One thing about being a therapist is that I get to meet people from different walks of life and backgrounds. While everyone comes to see me for different reasons, sometimes I hear similar sentiments echoed my multiple people. I’ve met with a lot of people who are stressed out because of their adult children who are living in their home. Many times these are devoted parents who have attempted many times to help but they are at their wits end because they truly believe that their adult children in their 20s, 30s and 40s never intend to leave. As expected, there’s often a lot of clashing as the adult kids want to be respected and do what they want to do while the parents feel inconvenienced and many times feel obligated to make some sort of rules or give a move out date. Some of this is truly due to the economy as it can be harder to get a good paying job and the cost of housing continues to rise. Sometimes people have no other choice than to move in with family and save money. But there’s another group that doesn’t see the need to move out because it’s comfortable. In these situations the adult child usually refuses to get a job and the parent feels helpless because they don’t want their child to be homeless. In the cycle of life there’s a time ideally where the parent and the child switch roles as being the caregiver for each other. I’ve met many parents who desperately need help from their children but the switch has never been made and instead they are giving all their resources and money to their children who aren’t appreciative and it’s at the parents’ detriment. However the parents refuse to do anything because it’s their children and they feel obligated to care for their (adult) able-bodied children for as long as they are alive. The endless cycle continues because neither adult child or parent wants to make a different or a difficult decision. It’s definitely a phenomenon that I would love to do more research on at some point.
A few days ago I took some time to watch the movie Losing Isaiah. There was a certain sense of urgency as Netflix was about to take it off in order to make room for more movies. I first saw the movie at my grandparents house in Michigan. I remember renting it with my very own library card when I was 9 or 10 and watching it in the living room sprawled out on the very comfortable carpet. I remember being happy in the end that the baby was returned to his biological mother. However, this time I watched the movie with a different perspective. One that’s been informed by several years of being a social worker and working with families and kids. The movie brings up some interesting questions that are still relevant today. A mother abandons her baby in a trash can. The baby is born addicted to drugs because she used substance while pregnant. A kind social worker at the hospital he is transported to adopts him. She and her family raise him as her own. Meanwhile, the baby’s mother gets her life together after finally becoming sober and decides that she wants him back because he’s her child and she never received notice that her parental rights were being terminated. So there’s a lengthy court battle where bio-mother’s lawyer insists that black babies need to be with their black mothers. However, there is a marked difference between the income of biological mother versus that of the family that has adopted the child. The life that he lives with his adopted family is vastly different than the one that his bio-mother can finance. The movie ends with full custody being given to the bio-mother who soon realizes that she needs additional support so she reaches a hesitant agreement with her son’s adoptive mother. There are certain situations where I don’t think people should be allowed to have a do over. I don’t think that any child should be denied access to their family of origin but primary custody should have remained with the adoptive parents until the child was old enough to make a decision. I’ve met a good amount of parents who have adopted kids and then decided that they were too hard as a result decided to relinquish custody back to the state. I’ve worked with parents who have voluntarily given up custody of their children because they felt powerless and felt that their lives or the lives of the other children in the home were at risk. It’s a hard decision to make. My whole point is that kids shouldn’t be taken out of a loving, stable, and safe environment because their bio-parent decides that it’s for the best. There were other options that would have allowed Isaiah to stay where he was happy. Yes, children can be resilient and they can recover but there’s no need to inflict that trauma on a child and mess up his primary attachment so that he can be with a black parent. No reason. It’s cruel and unnecessary.
Recently there was a video making its rounds on social media that showed a father and son. The father starts off very calm explaining that his son had been acting up in school and that he felt some punishment was necessary while also teaching his son to defend himself. Then the video starts and I have to admit that I fast forwarded to the end as soon as I saw how bloody it was because (at times) I’m a sensitive soul and I always hate seeing people get hurt. The video showed the father boxing with his son. I use “boxing” loosely because it looked like someone of superior height, weight, and experience beating up on someone. The father didn’t hold back and landed multiple punches to his son’s face. The end of the video showed the father questioning the son while the son was obviously still bleeding pretty badly asking him if he would act up again in school. I ran across a follow up article on the video today and you can read it here . Basically, the father was arrested and the son was removed from the home as a result of the video. Let me say first and foremost that what the father did is pretty much the definition of physical abuse if you want to get technical. When a child discloses something like that to me I’m mandated to report it because of my profession and license–whether I agree with it or not. I’ve reported child abuse on multiple occasions as it’s been a regular part of the jobs that I’ve had. In no way am I endorsing the father’s method of parenting but I have also witnessed the opposite where parents stay up all night in shifts because they are terrified that their child will kill them in the middle of the night. I can assure you that being scared of your child and what they are capable of is terrifying. Neither option is ideal by any means. However, in addition to beating up his son who was clearly unable to defend himself, the father took it a step further and posted it on social media so the whole world could see (literally). He mentioned the son’s classmates and teachers as well in the video. That’s pretty humiliating and public shaming as a form of discipline is a horrible decision. But we also have to be honest. A startling number of kids these days do not have any respect for authority figures of any sort. There are too many horrible situations where there has been a conflict that involved an authority figure (law enforcement officer) that turned deadly for no reason at all. Also, by the same token there are also situations where someone was compliant and still ended up “mysteriously” dead. I guess my point is that you can’t really win these days. I think that the father had good intentions. He was trying to teach his (almost) adult son about making better choices and respecting authority and he ended up in jail himself with his child being removed from his care. I don’t have a solution to the problem but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve posting a video of a child being hit in the head until he’s bleeding profusely. There has to be another way.
Recently I’ve had the chance to interact with some good parents in a professional setting. This is in contrast to the hundreds of bad ones that I interact with. I’ve never been a parent but I know it’s a hard job. I loathe waking up to take my dog out in the middle of the night–let alone getting up several times a night to tend a sick child or feed a hungry baby. It’s a job with rewards, setbacks, challenges, and achievements. I’ve heard many people say that the reason they don’t have kids is because they’re too selfish and I can understand where they are coming from. Selfish parents are the worst. I’ve met them. People more concerned about their money, appearance or property than their child’s welfare, happiness and safety. That’s why I’m always so excited to meet people who are good parents and whose kids actually like them. One of the biggest perks of having kids who like you is that the will fight tooth and nail for you when you’re too old to do it for yourself. There’s nothing like addressing a complaint from an irate adult child about their parent’s care. It’s an experience I don’t relish but I don’t get upset about it because they are genuinely concerned about their parent and the fear comes out in the emotion of anger. I say all that to say that having a kid is like an investment in your future if you get a good kid and you raise them in a way that doesn’t mess them up forever. Easier said than done in my opinion–especially with the amount of selfish parents out here.
This is an article I came across recently that was fairly thought provoking to me. As a therapist, I’ve learned how to roll with the choices people make even if I may not personally choose to make those exact choices myself. No judgement. However, one thing I have not personally grown mature enough to understand (and maybe I’ll never be) the decisions that some people make when choosing the person they make a baby with and not make a judgment on their mental capacity. That being said, working at a job where I interact with children who have been abused has convinced me without a doubt that there are some people who should never ever ever be parents. I am of the opinion that some men make great fathers and other men make great husbands and that sometimes these two things do not go together. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are some characteristics that both fathers and husbands should have that overlap with each other. But I think that the roles of a husband and that of an engaged, aware, and mature parent are different. The article is a little on the humorous side but it does make you think about the difference between a spouse and a parent. While selfishness in a marriage can cause problems, a selfish parent can negatively impact the life of the next generation. Communication between adults is different than communication with children. It’s not healthy to be enmeshed with a child in the same manner you are with a spouse. Totally different ballgame. Raising a child successfully without messing them up for life requires a different set of skills than having a relationship with another mature adult. It’s nice to have a great husband and it’s wonderful if a man is a good father, but it’s even better when a guy can be both at the same time.
I must admit, as a childless adult, the idea of pregnancy contracts was completely foreign to me before I stumbled upon this article. The idea of a pregnancy contract is that it specifies the responsibilities of each parent at the arrival of a baby. While I personally think that it’s a good idea to have a discussion about responsibilities and that this kind of contract may be a godsend for parents who are no longer romantically involved, it’s not foolproof. The fact that you signed a contract is probably not going to be your motivation at 3am in the morning when the baby is crying. A contract is only as good as the people who sign it and stand by it. It’s a great concept that is designed to reduce stress but unlike a pre-nup, it involves a third variable. Would you really take your spouse to court because they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain? I’m sure that some people would do just that but at the end of the day, the arrival of a new baby should be a conversation topic. Expectations of parenthood should be discussed. I’ll even go a step further to say that parenting duties should be a pre-marriage discussion and even quite possibly in a section of the pre-nup so that expectations are clear from day one instead of trying to decide after the baby arrives. But that’s just what I think.
I am someone who rarely goes to movies but I just saw the Equalizer and thought about how hard it is to see anything without thinking of the mental health repercussions. Granted, it was a good movie for being a thriller and the story line was a bit unsurprising but I did enjoy it. Without going into details about the movie I will say that Denzel Washington is an amazing actor that does not look like he is almost 60. The movie was rated “R” for a variety of reasons that included profanity and violence. Not my cup of tea. One of the surprising things was the amount of parents that took their small kids to see the movie. I will never understand how it’s justified to bring a small child to a movie with violence and adult themes. This perspective comes directly from working with kids who have acting out behaviors. Many times these kids have not had supervision or they’ve been exposed to things that have not been age appropriate. As much as I believe In the importance of age appropriate material for kids, it’s obvious that others don’t share that perspective. I just wish that some parents had the maturity and presence of mind to realize that their choices on what’s appropriate for their children can lead to a lot of heartbreak in life if they decide to imitate what they’ve seen.
I was a really interesting child growing up. My parents emphasized the importance of independence and doing things for yourself. However, they were by every definition pretty strict. I wasn’t allowed to wear colored nail police (only clear) and a host of other guidelines that were specific to our household I didn’t necessarily agree with. As a result, I learned ways around the rules that I decided were pointless. I decided from an early age that my parents were amateurs so I wouldn’t be too hard on them when they messed up the whole parenting thing. They were inexperienced so I would cut them some slack and not expect perfection because I knew they were trying even if their methods were highly flawed. With this perspective I proceeded to find ways to bend the rules. It was then that I had a childhood epiphany. While bending the rules or breaking them without getting caught required stealth, strategy and good timing, I had to make the decision before I broke the rules that I was willing to deal with the consequences of my actions. So it immediately became a toss up. Was the reward of breaking the rule bigger than that of the corresponding consequence? While this was a lesson I learned as a child, it also has larger ramifications. As adults, we are not usually subject to the discipline of parents but we can experience discipline from our jobs, from school, or other entities. Even as adults, it’s easy to make a decision without counting the cost. This can be especially true in situations where you have to make big decisions about careers, relationships, and goals. Sometimes you have to make a decision without having as much information as you’d like. However with the making of the decision you automatically assume all the risks and benefits that come along with making that particular decision. You are the one who deals with the consequences. You can’t pawn it off on others. But on the other hand, you are also the one who can benefit from your choices as well. You just have to make the right ones and then let the chips fall where they may.
This article really made me think. The author brings up some great points about teaching children that they have the right to say “no.” While I don’t think that this example is extreme, I do think that more of a middle ground could be created between sharing and not sharing. The truth is that many people in the world don’t share but I don’t know if that’s a real life lesson that should be demonstrated to a toddler. Fostering a good sense of empathy might naturally lead to more sharing as opposed to just teaching it as a behavior.
One thing that I’ve noticed or rather observed is the lack of boundaries and structure that some parents today have. While there are several reasons for these actions, one of the causes that I’ve noticed is that of guilt. Going through an unexpected event, a nasty divorce, deciding to go back to school, or even working more hours at work can cause a lot of parental guilt. As a result, and maybe even subconsciously, these parents because extremely permissive and relax most of the structure in their home. This is done because they feel guilty and they want to make up for the time they aren’t spending with their child, their new single parent status or even because they have too many other priorities. However they don’t realize that they’ll end up hurting the kid more than helping him or her. I’ve noticed that extremely permissive parents who enforce no boundaries or structures because of guilt as a child is little, soon find themselves on the edge of sanity once adolescence hits. Their kid doesn’t respect them or take them seriously. They feel guilty about enforcing boundaries because it’s something that they never implemented in the first place. Their pleas for the teenager to change his or her behavior fall on deaf ears because they haven’t established enough rapport or even a relationship that requires mutual respect and communication. These parents often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place in a situation that could have been avoided if they hadn’t allowed their guilt to get in the way of being a parent. However, family therapy can be a great way to start the process of restructuring some of the family dynamics and even making room for some effective communication along the way.