3. Have you identified some good role models for parenting?
“My dad disappeared when I was two,” says Alan. “That left my mom and my big sister raising me. Mom had to work all the time. My sister resented that she had to take care of me when she wanted to be with her friends. Both of them resented men so much that there were never any positive males in my life. How am I supposed to know what fathers do? My best role models come from sitcoms!”

Alan is right. He’s at a disadvantage. The experience of having been parented well by one’s own parents provides an internal compass for those split-second judgments that are part of every day. Without it, every interaction is open to question. Young parents who didn’t absorb how to parent while they were growing up (or who are adamant that they don’t want to repeat their parents’ style of parenting) are making it up as they go along. Fortunately we’re in the information age. With information and encouragement, young parents like Alan can get the help they need to become more confident as parents.

Possible solutions:

  • No good role models growing up? Look around for people you think are doing a superb job. Imitation is not only the best form of flattery, it’s also a great way to learn.

4. Are regrets about your own life getting in the way?
Adults who felt they had to grow up very much on their own may even resent giving their children what they didn’t themselves get. Were you a teen when you became a parent? It’s not unusual to go through periods of jealousy that your own teen can be young and irresponsible when maybe you yourself had to grow up too fast.

It’s usually the kids who tell me about this. “I just wish my mom would stop trying to look 16,” says April. “I mean, it’s redic. Whenever guys come over, she starts, like, flirting or something. She thinks she’s cool but, like, it’s embarrassing.”

April’s mom got pregnant at 15. She had two kids by the time she was 19. Now that April and her brother don’t require the care that younger kids do, she says she wants “her turn” to be a normal teen.

She’s certainly not old. At 31, she’s younger than most of the other moms. But she isn’t a teen either. For her to have any influence on her children, she needs to reconcile herself to the fact that, yes, she did miss out on some things but, no, she can’t ever be 16 again. She can enjoy her life without trying to be her kids’ peer.

Possible solutions:

  • Make peace with yourself. Find ways to replace regrets about the past with resolutions for the present.

5. Do you have medical or psychiatric problems?
Illness (physical or mental) can take over. Some people have the internal resources to cope and even be heroic despite devastating diagnoses. Others simply aren’t wired that way.

Struggling with chronic illness is certainly draining. Kids, even very young kids, can be surprisingly helpful and compassionate. But they are still kids. It’s important to call in some help whenever possible so that kids aren’t turned into primary caretakers. Children who are overtaxed by feeling overly responsible for their parent’s well-being often buckle under the pressure. The result can be anything from out-and-out anger and rebellion to childhood depression.

Many hospitals offer ongoing support groups so that people who are battling the same diagnoses can support and learn from each other. Often it’s possible to obtain a case manager and some practical help. Loving our children when we are ill means loving ourselves enough to get the help we need.

Possible solutions:

  • Get adequate treatment. Actively work with your doctors. Find an adult support group so that you are not expecting your kids to be your caretaker.