“My daughter has been acting out,” a mom announced to me one day in therapy. “I think it’s because of the move and because her older sisters were gone for a couple weeks visiting their dad. She doesn’t like change.”
“You’re so in-tune with your kid! I think a lot of parents would just stop at being angry and punitive, but here you sit contemplating what’s really going on with her.” I commented, legitimately impressed.
“Yah…” My patient didn’t look convinced.
“And all that change can be hard on a kid.” I said, validating her perception of the situation and minimizing catestrophic interpretation of her daughter’s difficulty coping….or so I thought.
“Well, I mean we showed our daughter the new house a couple times and let her pick her room, and she won’t be changing churches or schools, and we gave her a wall to make her own and she’ll have all the same furniture….” My patient trailed off, clearly trying to convince me (and herself?) that she was doing her best to minimize the “hard on kids” part of their impending change.
Knowing my patient, I picked up on her undue guilt. This mother had heard my “change is hard on kids” as “you are hurting your kids,” and began trying to explain how she was not.
“Back up the train,” I said bluntly. “I know you. I know you listen to podcasts on how to talk to your kids. You painstakingly choose how to teach them lessons in ways they will respond. You have yourself on a schedule so that you don’t get sucked into your computer and so that you give your kids intentional attention. You just went to an exercise class and were freaking breastfeeding your youngest while teaching your oldest math during your warm-up stretches….”
She smiled and I continued. “I had no doubt that you were doing right by your kid with this move. Did you? You have to know that before you can really sit with your daughter’s feeling. Guilt has a way of zapping the presence out of a person and adding defensiveness and self-focus in its place…”
The truth is, parents can’t -and shouldn’t– protect their kids from all of life’s bumps and bruises, so please stop beating yourself up and telling yourself that you somehow fall short when your child struggles….
Just something to think about, says the therapist that sees undue parental guilt related to this subject way too often and thinks sometimes empathy and presence beats guilt and rescuing.
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