Jill Bishop, Univ.of Mn. ID #1758728
Place, Power and Culture at My House
The place is my house. It is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, comfortable, familiar, and it is called home by the people I love most in the world. My emotional attachment to it and all that it is and has been is tremendous.
The house is located on an acre of land with lots of trees and grass, bordered on the north by a lake. Although we have a small armada of boats, for me the lake is sight and sound and presence, not a playground. A view of the lake from all rooms of the house adds to its being a real part of the house. When the weather allows me to spend time outside I appreciate being able to extend the boundaries of my house to include the yard, so for half of the year I am out in the yard tending to flowers and shrubs or sitting on the deck as often as I can.
Sometimes five people live in the house: my husband, the three children, and me. But the older two children, now in their twenties, are usually gone, and their relationship to the house is a combination of resident and guest. So the permanent residents are three: two parents and one seventeen-year-old high school junior, our son, Jefferson.
Certainly all three of us are the same race, and we all belong to the same white, middle class, midwestern American culture. But the differences in our gender, ages, and the expectations of our roles in the community puts us in different subcultures. Comparing just Jefferson's and my lives and our very different subcultures in the community and roles in the house, I will tell of the relationship between the two of us as we represent middle-aged women and teenage boys. I presume that the power relationship between us is enacted similarly in many houses.
How does a woman/mother/homemaker comply with the cultural expectations of her role in society? She keeps a neat house, provides healthy meals for her family, and raises nice children who do well in school and don't get into trouble.
How does a teenage boy gain favor with his peers? He is anything but neat. He prefers junk food to healthy food. Good grades are not cool, at least not putting forth the effort to get them. (The insulting epithet is "schoolboy.") And getting into trouble (not too much trouble, however) is amusing.
And so the battle lines are drawn. The cultural expectations for our behaviors are clear: I must mold him; he must resist. Messy or clean bedroom. Healthy or junky food. Good or marginally adequate grades. Admiration or consternation from teachers.
It might appear that I have all the power. I can ground him and restrict all manner of pleasurable activities in his life as a consequence to his disobedience. But my goal isn't total dominance, it is peaceful coexistence in the present (a defiant child wouldn't earn my peers' respect either) and the end "product" of a responsible, healthy, mature young man. His goal is also peaceful coexistence (having parents 'on your case' is not pleasant) and having a carefree good time.
Just how does the struggle ensue? I use requests, reminders, praise, rebuke, bribery, negative consequences, bargaining, rationalizing, and compromise. For his part, Jefferson stalls, procrastinates, makes excuses, and occasionally outright complies. His room is a disaster and his diet is marginal. But his grades are not bad--never mind that they could be excellent and open all sorts or doors in his future. Apparently the future is my worry; the present is his. And he doesn't get into serious trouble...those teachers that complain are just unreasonably rigid.
Jefferson knows that this is largely a child-centered family and his wants, needs, and activities get strong consideration. Because he knows that his happiness and success are a priority with his parents, he has power to manipulate. So the power is not so one-sided after all.
In the final analysis both he and I do our share of rationalizing, bargaining, lots of compromising, sacrificing some of our desires for the way we wish things were, and trying to remember to press hard only on the important issues. I accept the messy room and the less-than-they-could-be grades. He accepts the unreasonably early curfew and studies more than he really thinks is necessary. We laugh a lot, we talk a lot, and the strong love between us softens the power struggle. It often seems to me that I give more than he does, so he wins; but then, he might not see it that way.
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