Thursday, June 2, 2011

ParentWise by Loren Buckner

Tampa psychotherapy colleague Loren Buckner, MSW, is author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Family Life and How to Deal With Them. ParentWise is a most unusual parenting book in that it does not tell people how to parent but instead explores what it feels like to be a parent. Writing on May 31, 2011 for the Orlando Sentinel as a guest columnist, Buckner shares some thoughts from ParentWise in the article entitled “Lessons from the Anthony trial: Inner reflection can help conflicted parents:

“…There's a risk, though, to pointing our fingers at other so-called "bad" parents. Focusing on their problems can lead to minimizing our own. Most of us admit to a certain amount of everyday anger. But we avoid confronting the deeper feelings, the ones that keep us up at night.

The Anthony case, and others that periodically dominate the news, center on parents who have lost their way. After every tragedy, we wonder: How could something like this possibly happen? This response is problematic, too, because as long as the question remains unfathomable, we can avoid thinking about it seriously.
The truth is we hear about families and children in crisis practically every day. We read about parents who hurt their children and about kids who are violent. To help them deal with their emotions, doctors prescribe antidepressants to kids and parents who are overwhelmed by how they feel and at a loss as to what do about it. Over-eating, under-eating and addictions of varying kinds have become common but unhealthy ways to cope.

This tragic case presents an opportunity to bring to light a painful truth that is hard to admit even in the privacy of our own thoughts, never mind say out loud. Normal, everyday kinds of parents sometimes hate their children.

Hatred feels awful. It fills parents with such unspeakable guilt and shame that hiding this excruciating feeling seems like the only respectable thing to do.

The word "hate," usually believed to be a horrid, immoral emotion, is difficult to use without cringing. Admitting that there are times when we do, in fact, hate being parents or hate our children may seem appalling. However, there's a type of hate that's different from the evil kind.

Like other strong feelings, hate is as much a part of life as any other emotion. Not only is hate a normal feeling, hate and love aren't mutually exclusive. We feel happy and sad, relieved and disappointed, and we feel love and hate, too. Most people have mixed feelings about all sorts of things. Parenthood is no exception. Containing the hate and anger we feel toward the people we love the most — our own children — is one of the most gut-wrenching parts of parenting, making it vital to understand.

Feelings, even disagreeable ones, do not determine our character. How we react and how we interact with others, especially when we're upset, is what's telling. We know in our hearts when something is wrong inside. We need to listen to these feelings instead of drowning them out. Pretending that everything is fine when we're confused and unhappy can lead to serious consequences.

People tend to think they wouldn't feel bad inside if they had stayed married, had a more traditional family, or had more money. Parents believe that somewhere out there are moms and dads who don't suffer with bouts of anger, guilt or self-doubt.

In reality, we all have to learn to manage painful feelings. Individual circumstances vary, but disturbing emotions are an integral part of a family's journey. Feelings, even negative ones, are not character flaws or signs of weakness; they are signs of life.

As parents, we have a responsibility to look into our own personal stories. We need to understand and learn how to cope with the complicated and conflicting feelings we have. Our kids deserve this degree of dedication.

And even if we haven't been committed to a self-reflective parenting style, we can certainly honor Caylee Anthony's memory by developing one now.”

I am grateful to Loren Buckner for sharing her much needed ideas in such an accessible manner for all to read and to the Orlando Sentinel for publishing her work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary. Sounds like a thought provoking book.