KidsPeace believes that it is helpful to our readers to reprint some Healing Magazine articles
that are as relevant today as when they were published in our Magazine. This article appeared in our Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Healing Magazine and was written by psychotherapist and expert on relationships between children and parents Loren Bruckner.
Parenting as a Journey:
A Guide to Surviving the Trip
By Loren Buckner, MSW, LCSW
More than ever before,
doctors are prescribing antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to kids
and parents who are overwhelmed by how they feel. Practically every day,
newspapers are filled with stories about families and children in crisis.
Overeating, under-eating, addictions of varying kinds have become common ways
of coping with unwanted feelings.
Parents can change this
trend. Emotions, even the painful ones, need to be understood instead of
avoided. Hateful feelings don’t have to become destructive. However
disagreeable, feelings can be talked over, worked with and tamed. Learning to
be curious about emotions, instead of afraid or critical, can make accepting them
Dedicated parents are better
informed than ever before about what their kids need. Understanding their
child’s psychological, emotional and physical development is one of their
highest priorities. How to handle potty-training, temper-tantrums, learning
disabilities and the stress of adolescence are all pressing issues parents
never feel they know enough about.
Parents have a tendency,
though, to pay much less attention to understanding their own emotional lives,
missing an important link in the process of conscientious parenting. Of course,
reading about how to best raise kids is important. But how can parents help
their sons and daughters feel comfortable with their feelings if they are
uncomfortable and frightened by their own?
Parenthood stirs up a wide
assortment of emotions. Mothers and fathers eagerly look forward to the
delightful and satisfying ones. But there are others – feelings that rock
parents to their core. The painful nature of parenting is not a topic most
parents like to talk about, but, because the parent-child relationship is so
intense and so personal, these feelings are inevitable and nothing to be
It is not uncommon for
parents who have done their “preparing for parenthood homework” to feel
frustrated and disappointed in themselves. Knowing what to do and having the
ability to do it are two very different skills. Parents know they should be
consistent, for example, but how do they accomplish this when what feels
acceptable can change from day to day depending on how tired they are or on
what side of the bed they awakened? Parents know that they should not lose
their tempers, but it is something that happens to all parents. How do parents
cope with the guilt, worry, disappointment, anger and loss – as much a part of
family life as the joys and rewards – without these feelings fueling self-doubt
and ruining their most important relationships?
The first step is to
recognize that feelings – even the painful ones – are a normal part of
parenting. Painful feelings are disturbing and confusing, but even good parents
sometimes feel bad about themselves and do not always feel loving toward their
children and partners either.
Maybe a child has a
different temperament from his parent, gets into trouble or doesn’t like
school, sports or playing a musical instrument. Maybe she won’t be as religious
or choose the life-partner or career the parent had hoped for. These are just a
few of the many possible disappointments parents must learn how to accept
without letting their feelings overwhelm them or their children.
Parents must also find a way
to put their worry into perspective. There’s no escaping this feeling either.
Parents can’t wait until their children can walk, but then they’ll worry about
them wandering away. Parents worry about their children making the right
friends and doing well in school. They’ll really worry if their child gets into
trouble or becomes ill. And in addition to their never-ending concerns about
their kids, parents periodically question themselves. Sooner or later all
parents, regardless of their particular situation, ask, “Am I a good enough
parent?” Worries like these, to one degree or another, begin with pregnancy and
continue throughout parents’ lives.
Guilt is another emotion
with which parents are quite familiar because they do lose their tempers, say
the wrong thing, give in when they know they shouldn’t or feel grouchy because
they’re tired or upset. Parents often know they’re not living up to the good
parenting advice they’ve read about over and over and therefore feel guilty,
angry and disappointed in themselves. This, too, is parenthood.
Conscientious parents know
how important it is to provide kids a home filled with safety and security. But
as they’re building this solid foundation for their kids, they are also
establishing a strong bond to their kids. Bravely encouraging children to begin
individuating means parents will battle feelings of being left behind. The
experiences of separation, letting go, watching as children develop independence,
are rewarding for sure. But it also triggers feelings of sadness and loss –
emotions parents must accept without making their kids feel guilty or afraid.
The pain this creates may be another aspect of parenting for which mothers and
fathers feel completely unprepared.
Anger is a feeling parents
expect to have, but they are often shocked by its intensity. Hateful feelings
directed at the people parents love the most are painful and difficult
experiences, but managing them is crucial. Although seemingly contradictory, it
isn’t so bad for parents to occasionally lose their tempers, as long as they
don’t lose control. Saying or doing something damaging to self-esteem or their
children’s ability to trust them is the kind of anger to avoid. Protecting children,
no matter how upset the parent is, is essential because hurtful words and
frightening scenes have long echoes.
It is a parent’s obligation
to recognize when there’s a problem. Self-doubt, and even worse, self-hatred
are depressing, distracting and not very conducive to effective parenting. And
when parents, in spite of their efforts to do otherwise, have frequent
emotional outbursts, find themselves retaliating against their children, or
when family trust and stability have become undermined, then it’s a good idea
to seek help.
Emotions, however powerful,
don’t define a person’s character – it’s how parents react that’s important.
Parents love their kids but sometimes can’t stand them; they wouldn’t trade
places with anyone but, from time to time, imagine walking out and changing
their names. They struggle with painful, distasteful feelings alone, believing
that something is wrong with them. These darker emotions are far from what
young couples imagine when they decide to take the leap into parenthood. But
this is parenthood.
Parents have an important
life-defining opportunity – teaching children how to incorporate feelings into
their lives instead of judging, ignoring or hiding them. They can help kids
understand that anger, worry, sadness disappointment and fear are not signs of
weakness but are signs of life. Before parents can do this for their kids, they
need to learn this for themselves. It’s only after parents are comfortable in
their own skins that they can teach their children to be comfortable in theirs.
Loren Buckner lives in
Tampa, Florida, and has been a psychotherapist in private practice for more
than 20 years. She is the author
of a forthcoming book on parents and their emotions. She can be reached at 813-915-0076
or at firstname.lastname@example.org.