I spend a lot of time talking to families. It’s a wonderful job to be present as families rediscover how to respect one another, talk through problems, and make plans together. Towards that end, here are the top three issues that tend to come up in joint therapy between children and their families in session.
1. Spend more time together: Many families who have faced divorce, death, or some other traumatic event may become terribly isolated from one another even though they live in the same home. It’s also possible that the loss of communication and closeness is related to long working hours, conflict in the hierarchy of the parenting dyad, or exhausting disagreements with a stubborn child. Your children need not only quality time, but also a reasonable quantity of time as well. There is no substitute for your guidance, interest, and attention. The families that are least helped by therapy are those in which the parents want the counselor to “fix”’ the child, but have no interest in changing any of their own patterns. That’s like changing the flat tire on your car and deciding that you then no longer need to put gas in it. If you’re withholding quantity or quality time until your child “does better” please reconsider. That fuels a vicious circle of blaming and withdrawing that will disempower both of you.
2. Strengthen the couple: If you are a part of a married couple or a committed partnership, it is important for the children to see you as a united front. This is true not only in areas of discipline, but in terms of genuine companionability and interest in one another. It is not uncommon for children to act out in some way the troubles with which they believe their parents are struggling. This can manifest as aggression towards one parent, stealing, staying out to late, or any number of negative behaviors. Your children will try to be mini relationship counselors by both covert and overt means. If they don’t have to worry about the state of the union, it’s easier for them to respect boundaries and believe that you mean what you say. If you are divorced or separated, it is doubly important that kids develop the understanding that though you and your former partner are no longer together, you will continue to co-parent without attempting to draw the children into your struggle. It is a temptation for parents who are already lonely and vulnerable to use their kids to reinforce their fragile sense of self. However, all you teach your kids is that when push comes to shove, he or she must step up and be responsible for issues that are not his or her own.
3. Don’t be afraid to parent: We live in a time in which norms and old, out-dated ways of relating and thinking about families are quickly challenged and put aside. This has, in many ways been a wonderful thing. Many of the rigid gender roles that defined families of the past have been renegotiated with more room for each parent to freely use the gifts he or she has in a more flexible manner. However, this has brought with it some differences that are, in my opinion, dangerous. Children need parents not friends. There is a distinct and important difference between being a parent who nurtures uniqueness and offers a forum for discussion of differences, and one who allows his or her children to run roughshod in order to be a popular parent. Children know they are safe when we give them strong, predictable, boundaries. So if you don’t give them that boundary in a loving, clear way, guess what happens? Those kids will continue to push and search until they find that safety point. This is a recipe for early sex and substance abuse. The 20 and 30-something adults I see in my office are rarely angry at the parents who were a little too strict. (Though, there is a line where punishment and control become punitive.) However, they do struggle to negotiate a sense of self worth when parents were not actively willing to say, “I love you so much that I will not allow you to do/experience this now, even if it makes you upset with the decision I have made.”
Your Partner in Healing, Holly
If you would like to schedule an appointment or a free 15-minute phone conversation, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 407.913.4988.