The Parental Cloak

Do your children ever see you without your parenting cloak on? If not, they may not really know you.

Marriage Minute # 147 The Parental Cloak
(from my book Marriage Minutes, available on

Virginia Satir asked this interesting question of parents. Can you take off your “parental cloak” when you’re not using it? Do we depend on the power we get from parenting to make us who we are? Or, can we be other things, like ourselves, or a spouse, or a person at the job, or another person discovering new things about life, and living our own life?
Satir suggested that many parents wear their cloak (parental role) as a cover for their own insecurities, and their wish for power. She illustrates this by describing three “linings” for this cloak; a Boss lining, a Leader and Guide lining, and a Pal lining. These sound like the labels of Authoritarian (giving orders), Authoritative (giving guidance), and Permissive (giving in) parenting styles. The person wearing the Boss lining may be the one who has the hardest time putting the cloak aside, to let their family know who they really are.
One day Satir was so tired of hearing parents say to children that there was only one way, their way, of doing things (these adults often tell each other the same thing), that she took up an interesting project to illustrate a point. She heard about the “right way” so many times that she investigated and found that there were approximately 247 ways to wash the dishes. These ways included such things as whether you sort them first, or whether you rinse them first, or which item you wash first, and so on. Her point is that raising children who understand reasons and purpose, and children who have common sense and good judgment is good parenting. And, this parental cloak can be put aside when it is time to do so.
“People who are around a tyrant, suffer insult, constantly”, says Satir. Not only this, but they are often looking for more and more effective ways of working around the tyrant, or escaping them. Not much real parenting gets done.
Parents who are “more than parents” do better parenting. The cloak for them is not the main thing. I noticed this a few years ago when talking with a younger friend of mine who commented on how much I apparently Love my career life. (I am in my third career, and I still have the other two, as well.) This friend said he grew up in a home where his father and mother hardly ever had a kind word to say about their jobs. He said he envisioned adult life being this place where they dragged you off to the salt mines every morning and dropped you off at the curb every night. Caring for yourself is not selfish, enjoying life together with your children is not impossible, and it just may teach your children an important lesson, just by letting them see you live a satisfying life.

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