To most folks, micromanagement has to do with tasks or performance. The micromanaging parent, for example, is generally thought of as one who hovers over a child’s homework or academics in general. Indeed, that is the most common form, but parental micromanagement can also extend to organizing and directing a child’s social life and recreation.
Whatever the context, micromanagement is driven by anxiety. The micromanaging parent is anxious that the child might do something that reflects badly on the parent, which means that parental micromanagement is a variation on the theme of codependency. It is almost always the case that the attempt to micromanage a child engenders relationship problems of one sort or another, including rebellion.
The least obvious form of parental micromanagement involves the attempt to perfect a child’s behavior. The parent in question is affected by a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, symptoms of which include over-attending to misbehavior, persistent nagging, frequent lecturing and the over-use of punitive consequences. There is no doubt concerning the parent’s love for his or her child, but it is demonstrated in the most paradoxical of ways. How, pray tell, is a child to understand that someone who is often angry at him genuinely loves him?
It goes without saying that parents who micromanage misbehavior are overly vigilant. They can’t bring themselves to let even the smallest infraction — the child makes a sour face at some instruction, for example — go by the boards. Every little thing is a big deal, worthy of agitation, a lecture and even punishment. Their kids eventually become immune to lecturing and being punished, which is a rather understandable defense mechanism. Unfortunately, the parent interprets the child’s immunity as evidence of disrespect and the need for more “discipline.” And around and around they go.
Micromanagers are their own worst enemies. By being on the constant lookout for a problem, they activate a self-fulfilling prophecy and problems are what they get. So, for example, the parent who is constantly on the lookout for disrespect gets precisely what she’s looking for. The smallest nuance of body language becomes confirmation that her child doesn’t respect her and needs more correction. Eventually, a child who was just being a child — kids wear their emotions on their sleeves — becomes truly disrespectful. By what magic does a person come to respect a person who is constantly on their back about something or other?
A functional relationship between a superior and a subordinate requires more of the former than the latter. For one thing, it requires that the superior overlook what is nothing but “background noise” — quirks of personality, for instance. Not sweating every little peccadillo is an important part of what being authentically superior is all about.
I hate to bust a bubble or two out there in Reader Land, but parents do not deserve respect. If you want your child to “invest” in your authority, you must act like you know what you are doing. Micromanagers think they know what they’re doing, but thinking is as far as it goes because what they’re doing is counterproductive, always.
And their children know that.