Repeating the Past: Parenting Your Child as You were Raised

Irene: “Why should I bother doing good things for my child if it’s all a one-way street?”

Therapist: “Is that why you do good things, Irene? If you buy him a toy, do you expect him to buy you a house when you’re old and gray? I hope not. Irene, your parents did good things for you, didn’t they? You wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. You can repay your debt to your parents by being `good’ to their grandchild. He, in turn, will repay his debt to you by being a good father to your grandchildren. Furthermore, you are good to your child because the situation demands that you assume your appropriate responsibilities to this person that you brought into the world. ‘Reciprocity,’ ‘gratitude’ and ‘fairness’ are all self-serving, self-indulgent phony `ideals’ that some of us use as cover-stories to `justify’ our desire to get our own way at someone else’s expense. In addition, you can teach your child to be generous, fair and considerate, not by shrieking demands at him, but by setting an example of these qualities for him to follow. You are not setting this kind of example now. You are demonstrating just the opposite.”

Irene: “What’s wrong with expecting him to be fair?”
Therapist: “Where is it written that life is fair? Life is not fair; life is not unfair either. Life is life, and we do the best we can with it. We take it as it comes. We don’t always get what we prefer, but our life goes on. If you are going to do something good for your child, you can choose to do it because it is appropriate to the situation, not because you have some self-serving ulterior motive or high-sounding ideal. As you see, your relationship problem with Gary has many facets, most of which have little to do with economics or current events. They have to do with your own unfinished business from the past.”

Irene: “Is there any more stuff down there?”
Therapist: “I suspect that you are parenting your child as your mother parented you, and solving problems the way she did, even though it makes you and everyone else miserable.”

Irene: “That’s why I’m here. I see that my way isn’t working, but I can’t seem to stop all by myself.”
Therapist: “That is because you are trying to recreate these past problems in the present so that you can solve them once and for all.”

Irene: “Why isn’t it working?”
Therapist: “Because, up to now you haven’t learned anything new that you didn’t know then. You still have only one choice, and that is to follow your parents’ unhappy, unsuccessful, bad example.”

Irene: “I wouldn’t deliberately be bad to him just to get even with him. But I felt so stupid.”
Therapist: “You weren’t stupid. You only felt stupid, which is a way that we sometimes feel about our intelligence. It has nothing to do with our I.Q. Your head told you that buying the toy wasn’t a sound economic investment, but the other part of you, your feelings, wanted some peace in the house and to make your child happy. Your feelings don’t have any brains, so we cannot say that they are stupid. So don’t do that to yourself. It only contributes to your anger.”

Irene: “I guess I was angry at myself for being so stupid. I’m glad to hear that I wasn’t. But what was I, then?”
Therapist: “You were imperfect. Do you see the irony, Irene? You bought the toy for Gary, but your intention in indulging your child was to relieve your distress, not his. There are other ways of coping with a demanding child. For instance, you can disengage from this power struggle over who can make whom buy what. You can agree with him that it would be fun to have such a toy. You can encourage him to use his imagination, which is what he wound up doing with the picture on the box, anyway. The irony lies in the fact that on the one hand, you were indulging yourself in order to get recognition for your goodness and on the other, you wanted him to be grateful to you for it.”

Irene: “And I felt good for nothing. What should I do the next time I want to be `good’ to my child?”
Therapist: “You can try saying, `No’. Gary is very perceptive and he can tell when you mean business and when your are vulnerable. If he hears a `maybe’ in your voice, he will use it against you. Children tend to take advantage of their advantages. They can’t see why they shouldn’t.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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