I wish I had a dollar for every time a client said to me that my children are so fortunate to be parented by me. They have benefitted from my practical suggestions themselves and at times even marvel (to my delight!) at my wisdom. I then promptly remind them that when your heart is involved, so much of what I do in my office is out the window. Am I always consistent with my children? Do I never nag? Do I pick my battles and always understand? Am I never, ever, ever passive-aggressive?
Fortunately, in my office, I do not have to come clean with any of those answers. I read with interest “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” by Lori Gottlieb this summer because so many of her points and stories were what we consider “good parenting”, but they are never really spelled out the way she did in her article.
In many ways, I believe that providing therapy to your child is a gift- sometimes a luxury- a way to help your child be expressive, deal with worries or sadness or anger, help him/her process situations and better themselves. But are there things we as parents are doing that will destine our children for years on the couch trying to figure out what is wrong?
Consider some of Gottlieb’s points in her article:
• Why do young adult patients feel less amazing then their parents constantly told them they were/are?
• If these young adults describe their parenting as wonderful, is it possible that all the car-pooling, family activities and open communications have been “too much” parenting?
• All parents have wanted their children to be happy- but nowadays, how do we define happiness? Is happiness not enough if we can be happy-er?
• By protecting our children from unhappiness are we making them unhappy adults? Because if these young adults experience typical frustrations or something does not go according to plan, do they become too unhappy? Isn’t experiencing disappointment, failure, poor performance and unfairness a lot easier to handle at six than twenty-six? If we need to expose our immune system to pathogens to develop and respond to attacks, do we need to expose our children to hardships and frustrations to develop resilience?
• Are parents today relying on their children in ways to fulfill their own needs? Are our kids fulfilling a void in our personal lives? Are they our pals? Do we need them and miss them and want them to think of us as their friends? Thereby when we make them happy, are our intentions to make ourselves happy?
• Will all this feel-good we are teaching to our children make them narcissistic and unhappy adults? Will non-competitive sports, stickers for good-tries and constant praise lead to a sense of loss when these things disappear in adult life?
A wonderful mom and colleague once said to me “If I don’t spoil my children, who will? Life is hard enough and I want to make it easier for them”. I appreciate that thought and think she is a wonderful parent. I think she believes that, but only to a point. Always parenting our children completely selflessly, responsibly, safely, and perfectly is impossible. In a world of self-blame for autism, addiction, anxiety, depression and any other way your child may be less then perfect, allow yourself to make mistakes, because you will make mistakes, and know you are doing the best you can.