers, he comes right back and sings my praises. Anyone has watched any cooking show with world renowned chef Gordon Ramsay in it knows exactly what I am talking about. He will tell people who cook for him that they are useless, pathetic, etc. but he does this to light a fire under their asses to get them to be that much better.
The major difference between an oppressive parent and a tough parent is their ability to accept and support different lifestyles as well as different ways of contributing and earning a living. For example, my way of earning a living is by writing. I intend on monetizing my blogs, writing and selling books, as well as writing for other people. My father would not have supported this at all and would have called it a waste of time. However, my stepfather does support it, and constantly tells me to triple my commitment in it. He calls me out on my laziness and unproductive habits because he knows what I am capable of, and wants me to succeed.
So now you know the difference between an oppressive parent and a tough parent. So here’s the $50000 question: What should you do about each?
Oppressive parents, after you become a legal adult, have no business being in your life. If you are not relying on them for money or any other kind of support, then it is best to completely remove them from your life. I am not joking. Oppressive parents, while not malicious, are kind of like malicious-lite. Sure, they don’t hit you, tell you that you will never amount to anything, throw away your possessions, destroy their own possessions then blame you for it or do other manipulative things, like malicious parents do, but they are a waste of your time nonetheless. They are only happy if follow everything they want you to do, and your level of happiness will be greatly affected.
Does this mean never talk to them ever again? That depends on how much you value them. But despite the dictations of our cultural narratives, you can (and should) drop your parents like a bad habit if they are oppressive.
Having tough parents can be stressful. One thing I sometimes need to do is to go somewhere to work on things if my stepfather is being a little too belligerent. This happens roughly once a month. The main thing you should keep in mind when dealing with tough parents is knowing that they know that you have potential and know when you are wasting it. Never take any of their “insults” personally, as it is a strategy they are using to motivate you. Again, think back to Gordon Ramsay. When he shouts insults at his cooks in Hell’s Kitchen, he does it for a reason. Tough parents follow the same script.
Another good thing to do around tough parents is to let them know about your progression in something, and show them the things you are doing to make quality contributions. If they are unfamiliar with something, it is your job to let them in on all of the details about it so that they can see exactly what you are doing and how you are getting better at it.
Oppressive parents want you to triple your commitment for their happiness.
Tough parents want you to triple your commitment so that everyone involved can be happy. Know the difference.