Parenting the “Other”

Saturday, April 9th, 2011, Written by jackrosenberger

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges that parents face is the parenting of a child (of whatever age) who is radically different than you.  This difference could be as basic as something as gender, or it could be deeper.  Maybe, it’s values: they place worth in places that you might not or, worse, that you disdain.  And maybe the difference is psychological, making the rift an emotional one as well.

Change! Be like me.

The reason why this becomes a problem is that in your efforts to parent, the subtext of your interactions could be something like, “Change, be like me, don’t be yourself.”  Sometimes this is called for (i.e. a drug abuse that could be life threatening).  But all too often, the attempts to parent are experienced by the child as a form of devaluation; the parent comes off as not caring about or, worse, diminishing the child’s opinion or views.

Sometimes, this can become so intense for a young person that the introject of “Don’t be yourself” becomes translated into self-destructive behaviors:  chemical abuse, addictions, self-injury, even suicide attempts and completion.

Choose to love, and try not to be frustrated

The answer to this cycle is insultingly simple:  Love your child.  By this I don’t mean just provide things like food, which is rather expected.  (If you’re not doing that, just call DCFS now.)  But loving things that are different than us or that we don’t always understand, even if we are talking about one of your own children, is not easy.  Indeed, it is perhaps one of the the most difficult things you will ever do.

But despair not!  There are concrete steps that one can take to improve one’s relationship with one’s child:

1.  Identify the way in which your child is different than you that is disturbing

2.  Examine your own heart and mind as to why this trait is so disturbing/difficult to make some kind of connection

3.  Learn where you learned your distaste for this trait and what’s at stake for you; perhaps it could be some sense of your own identity

4.  Examine the trait that is so difficult and force yourself to see what possible purpose it serves your child

5.  Attempt to see the benefit it provides your child and see if from this perspective you might be able to value it in some slightly different way.  Often times, it is through our children that we learn how to be more open to the world.

It takes time and patience

Now this process is NOT easy.  I can safely say it will be one of the most difficult things you do in your lifetime.   It might require the help of someone trained in psychotherapy and analysis.  It might even prompt a new, challenging journey for yourself.  But the price you pay for not taking this journey is to continue to engage your child in unproductive ways.  That gets NO ONE what they want.

Perhaps your child is your own walking, breathing invitation to your own journey to human growth.  And if your child ultimately invites you to a life that is more full and abundant, what better gift could he/she give you?  It might not be comfortable at first, but perhaps the life of real attachments is not supposed to be.

Comments are closed.