Parents are more alike than different. Most of us want to do a good job. Most of us love our children to death. Whether married, divorced, or single, most of our kids have at least one other parent or parent-figure in their lives who is also, in their own way, trying hard and who also cares. Why is it that it seems so hard sometimes for us to give our kids the attention they need to grow into emotionally secure and happy adults?
When family educator and psychologist Rudolf Dreikurs said, “You have to look at the total situation,” he was not only talking about the child. Total means just that: Total. Parents are in the situation too. Sometimes it’s the parents’ situation that is the problem. Internal issues and external pressures on us also get in the way.
When that is the case, coming up with new and different ways to discipline the child are beside the point. We need to get our own act together first. It’s our situation, not the child’s, that needs to be understood, changed, or managed.
Look at the total situation from the adults’ perspective.
1. How are you adjusting to the change in your life that parenting brings?
Becoming a parent changes our lives utterly. However much or little we want to do it; however competent we feel at it; however prepared we think we are for its demands, it changes our very identity and our role in the world.
When we have a child, we cross a divide and become one of them one of those parents. There is no way not to react to the change. Some people embrace it and look forward to it as a chance either to relive a positive family life or improve on a negative one. Some people are terrified by the changes in their lives that parenting brings. Others feel put upon and resentful. That reaction, whatever it is, informs how we parent.
- Reassure yourself that an adjustment period is normal.
- Take the time to think hard about how you want to shift your priorities.
2. Do you have unresolved issues with your own parents?
Unresolved issues with our own parents can be crippling. At every age and stage of our child’s development, we are reminded of what it was like when we were that age. At every family milestone or family crisis, we are reminded how our own family did or didn’t manage it and how we were treated. If those memories are painful, if there is still unresolved anger and grief attached to them, the past can contaminate the present.
“My mother has always used me as counselor,” said Angie. “Every phone call is a long drawn out ordeal that can take hours. She says she doesn’t like her life. She says no one cares about her. She’s probably drinking again but denies it. She imposes on me but I can’t just hang up. She has nobody else.”
Angie is well-intentioned. But the reason her mom keeps calling her is that Angie keeps trying to make things better. She can’t. She never could. She can’t mother her mother, as much as her mother might want her to and as much as Angie has been trained to think it’s her job.
Now that she has two children of her own, Angie needs to focus on her kids. Counseling with Angie involves helping her extricate herself from her decades-long efforts to fix her mom. She can love her mother without being her counselor but it will take some time and some purposeful changes to preserve the relationship while still drawing some boundaries.
- Do what you can to come to some kind of new understanding with your parents. If it’s impossible to do it with them, perhaps get some counseling support to reconcile your feelings within yourself.