As a veteran beleaguered parent loaded with guilt and confusion, I decided to step back and try to figure out why, though many of the things I've read are partly helpful, I seem to harbor a sort of resentment toward all the authors of books for parents. I think it's because, while they all give lip service to the fact that parents are human beings, they then go on to expect superhuman behavior and emotional maturity from us.
We are to be firm but not rigid; flexible but not inconsistent; friendly but not palsy-walsy; provide wise, careful and constant guidance but encourage independence; set a good example of course; and never use threats, rewards or punishments. They all give the distinct impression that whatever is wrong with the child is the parents' (especially mother's) fault, and that's such a heavy burden to bear.
These heartfelt lines from a perceptive mother's letter express the intensity with which many parents feel the responsibility of raising children. Is it their fault when things go wrong with their children? Is their influence limited? Must they feel guilty and burdened? All human beings, including children, experience periods of unhappiness, stress, even downright misery. Most parents become concerned at times about whether their child is momentarily unhappy, passing through a stage, or facing a serious problem. They wonder whether to wait until it goes away, try to help their child themselves, or seek professional help.
As they grow, children encounter many large and small crises both expected and unexpected: birth itself, weaning, toilet training, separation from parents, illness, accidents, the birth of a brother or sister, bad dreams, starting school, learning to read, making friends, adolescence -- these and many other experiences provide the potential for problems of varying intensity. Most children cope with most of these experiences with reasonable success. But all children experience difficulty at certain points. Parents wonder, Will it go away? Can we help? Should we get professional help?
No family can avoid crises, either the normal everyday kind, or a sudden and unexpected blow. Serious illness or death in the family, job loss, financial worries, moving, new babies, marital conflict, children growing up and leaving home: these and many other experiences affect all family members profoundly. In the same family one child may be more adversely affected than another. Or a child may not appear to be affected at all. But parents wonder, How is my child taking this? Will it hurt him? How do we know? Does he need help, even if it doesn't show? Or, I know he is troubled. Should we get help for him? Where and how can we get it?
Increasingly, the overwhelming problems of the entire human family press upon us as individuals and families. The frightening seriousness of our destructive potential -- nuclear war, a deteriorating environment, overpopulation -- and the instant mass communication which keeps us constantly aware of the precariousness of human existence, make our anxieties high much of the time. Children are deeply affected both by these realities and by the anxiety they sense in their parents. So we ask ourselves, How can our children have a good life when everything is so uncertain? How can we help them become strong enough to cope with whatever they must face? Is there something special we can do to help our children be as happy and creative as is possible in an insecure, destructive world? Can our religious faith become a more vital force in our family relationships and in coping with crises?
The authors of this book know from personal as well as professional experience how heavily such questions can weigh on one's mind and marriage. As we share our experiences as family counselors, we hope that we will also communicate our empathy as parents and as marriage partners. Worries about parent-child problems are painful. Each couple's pain is uniquely their own. But it helps to know that other parents feel similar pain and that people who try to counsel others have experiences of their own of the self-doubt, remorse, resentment, guilt, and fear, as well as the joy and fulfillment that accompany parent-child relationships.
Through our years of living, parenting, and counseling, we have acquired a deep respect for the strength and cope-ability of human beings. The remarkable resilience of people, including children, and the inner resources which they discover in the toughest circumstances, demonstrate this strength. Our hope is that what we say in these pages will help you as parents to appreciate your strengths and affirm your successes as well as to discover your unused inner resources. We hope that it will help to relieve the burden of guilt and confusion we all feel when things go wrong with our children.
Struggling to get the ideas in this book on paper has reminded us again and again of those persons who have taught us the most about parent-child relationships -- our own parents and our three children. For their gifts of the past and of the future and for the myriad complexities of our relationships with them, we are profoundly grateful.