6. Is your love for alcohol or drugs bigger than your love for your children?
James loves his 10-year-old daughter. He looks forward to seeing her every other weekend. He doesn’t have much money but he and his daughter have found ways to enjoy each other’s company without big-ticket adventures. They read together. They watch a little TV. They make spaghetti sauce or brownies.

Mostly, he’s able to keep her unaware that he’s also addicted to crack. But when the craving comes, he loses perspective. He promised his daughter he would provide her some dance lessons. The dance money went to his habit. He promised her a trip to the movies this weekend. But a pipe on Thursday was too hard to resist. He feels guilty. He always promises to do better. But, bottom line, the addiction has become more powerful than his love. At some point, his daughter will figure this out. At some point, she’s going to feel that he doesn’t love her as much as he says he does.

He does love her. But he loves the crack more. “You’ll never understand, Dr. Marie, “ he says. “That first drag is so amazing that it’s worth all the sh– that comes with it.” He’s right. I don’t understand. And he’s fooling himself. He needs treatment. His daughter needs a dad who is clean.

Possible solutions:

  • Get treatment. If you can’t end the habit, consider whether someone else should raise your child. Sometimes the best way to love a child is to find someone who can love him or her in ways you can’t.

7. Do you put yourself under too much pressure to be perfect?
Internal pressure to be good, right, in charge, and perfect in every way can actually make parenting more difficult than it needs to be. Perfection just isn’t possible. If you feel you need to be perfect to be good enough, you’re in trouble.

Adrian is a nervous wreck. His own dad died when he was only 5. Now that he has a son, he’s working overtime to be the kind of dad he wishes he’d had. He makes sure he plays with his son every day. He organizes the neighborhood kids into pick-up basketball games. He checks on homework. He spends almost every weekend doing some kind of sport or activity with his son. He’s a bundle of nervous, hyper energy, constantly acting as both the cheering squad and the captain of the team. He’s exhausted.

His wife wants a little time for the two of them but feels selfish for complaining. How can she be critical of a guy who is such a hard-working dad when her friends complain that their husbands are never around?

It’s not the involvement that’s a problem. It’s the driven quality of it that will probably backfire. Adrian can’t keep this up forever. He’s so busy being the perfect father of his imagination that he isn’t taking the time to figure out what his own son really needs from him. He’s so focused on being a good dad that he’s forgetting that his wife needs some of his time too. He’s so driven that he’s driving the joy out of what he does.

Gus has the same motivation but a different “solution.” He too lost his father when he was only 5. He has often wondered what his dad was like and what it would have been like to be a perfect son — just like Dad. His approach to parenting is to try to make his own son just like him. If his son expresses any interest that Gus hasn’t already mastered, Gus so reeks with disapproval that the boy doesn’t dare pursue it. Gus has himself, and his son, convinced that the two of them have to be perfectly alike to be a perfect father-son team.

Possible solutions:

  • Figure out why you are so driven. Find ways to help yourself be content with being good enough.

8. Have you sorted out your beliefs about parenting?
Children are a trustworthy barometer for when we have to straighten out what we really, truly think about childrearing. Contradictions scare them. They stir things up until we make it clear what is and isn’t okay.

Ramona brought her 13-year-old, Mindy, for counseling because they are fighting all the time. The girl calls Ramona by her first name and demands that she move out of her bedroom so that Mindy can have the larger room. Ramona is furious that her daughter is so demanding and disrespectful. Mindy has a list of reasons why her way makes more sense. Ramona spends hours in the debate.

Conversation with them reveals that Ramona believes strongly that kids are the equals of parents and shouldn’t be repressed in any way. She thinks the title of “mother” is indicative of an authoritarian rule that is old-fashioned and destructive. But she also thinks that her daughter should be more grateful for all Ramona does for her. She is deeply hurt that Mindy is so angry with her.

Ramona has some private work to do. She doesn’t realize that she is giving contradictory messages to her daughter that are creating the very situation that is so painful for her. She needs to decide where she feels she has the right to some authority. It would help a great deal if she would understand that equal respect doesn’t mean equal treatment in all things.

Possible solutions:

  • Do your personal work. Resolve your inner conflicts so they don’t become outer battles.