Friday, September 29, 2006
This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I think sometimes I am doomed to think too much (hence the blog). But also I am the parent of a teen and work with a number of teens and their parents. These musings started a few weeks ago. I had had a major fight with my son and the next week I had a session with a teen-age boy who has an unhappy relationship with his parents. This is not revealing much private information since many teen-age boys have unhappy relationships with their parents. And this is not really about this boy. It is about me.
I left work that day worried that perhaps my son did not like me. Not because of the one fight but because of the daily accumulation of parenting mistakes. I understand that the parenting involves unpleasant obligations--enforcing chores, homework, setting limits and so forth. It is a dangerous mistake to give up on those obligations in the interest of making your kid like you. But what about those days when you are irritable, arbitrary, unpredictable and irrational? When you probably aren't particularly likeable to anyone? Do these moments do irreparable damage to your relationship with your child? Probably not, if the balance is in the positive direction. A little humility always helps too. Sorry, uh oh and oops do a fair bit to pave the way to mutual tolerance and respect. Kids do not need perfect parents; they need parents who are aware of their own imperfections.
I supressed the urge to ask my son if he likes me. Being insecure because of something that happened in my work day, does not constitute a good reason to launch a heavy discussion. A corollary is never use your child as your therapist. I do not need to impose a brief moment of self-doubt on my child and make him obligated to reassure me.
Well, I got over that moment of weakness. And I think that generally my son does like me. Of course, I am not as noble as I used to be, but in a few more years he will reconnect with the simple fact that I am not as stupid as I sound.
But this incident led my thoughts in another and more important direction. It is nice if your kids like you. It is essential that you like your kids. As a person and a therapist, it is hard to be in the room with a parent who does not appear to like his or her child. Note I say "like." At the moment I am not talking about love, which, of course, is important too. Parents dislike their children for many reasons. Some children are hard to like. They are defiant, explosive, aggressive, lazy, moody, irrational and so forth. But generally any parent should be able to take joy in some aspects of a child's talents, personality, empathy, humor, intellect or inner or outer beauty. I don't know if Jeffrey Dahmer or the Unabomber were likeable as kids, but it is hard to find a child who has nothing to offer. I'm not sure I've ever met one.
So no matter how awful your son or daughter is today, try to like him or her just a bit. Separate their actions from their character. When my older son was a toddler, we used to say to him "Sometimes you do bad things but we still love you." It always amused me that he turned that around and said "Sometimes I do bad things but I still love you." Freudian, huh? For an older child, the message also is "Sometimes you annoy and frustrate the heck out of me, but I still like and respect you for the person you are."
Just a thought. . . .