How a Parent's Love is Blind
During the course of working with families, I am often asked to make an assessment and subsequent recommendations. These tasks happen on a small scale, like whether or not the child is ready for a certain privilege, or on a large scale, like whether or not the young adult child should return home or go to a transitional program.
These decisions are difficult and I take my responsibility to guide parents through this process very seriously. Sharing unpleasant and unwanted opinions continues to be challenge for me, even after all these years. I want to give good news. I want to provide the most optimistic prognoses, and it is much easier to recommend fewer consequences or lower levels of care because of how people react to such opinions.
However, as I often say, I am not paid to make people happy. Rather I am paid to be loving, kind and authentic. And this authenticity, particular when it comes to delivering information to parents, can initially be upsetting.
There is often an interesting retort parents come back with when they disagree with my opinions or conclusions. They will often say, "I love and know my child best, therefore..." I have had many feelings and reactions to this statement. It is often just evidence of the pain beneath or the resistance to the recommendations. But perhaps most importantly, it is often inaccurate:
Parents may love their children the most, more than I ever will as a therapist, but that doesn’t mean they know them the best.
In fact, we, as parents can be the most blind when it comes to our children. “Yes,” I tell them, “you love your child more than I ever will, but it is easier for me to see them. And, in the same way, I am sure you could see things about my children that I cannot see.” Our love, our issues, our identity-fusion, and our unique histories, all make it difficult to see our children. We over-identify with them. We try to heal our childhood wounds through parenting them. We base our success or worth as a parent based on how they see us or how they succeed or fail. We ache with their aches. As the outdated and fundamentally co-dependent adage goes, “You can only be as happy as your most unhappy child.”
So it often takes a trusted source, such as a therapist, to provide parents with new eyes through which to see their children. This is not blind trust, but requires a parent to work through a process where they ask themselves difficult questions, where they allow a therapist to ask them difficult questions. The result of this process is a greater sense of awareness of ourselves as parents and people. We have to look into our histories and confront aspects of ourselves that would be best to leave behind. We have to challenge the rules and assumptions we have unconsciously agreed to.
We must learn to look at those parts of ourselves we were taught were unlovable in order to heal them. I had lunch with a father today who was describing some of the difficulties of his 15 year-old son. During his decription, he stated, “I know I am a good father. I used to blame myself, but now I don't.”
I responded by offering, “There is another option besides the dichotomy of ‘I am a good dad and it’s not my fault or I am a bad dad and it is my fault—therefore I cant hold my son accountable or hold a boundary with him.' The other option is that, yes, you did screw your kid up. So did I, in many ways, with my children. I am sure of that. We all do. And that doesn’t have to come with shame and debilitating guilt. I don't have to wallow in it. I can just know it, understand it, and be open with my child (and myself) to work on the project of being a better me. And if I approach it that way, I become a safer person for my child to confide in because I don't need him to think I am a ‘good dad’ to feel okay about myself.”
The result of this kind of work is a deeper connection to our authentic selves and subsequently deeper connection and resonance with our children. And the result is often healing for the parent and the child.