As a clinician with extensive experience on attachment issues, parenthood is a topic that is particularly close to my heart. I believe that before trying to teach parents strategies to create healthy attachment or address any problem that may arise in the relationship with children, it is important to debunk some myths that contribute to set unrealistic expectations on parenting and make parents feel inadequate and guilty.
1) There will be a time when you are ready to be a parent. Of course, there is a time in life when you have better practical and emotional resources to be a parent, such as when you have a loving partner, financial stability, a support network… However, you are never completely ready, as parenting is a journey and you can only learn on the way. No matter how much knowledge and experience you have with children, the impact of parenthood on your life will always feel unexpected, wonderful and sometimes overwhelming. This applies even to highly skilled education experts and child psychologists trained to deal with youth regularly in their professional life!
2) There is one best way to be a parent. There are strategies and work that you can do on yourself to avoid behaviors that may be harmful for your relationship with your children or to better support your children’s development, but ultimately you are the one who needs to find what feels right to you and your children.
3) If there is a problem in the relationship with your child, the problem is inside one of you (you being a bad parent or the child having troublesome traits). We all have a unique personality, with strengths and challenges. Your relationship with your child is the result of the match between you and him. The only way to repair a troubled relationship is to work on both ends improving closeness and communication.
4) Once you figure out effective parenting strategies, they will always work for your child. Children are in continuous development and parenting is a constant discovery of who your child is and who he/she is becoming. You may feel very comfortable parenting your newborn and then have a lot of difficulty when your baby becomes a toddler…Or you may have had a hard time when your child was an infant, but now you are breezing through teenagers years…Parenting is a ride, enjoy the ups and downs!
5) Because you love your partner and you share values, you will easily agree on how to parent your children. Parenting is definitely influenced by values and beliefs, but it is also the product of past emotional experiences, which are unique to each parent. Focus on being on the same page for the values that you think are most important to pass on to your children. As for the rest, accept that your children have two parents and they will learn that even within the same family, different parents have different ways of seeing things.
6) If you make a “mistake” or give your child negative habits, the path is set towards long-term consequences. Children are extremely resilient and forgiving. Each day can be the start of a better path. Get up, believe that is not too late and channel your energy towards the change that you want to create in your family.
7) Some parents are just mean/bad. There are parents who purposefully abuse and/or exploit their children, but they are a minority. The majority of parents, even the ones that make extremely poor choices for their children’s well-being, are doing the best with the physical and emotional resources they have. This does not mean they are not responsible for their acts. However, in my clinical work, I often meet parents who are overwhelmed and struggle with painful emotional experiences. In the mist of all of this, they are trying to take care of their children. Understanding where a parent is coming from is much more powerful than judging to promote healthy relationships between parents and children.
Serena Messina, PhD
Austin Child Guidance Center