Shortly after I gave birth to my first child, I found myself at my obstetrician’s office bemoaning how all encompassing being a new Mom was for me. Without a hint of empathy in her voice, she admonished me with, “Remember, Linda, you were a wife before you became a Mother.”
That old doctor knew what she was talking about. In my practice, I see a lot of what I would call child-centred families, families in which one or both parents gives over too much of their life and their coupleship in favour of the supposed advancement of their children. But this approach backfires. Child-centred families can produce kids who ultimately have an inflated sense of entitlement. And these kids can grow up to be the adults that none of us likes. I say that the biggest gift you can give your child is the careful tending of your relationship with your partner.
While I am a family therapist, at this point I am also an elder, a grandmother. I can see more clearly the parenting missteps I took:
Are you one of these parents? I was. The kind that take the path of least resistance, who say “yes" to their kids when “no" is the responsible, parental response? We behave this way to avoid conflict and the displeasure and disapproval of our child. If you do not on occasion hear your kid say: “I hate you, Mommy.”, there is a good chance you’re just not fulfilling an important piece of your job description which is to clearly delineate limits. Kids need limits to feel protected, guided, calm and safe. Caving in, while it can seem like a solution at the time, will ultimately result in neglect. And neglect will oftentimes result in high amounts of anxiety in the family system. And when there are unmanageable amounts of anxiety in the system, then one or more of the family members will present with a symptom, e.g. drug abuse.
Rudolf Dreikurs wrote a landmark book on child-rearing entitled Children: The Challenge. And though it was written over 60 years ago, the principles he devised have stood the test of time. Take the word ‘punishment’ out of your lexicon, he taught. It doesn’t work. And allow children to experience the naturally occurring consequences of their behaviours.
Because families are like other organic units in nature, constantly seeking balance, when one or more members of a family shifts, changes and heals, the others are forced to reposition themselves to achieve a new balance. And that is why I only need one person from a family to work with to effect healthy change.
ill health, be it physical or mental, is more likely to appear in families with high levels of anxiety in the system. So my work with you and your family becomes the task of lowering those levels of anxiety to restore and then preserve health.
Lowering anxiety is achieved by lowering levels of emotional reactivity. It is also achieved by learning that true connection becomes possible when we can liberate ourselves from the need for approval by others and by becoming more self-validating. In this way, we can be more authentically ourselves, more relaxed, more known by and thereby closer with the ones we love.
The home is where children need to learn about kindness and compassion – and first of all to self. Once children are taught how to have a gentle awareness of themselves, this gentleness accumulates within and becomes a gift that they can then give away to others.
"Our children need our love most when they deserve it the least"