I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I have a guilty addiction to reading Dear Abby. There’s just something so delightfully quaint, cheesy, and the advice ranges from bizarrely funny to head-scratching.
Today’s was more in the head-scratching category for me, and reminded me of just how differently I think compared to Dear Abby and what I imagine is her typical demographic. From today’s letters (emphasis mine):
DEAR ABBY: I’m a 15-year-old girl who has never been in trouble, but my mom treats me like I’m a criminal. She makes me go to church every Sunday. She makes me go to Catholic school, and I have to wear an ugly uniform. She won’t help with my homework. She says, “I already did 10th grade.” I can’t wear halter tops, short shorts, a bikini or much makeup. If I tell her it’s the style, she says, “Modesty is always in style.”
When I go out with my friends, she wants to know where I’m going, who I’ll be with, what we’ll be doing, when we’ll be back and their phone numbers. If I have a date with a new boy, she makes him come into the house and tell her what school he goes to. Then she makes him show her his driver’s license and car registration.
I can’t keep my computer in my room. When I’m using it in the den, she looks over my shoulder and won’t let me go to chat rooms. I have to set the table even if we don’t have company and sit down and have dinner with her every night.
If I can’t afford something, she tells me to save up or budget better. She won’t let me drive until I can pay for my own insurance. It’s not like my mom’s poor. We go to Hawaii and Lake Tahoe, and we’ve been to Europe and on cruises. But she won’t even pay for cable TV. She says it’s an idiot box and I should read a book instead.
She also makes me do my own laundry and keep my room and bathroom clean. She makes me do unfair chores like clean the guest bathroom even though I never ever use it. She wants to teach me to sew and cook, but I have no interest in those things.
She makes me visit Dad every week, and if I complain about anything, she says (very calmly and quietly, which I hate more than if she’d yell), “You can always choose to live with your dad.”
She told me as long as I live under her roof, I have to abide by her rules even if I’m over 18. And I have to go to college, and if I don’t, I’ll have to get a job and support myself.
I could go on and on. Have you ever heard of a mother so unreasonable? I’m afraid to run away, but I don’t know how much more of this I can take. — EMOTIONALLY ABUSED IN CALIFORNIA
Now, before I post Dear Abby’s answer, I would like to direct you to the axiom well known in the skeptical community as “Poe’s Law”, which, in a nutshell, states that sometimes it is impossible to tell the difference between a parody and a sincere attempt. When you come across a parody, you can say, “I’m calling a Poe on that”. Like I was when I first read this.
In this case, Dear Abby is calling a Poe too, but a more specific one which I didn’t think of before, but makes a lot of sense:
DEAR EMOTIONALLY ABUSED: Wow! Your letter should be posted on every refrigerator in the country. Rarely do I hear about a parent who tries as hard as your mother does to do a diligent job. One day you will look back and thank her.
PS. And if by chance this letter was written by your mother — congratulations for a job well-done. I would like to nominate you for Mother of the Year.
Reading over it again, I think that she’s right about one thing… This was probably written by the teen’s mother. And I don’t like jumping to conclusions, but if this letter is any indication, this mother is a suffocating, insecure woman who is doing her daughter a significant disservice, and on top of it all, is either so anxious or so arrogant that she has to write to Dear Abby to validate herself and her parenting style, in a column that’s read by over 10 million people daily.
I’m baffled that Dear Abby endorses this woman’s methods, but maybe I shouldn’t be. In this culture, it’s fun to pretend that children and teenagers are not entitled to bodily autonomy, privacy, freedom of thought and movement, but are mere extensions of their parents’ wills, so there’s really nothing wrong with looking over your kids’ shoulders while they’re on the internet, grilling their children’s friends and potential dates, and forcing them to go to church.
But there’s a load wrong with this. At the core, this woman doesn’t trust her 15-year old daughter, and is teaching her daughter in the process to be sly, secretive, and clandestine about what she does if she wants any freedom. I knew several people who had parents like this in high school, and as soon as they were old enough and had a means of escape, whether that was a quickie marriage, the military, or a job on an oil rig, they were gone, and they usually discarded the rules of their parents with relish.
If you love your children, and want them to succeed in life, and are, in the words of Dear Abby, genuinely interested in doing “a diligent job” as a parent, part of that is learning to let go as they get older, develop their own interests, life, and spirituality, and learning to trust them. Parents who are genuinely happy with how well they did at raising their kids reach a point where they know they did a good job and don’t need to hound their children about who they’re associating with and what they are doing by the time they reach 15, and usually, these kids don’t end up doing anything illicit or morally objectionable, because they can think for themselves and aren’t thirsty for rebellion.
Now, in addendum, before I get a bunch of people sore at me for writing this criticism, I want to clarify two things: One is that I am not criticising the mother for making her daughter do chores, pay for her own things, set the table, or learn to sew and cook. There’s nothing objectionable about any of those. I’m specifically criticising the way she’s handling aspects of her daughter’s social life which are none of her business and only encourage her daughter to not confide in her mother when she may really need her. Chores are not the problem here, so I don’t want any comments fixating on how I’m being unfair to her for making her daughter do her own laundry or whining about how “kids these days” don’t know how to take care of themselves. Laundry and sewing are more easily and quickly learned than trust, independence, and mutual respect.
And secondly, I am not bashing all mothers here, or demonizing motherhood, which is a common slur thrown to autistic self-advocates which I’ve grown tired of. I’m merely criticizing one woman who thought it would be cute for some reason to impersonate her daughter in order to garner praise for her parenting methods. That’s less to do with her being mother and more to do with her being a potential narcissist whose arrogance is a disguise for her insecurity.