Pros: Good book for children of controlling parents. Well written and easy to understand.
Cons: May be a little tough for parents to read. Might make some readers feel ambivalent.
Growing up is a tough business even under the best of circumstances. When your parents are controlling, growing up and individuating-- that is, becoming your own person-- can be even more difficult. Recognizing this truth, Dan Neuharth, Ph.D has written a book for adults who grew up with parents who were overly controlling. Published in 1998, Neuharth's book is entitled If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World.
I picked up this book for a few reasons. First off, I am the daughter of an alcoholic who was often abusive and controlling. Though I'm actually doing pretty well these days, it took me a long time to get to this point and sometimes I need a little fine tuning to keep me centered. Secondly, my husband has two daughters who are estranged. One of the main reasons the girls are estranged is because their mother is extremely controlling. I have only met my stepdaughters once, but as they are 18 and 16 years old, I have a feeling they could be re-entering our lives at some point. I want to have an understanding of where they might come from should they one day decide to reconnect with their bio dad, my husband Bill. And finally, I am a trained public health social worker and reading books like these are good for my professional development, even though I don't practice right now.
How this book is laid out
Dan Neuharth is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a doctorate in clinical psychology. It's clear he's run into a number of clients dealing with the aftermath of their upbringing. Neuharth writes to his readers as if they're seeking his services, using a personal voice. He starts by asking the question-- "Did you grow up with controlling parents?" This question, posed in the introduction, helps readers look back on childhood and determine whether or not their parents controlled them in an unhealthy way.
Neuharth reassures readers that they're not alone; indeed, when I read this introduction, I got the feeling that just about everyone's parents were too controlling. He lists a number of adjectives that would describe the way a controlling family might look. He asks questions about how his readers might have felt when they were growing up. Then he asks his readers if their parents had ever experienced certain traumas. Next, he asks his readers if they ever have certain drives or exhibit certain behaviors that may have stemmed from having had controlling parents.
Neuharth goes on to define the different types of controlling parents and how their behaviors affect their children. For example, according to Neuharth, I grew up the daughter of an alcoholic father and depriving mother. Their behaviors are most likely the result of having been raised in similar situations when they were growing up as well as their relationship with each other. As their children, my sisters and I were affected by their behaviors, which may have caused us to develop our own unhealthy behaviors. Neuharth effectively explains how overcontrol works and where it comes from.
Finally, Neuharth provides exercises for readers that might help them move beyond the obstacles caused by having grown up overcontrolled. Many people who were raised by overcontrolling parents find it difficult to live their lives on their own terms. They may try too hard to please others or they may suffer from anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. Children of controlling parents typically lack confidence and may try to be perfect. Recognizing this, Neuharth provides "homework" that might help his readers take steps to change these destructive conditions.
Overall, I'm left with a pretty positive opinion of this book. I think it's well written, easy to understand, and very relatable. In fact, this book might actually be too relatable for some people. Consider this. Neuharth asks his readers to consider whether or not they were overly controlled as children. Frankly, I think that anyone who would bother to answer that question probably doesn't need to read Neuharth's lists of characteristics of a controlling parent. If you think your parents were overly controlling, they probably were, at least for you, personally. And really, it's your perception of the situation that counts. Neuharth seems to understand this, but also understands that his readers will want reassurance that they're not imagining things or dramatizing the situation. So he provides signs and symptoms that will help them come to the conclusion that their parents were too controlling. But seriously, anyone who would pick up and read a book called If You Had Controlling Parents, probably doesn't need to answer any questions about the situation. Chances are excellent that their perceptions are correct. Even if they aren't correct by conventional standards, it's up to the reader to make that judgment since they're the ones visiting the subject.
I couldn't help but notice that while this book is potentially empowering for adult children of controlling parents, it may be difficult reading for their parents. Neuharth tries to soften the blow somewhat by reminding readers that most people try to do the best they can with what they have. Many controlling parents actually mean well, although some of them may be intentionally abusive. Neuharth reminds his readers that no one is all bad and even those parents who are really bad are still responsible for giving their children life. Of course, if you're an adult child whose life is miserable, maybe you wouldn't think that "gift" of life was such a good thing.
This book is great for anyone who loves charts. Neuharth uses a lot of them to illustrate his points. The charts provide sort of a visual aid that may make it easier for visual learners to see the cause and effect of relationships. Neuharth also uses some case studies and composites that may help readers identify their own situations as they help Neuharth clarify his points. I think the cases make this book more enjoyable to read.
I'd have to say that reading this book sort of made me understand my parents better. I guess I might have a better understanding of my husband's daughters' situation as well. And, I do think this was valuable reading for my professional development... On the other hand, when I did finish reading If You Had Controlling Parents, I found myself feeling kind of relieved that I don't have children of my own. Reading of this book made me realize how easy it can be to "screw up" your kids... or at least get blamed for screwing them up.
It occurred to me that even though children are often treated as if they "owe" their parents something for bringing them into the world, most people have children for somewhat selfish reasons. Neuharth makes it clear that children are not responsible for being born. So when an adult child is unhappy with how his or her life is going, it's easy to blame mom and dad for having them in the first place. I have to admit, this thought occurred to me quite often when I was growing up and felt like I was nothing but a nuisance and a disappointment to my parents. Thankfully, I'm feeling much better now and I think they appreciate me more these days, too. Now that I'm married to a man whose children blame him (and probably me) for everything that's gone wrong in their lives, I'm starting to feel kind of defensive from a parental standpoint, even though I barely qualify as a stepmother, let alone a mom.
Anyway, I do think this is a valuable book, even though it brought out a lot of conflicted feelings in me. I think it's a good book for those who grew up overly controlled... however, I would caution readers to try to maintain a little empathy for their parents. Many of them really do try to do what's right, even when things go horribly wrong.
For more information: http://www.controllingparents.com/aboutthe.htm