Let’s start with this premise: You suck as Parents. Now that is something we can all agree upon isn’t it? Most of us have kids, all of us reading this blog I imagine. We’ve all made mistakes along the way: too much or too little of discipline, love, attention, hand holding, nagging, blaming, giving independence, trusting, “helping them understand.” You name it and we either have or haven’t done enough of it or we’ve done too much. Helicopter parents, absent parents, co dependent parents, latch key kids. OMG! We are bad at this aren’t we? And yet most of the time, most of the kids turn out ok, somehow.
In my profession, our team is often dealing with kids who have gone off the rails. Can you imagine how guilty those parents may feel? By comparison, they make the rest of you look like you have never made a parenting mistake. The regrets they have, the parenting skills they lack, it goes on and on. Believe me though, for the most part, their parenting skills match up pretty well with the rest of ours.
So I tell these parents, let’s just agree, you suck as parents, with a few caveats. You didn’t teach Johnny (not his real name) to lie, do drugs, steal, get polluted, manipulate and otherwise go down the path that brought them to my office in the first place. Of course things have to change and the way you approach your child in the future will by necessity have to be different than in the past. But then who wouldn’t mind a little restart in the relationship with your adolescent or young adult?
Let me tell you when it started. When Johnny was young, I mean very young, do you remember capitulating on an issue that wasn’t worth it to you to fight about? Or rationalizing behaviors that were clearly unacceptable? Or setting up a consequence and not following through on it? Virtually all parents can remember in their busy lives taking the easy way out, avoiding confrontation, just too tired to fight. That is normal parenting behavior. And for the most part, it does no real damage. But for some, being off course by just 2% at age 5 results in going in the complete wrong direction at age 16.
So yes we suck as parents. But the bottom line is we taught, or tried to teach our kids to be fine, worthy, upstanding, ethical and moral beings. If some of them refused to listen, it’s still our responsibility but blaming yourself isn’t the answer. In fact, part of the reason I stipulate up front that we parents all make mistakes is that often too much self-recrimination on the parents can serve to absolve Johnnie (again, not his real name) of having to take responsibility for his actions. And Johnnie (last time, not his real name) learns to intuit and exploit parents sense of guilt over past dealings. So what we’re left with, often, is the “Frog in the boiling Water Syndrome” Stay tuned for more on that in a future post.