I know what you are thinking. What possible situation could cause a professional to advise a parent to “Pray hard that your children ignore you”?
A few months back I was at a lecture from Project Inspire and this is what the keynote speaker said. Hard to believe? Well, not really. Like so many things, it’s all about the perspective, context and the transmitter of the message.
The special bond between parent and child is one of a kind. Whether the relationship is good or cold, at its core it’s a special relationship. However, sometimes that special bond is hidden in conflict, anger and loads of history.
I have been seeing a couple for marital counselling where both parties come from horrific backgrounds. They are now in their late twenties and just had a baby about a month ago – and are terrified that how they play out their histories will badly influence their ability to parent their son well. It’s good that they understand that their history definitely will play a role in their parenting styles and abilities. The couple has been together for almost two years, however they met after she escaped from a terribly abusive relationship. Her adolescence was one of moving from place to place, rebelliousness, drugs and alcohol and very poor attachments to meaningful adults. Her abusive upbringing led her to poor, and dangerous, decisions and lifestyles.
His upbringing was not much better. He had been in the care of the children’s aid society for many of his youthful years, involved in drugs and alcohol abuse and in and out of many relationships. This couple is seriously in love with each other, yet, they are scared, anxious and on edge. Their previous life experiences dictate their thoughts, which in turn dictate their anxieties and worries about the future.
As many of my readers know, one of my favorite signs in my office reads, “Don’t worry that your children aren’t listening to you, worry that they are watching you.” What are our children seeing, hearing and learning from us? A quote I recently came across says, “Children learn to smile from their parents.” On the other hand, another quote says, “Some parents could do more for their children by not doing so much for them.”
This last quote brings us back to our topic. Each of us could probably come up with our own definition or analysis of what this means. In fact, a worthwhile exercise could be to discuss this amongst your friends and see how many interpretations you get. If you have teenagers around, ask them. This will be the true test of how kids understand this.
As I have said before, the most common cause of arguments is differences of opinion. For the most part, we all agree that everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion – as long as it’s like mine. You see, I’m right and if you don’t agree with me, obviously there is something wrong with your thought pattern. Test this theory yourself. Listen to others and when opinions are shared, watch how people get defensive and begin debating. However, an opinion is only that – your personal belief, outlook or judgment. We treat other’s opinions as a statement of fact.
Relationships with our children are often caught up in the challenge of accepting opinions. You see, deep down inside most of us want our children to be like us. In fact, I often say that good parents want their children to be even better then they are – wealthier, smarter, happier, etc. However, as much as we want this for our children, we too often get caught up in the cycle of competition with our own children. “Do as I say, not as I do” is all too often the paradox we build up around our children. The inconsistencies and contradictions we speak and show our kids are powerful indicators of our relationship with them.
We all want positive relationships with our children, but the only teachers we have our own parents or those of our close friends’. Those who have serious deficiencies in their histories and early relationships will either replicate those patterns or will have serious anxiety about their future and the future of their children. As with the couple we discussed above, the anxiety can be overwhelming. In fact, sometimes their fears are the precursors for their new reality. They are so obsessed with what might go wrong, they become overly anxious and in fact, their fears often lead them down that disastrous path. When fears get into our minds, sometimes it’s difficult to see anything else. In fact the more emotional we are about anything, the less our logical, intellectual mind is working.