Category Archives: Parenting

The Limits of Parental Indulgence

"Sergio's Finish" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“I feel terrible about not being able to buy my kids what their friends have. But I can’t afford to buy them new ipods and shoes right now.”

Your value as a parent lies in what you communicate to your children and the values that you convey, not in what you purchase for them. You are not doing your kids any favors by buying them everything that they want or that their friends have. You are doing them a favor by not doing so and explaining to them why not.

Even when parents can afford things, they are giving more to their kids by NOT teaching them to feel entitled to have everything they want. Learning delayed gratification and planning for the future are valuable gifts that will go a long way in encouraging capability and independence.

Simply say,

“Right now we need to save money for the mortgage, emergencies, retirement, and your college.”

Or

“It’s important to have money put away to ensure that we will survive another potential downturn. Twenty dollars here, a hundred dollars there, add up surprisingly fast.”

It’s all in your attitude that says they’ll be fine without the new merchandise. If you don’t show anxiety about their wanting things or about their being “without,” then they will learn to live more comfortably with desiring things and not having them right away.

You can also suggest to them that they can save up for what they want themselves. If children learn both to wait and to work for what they want, they will end up appreciating the items more, or they will lose interest in acquiring them all together.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Feeling rejected by your teenager?
“I was upset at my teenage daughter for not travelling with me to visit family, preferring to catch the bus two days later so she could catch up with her friends.”

Detail from “Sultry Adele” by Mimi Stuart ©

It is normal for a teenager to want to spend more time with friends and less time with family. It may be painful and aggravating as a parent, but you should not take it personally.

It is important to balance your desire for control and closeness with your teen’s desire for autonomy and growth. Too much control and manipulation will cause the child to rebel and resent you and become secretive. Allow your teen to make decisions and grow, while you maintain reasonable boundaries and expectations. As long as teenagers are accountable for their actions and responsible for contributing to the family by doing some chores and spending some time with the family, it is best to allow them to develop increased independence as they grow.

When situations arise in the future where your daughter wants to spend her time with friends instead of with you and the family, try to be understanding, remain self-composed and by all means, avoid acting hurt. Be relaxed and self-assured and say something like the following:

“I understand and am happy that you want to spend time with your friends. But we love seeing you too. Why don’t you pick a night this weekend to have a family dinner with us / a day to join me to visit your grandparents.” Or

“I know you’d really like to see your friends this weekend. But it’s important for me and our family that we have some family time together. Let’s figure out what day would work best for everyone.”

When children grow to be teenagers, then young adults, and finally independent adults, the parent will suffer an unavoidable loss. However, to avoid raising a dependent, incapable grown child, you must embrace this loss. Look at the positive side: you are likely to gain a capable and responsible family member whom you like and respect.

In the meantime, you may want to focus on your interests, friendships, and making your own life more fulfilling. After putting so many years into parenting, it takes time and effort to re-focus your life away from parenting. Once you push yourself to do it for a while, you will feel happier and more vital. Your teenager is likely to notice and respect you more for it too.

In summary, avoid pursuing too much closeness and control over your teenager. Maintain reasonable expectations and mutual respect while your teen is living under your roof. Be understanding, yet focus more on your own life and expand it in new directions.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed
Giving Up Parental Narcissism for Parental Maturity

"Lungta Windhorse" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Lungta Windhorse” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed writes:

Parents often seek their validation from the wrong source — their children. The pure unconditional love of an infant is so intoxicating that many parents want to experience that transcendental glow for as long as possible. Who wouldn’t want to be adored without any discernment or judgement? The tricky part is that in order to be a truly loving and effective parent one needs to learn to give up the idealization from their child in favor of setting boundaries, expectations, and healthy limits.

The love that can develop when a parent does not try to be mirrored by their child or best friend to their child, but instead be the parent the child needs, is a love that is built on respect, consistency, and inner wholeness.

All of us need to constantly work on this maturity because inside each of us is a child that just wants that unconditional love we may have once experienced in our parent’s eyes and did feel from the purity of our newborn’s love.

A child has a million chances to make friends but it is exceptional to have a sturdy, loving, and reliable parent.

What does it take to give up parental narcissism for parental maturity?

It requires us to recognize first and foremost that our child is not the right place to look for our adult emotional needs to be met. If we have a partner we need to work diligently on that relationship so that it is a source of meaningful connection and legitimate feedback. If we do not have a partner we need to invest in a robust network of friends.

Adults need to be the people we turn to help us get through the ups and downs of life. Adults are the people we need to rely on to give us accurate appraisals of our appeal and competence.

Children need us to be clear and not back down when we have set standards. We need to be the solid posts they can lean on or push against to know their own capacities and inner strengths. When children know where the limits are and can depend on them then they feel more relaxed and trusting. When we feel confident that we can adhere to our values and withstand the inevitable protestations of our children then we can be calm and secure in our parenting and our mature love of our children.

If this all sounds a little too dry or somber let me reassure you that children who are parented by mature adults are raised in some of the most raucous and happy households I have ever seen. Once the proper walls and foundations have been set and reinforced patiently and consistently — both parents and children find an incredible freedom and joy within those healthy boundaries. Genuine playfulness and affection are often an outgrowth of mutual respect and emotional solidity.

After all it is much harder to dance on a buckling and splintery floor. It is never too late for a parent to grow up and become the mature beacon your child needs and deserves.

Take the below quiz and see how you are doing in cultivating mature parenting (for parents of 8 year olds and up)

Score 1 – 5 (1 – Never, 2 – Rarely, 3 – Sometimes, 4 – Often, 5 – Always)

1- I give into my child’s demands to stay up later than they should

2- I let my child watch too much TV

3- I can’t stand it when my child is crying so I do everything I can to make it better

4- I allow my child to use bad language

5- I tell my child to be “good”

6- I allow my child to interrupt me and other adults

7- I am too tired to follow through on consequences I set for my child’s misbehaving

8- I would rather get along with my child than press an issue

9- I make all the meals for my child and clean up after them

10- I let my child monopolize the conversation and not really know anything about me

11- I let my child indulge in unhealthy comfort foods or substances to soothe their unhappiness

Scores of 30 and above indicate you have some work to do to become a mature parent instead of a popular one.

by Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed, PhD, child behavioral expert, co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.) http://ahasb.org

From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik
Failure is Good

"42, Mariano Rivera" by Mimi Stuart ©

“42, Mariano Rivera” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

A cynical colleague once cautioned me about using the word “failure” when discussing children. “Challenge,” he said would be more soothing. Becky wasn’t failing to meet her responsibilities and getting a ‘D’ in the class, she was facing challenges and if she would only live up to her potential, etc. It was only a semantic feint but one that reveals both the residual muck of the so-called “Self-Esteem Movement” and, more important, our apparent lack of respect for our children. Becky, of course, knew exactly where she stood: She needed to do her homework and study.

And, Becky certainly knew where she stood when she was in first-grade and the teacher put her in the Papayas (which was, wink-wink, the kids who didn’t read as well as the Kumquats). It wasn’t exactly a secret which fruit group read, counted, and scrawled the best letters, any more than it was a secret who did the best tricks on the recycled Brazilian wood play set outside. It wasn’t Becky who needed the disguise; that was for her parents. Becky just needed the teacher’s encouragement to hang in there and keep working; she’d be a Kumquat soon enough, and if not, well there are other fruits. From the moment our sons and daughters waddle into the world of other children, they almost always know where they stand.

Maybe Becky’s teacher hadn’t read the studies that reveal an entire generation (Let’s call it the, I feel really good about myself, but I can’t add or find Pakistan on a map generation) of Americans whose self-esteem is so elevated that they believe they know things they don’t. Becky’s first Little League coach didn’t need to read the studies. He knew that when she got her first hard ground ball at shortstop, the “Great Fielder” trophy from last year’s tee-ball banquet wouldn’t help much. What did help was getting clipped in the jaw with the ball and getting right back on the field. The coach knew that when you fall or fail, you get right back up and try it again.

I don’t know a single accomplished adult who hasn’t failed often. Yet, when we become parents our instinct to protect our children can so overwhelm us that we seek ways to shield them from learning the very lesson that offers the best protection—falling and getting back up. We send them to schools where they are “not allowed to fail,” where their every talent and attribute is celebrated. And if they come home discouraged? We call the school. Our kids get certificates for showing up but not always for doing something really well. What devastation to the “self-esteem” of the kids who didn’t get an award. In forty years of teaching I never met a child who bought that “everyone wins” snake oil.

Becky gets why she isn’t at the top of her ninth grade math class and it isn’t because she “doesn’t test well,” or “the teacher doesn’t understand her learning style.” It’s because she isn’t very good at math and would rather be reading or painting or playing ball. And it isn’t because her grade is filled with mean girls that the school won’t do anything about. We aren’t paying all this money so she can come home miserable every day. The problem is that those other girls “don’t feel good about themselves,” that’s why there’s beer at their parties. And what, by the way, is the school going to do about that?

Ok, this is a bit hyperbolic, but I’m betting that some of it sounds familiar. Becky and her friends do thrive on encouragement and success. As parents—and teachers—we should work hard to help them discover what they love and then support those things with all our hearts. Our children need to know we believe in them, but if they’re going to believe in us, we need to be honest with them and respect their intelligence. No baby talk, no fruit groups, no excuses, no suing the school.

Our children look to us to gauge how they’re doing and how to function in the world. More than look to us, they watch us. Ever have a fight with your husband or wife? No yelling, just one of those run of the mill quarrels in another room so the kids wouldn’t know. They knew anyway, right? They don’t miss much about their parents and they want the truth, including what we think they’re good at. If we try to fool them, they’ll look elsewhere to figure things out.

Do you remember that day when your little boy was learning to walk and fell hard on the pavement? Shock, maybe pain, then…he looked at you to see what it all meant. I’m betting that if you leapt up and raced over to him looking terrified, he cried as if he’d been snapped in half. If—far more calmly than perhaps you felt—you walked over and lifted him up with a smile, he probably didn’t cry much at all and you taught him something about falling down and getting back up. What we learn about falling down and getting back up goes a long way to define the kind of person we become—which is to say what we learn about failure is what makes us successful.

As for Becky, she’s the only girl on the high school baseball team and she’s hitting .333. That means she fails to get a hit twice out of every three times she comes to bat and which, for those of you who don’t follow baseball, is Hall of Fame hitting. For those of you who do know baseball, you know that it’s hard as hell and that you can call striking out a “challenge” if you want, but it’s really just striking out.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “Teaching Kids to Leave” and other articles.

Getting your child to develop self-esteem:
“Honey, you’re so smart and talented!”

“Morning Lily” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Parents who praise their children too much, give constant advice, ask too many questions, or joke around all the time are not doing their children any favors. While parents who become fused with their children usually have the best interests of their children in mind, they harm their children by inadvertently serving their own insecurities. Such expressions of too much attachment result in children becoming dependent and incapable, or secretive, detached and rebellious.

We are talking about extremes of course. It is equally harmful to be excessively critical, indifferent, or humorless. This article, however, is intended for parents who tend to be too attached and involved in their children’s lives.

Praise for Self-esteem

In hopes of fostering their children’s self-esteem, parents sometimes praise and compliment their children too much, which can result in the following problems:

1. When a child gets used to a lot of praise, he or she can become dependent on external validation, losing sight of his or her own internal compass.

2. Too much praise can lead a child to feel inadequate because excessive praise actually expresses the parent’s anxiety over the child’s self-esteem. Expressions of support tinged with anxiety will then backfire.

3. The child sees that the parent is being disingenuous and trying to manipulate the child. As a result, the child loses respect for the parent.

4. Too much praise can result in children becoming fearful of being found out, that is, fearful of not living up to being as wonderful, creative, and smart as they are supposed to be. As a result, they stop trying.

It is generally nice to receive praise and recognition for a job well-done. Parents shouldn’t go to the extreme to ignoring their children’s hard work and accomplishments. But they should avoid trying too hard to make the child feel good.

Too Much Advice

Giving a great deal of advice is often an expression of excessive attachment. Parents who give endless cautionary advice cause their children to tune them out and ignore their warnings. These well-intended but meddlesome parents are the last people children will turn to when they really do need advice.

While it’s important to keep children safe (age appropriately), too much direction implies that the parent thinks the child has no common sense or judgment. This often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the child may learn to feel incapable of having good judgment.

Analogously, in the United States, we are warned of every potential hazard on roads, ski slopes, and at playgrounds. As a result of expecting to be warned about every potential danger, we often stop paying adequate attention to our surroundings to notice danger with our own eyes.

In effect, children develop better judgment when they have to practice using their judgment while growing up rather than counting on receiving warnings from others. Children learn best through experiencing their own mistakes and learning from consequences. Ideally, they are gradually given more and more age-appropriate freedom and responsibility, avoiding both extremes of being mollycoddled and being neglected.

Too Inquisitive

A parent who is overly interested in the details of his or her child’s life is often unknowingly trying to satisfy his or her own longings and needs. Perhaps the parent wasn’t a successful athlete or wasn’t as popular as desired. Perhaps the parent didn’t get the appreciation and attention craved for from his or her own parents. He or she can now attempt to live the desired childhood through his or her own child’s life.

However, too much interest in every detail of their children’s friends, activities, and grades causes them to feel invaded by the parents’ attempt to fuse with them. Again it causes them to become either compliant, incapable, and dependent, or secretive, detached, and rebellious.

It’s better for parents to live their own lives, while being open to conversation without pushing themselves into every detail of their children’s lives.

Too Much Joking

A sense of humor is a wonderful trait to pass on to one’s children. Too much joking around, however, broadcasts the parent’s need to be liked and accepted by the child. Too much jesting breeds over-familiarity that prevents the needed separation between the parent and the child. It also can result in a lack of respect for the parent because the parent appears incapable of taking him- or herself seriously.

Respect

Parents may think they are being loving by praising, joking, advising, or inquiring into their children’s lives. Yet these attempts at interacting with their children often reveal the parents’ unmet needs rather than respond to the children’s own needs. In excess, these ways of relating squash the healthy separation and respect between parents and children.

Ideally, we can strive to relate to our kids without trying to give them the childhood we wished we had. Instead, we can leave enough separation that will allow us to respect their differences in personality and desires, and allow them to develop judgment and independence, through which they develop self-esteem. Ironically, when we try a little less, our relationships often become more natural, connected, and respectful. When we stand back a little, we also allow more space for our children to grow and to move toward us, because they won’t dread being overwhelmed by excessive parental energy.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read Dr. Madeline Levine’s “Is Your Parenting Style Based On Faulty Thinking?”


GUEST AUTHOR Sam Vaknin: The Narcissist’s Disabled, Sick, and Challenged Children

"Prism" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Prism” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Sam Vaknin writes:

The narcissist regards his disabled or challenged child as an insult, a direct challenge to his self-perceived perfection and omnipotence, a constant, nagging source of negative narcissistic supply, and the reification and embodiment of a malevolent and hostile world which tirelessly conspires to render him a victim through misfortune and catastrophe. The precarious foundations of his False Self – and, therefore, his ability to function – are undermined by this miscegenation.

Relentlessly challenged by his defective offspring’s very existence and by the persistence of its attendant painful reminders, the narcissist lashes out, seeking to persecute and penalize the sources of his excruciating frustration: the child and his mother. The narcissist holds her responsible for this failure, not himself. She brought this shame and perturbation into his otherwise fantastic life. It was she who gave issue to this new fount of torment, this permanent reminder of fallibility, imperfection, mortality, impotence, guilt, disgrace, and fear.

To rectify this wrong, to restore the interrupted balance, and to firmly regain an assured sense of his grandiosity, the narcissist resorts to devaluation. He humiliates, belittles, and demeans both the unfortunate child and his suffering mother. He compares their failings unfavourably to his own wholeness. He berates and mocks them for their combined disability, frailty, weakness, meekness, and resourcelessness. He transforms them into the captive butts of his unbridled sadism and the cowed adherents of a cult-like shared psychosis. Serves them well for having thus ruined his life, figures the narcissist.

Casting himself as a compassionate proponent of “tough love”, the narcissist eggs his charges on mercilessly. He contrasts their slowness with his self-imputed alacrity, their limitations with his infinite grasp, their mediocrity with his genius and acuity, and their defeats with his triumphant life, real or imagined. He harps on and leverages their insecurities and he displays his hateful contempt for this mother-child diad with a fiery vengeance whenever he is confronted, criticized, or resisted. He may even turn violent in order to enforce the discipline of his distorted worldview and delusional exegesis of reality. By reducing them, he feels elevated yet again.

Bonding and attachment in infancy are critical determinants and predictors of well-being in adulthood. A small minority of children are born with dysfunctions – such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Asperger’s Disorder – which prevent them from properly bonding with or attaching to the primary caregiver (mother, in most cases). Environmental factors – such as an unstable home, parental absenteeism, or a disintegrating family unit – also play a role and can lead to the emergence of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Toddlers adapt to this sterile and hostile emotional landscape by regressing to an earlier phase of unbridled, self-sufficient, and solipsistic primary narcissism. Disabled and challenged children of narcissistic parents may well end up being narcissists themselves, a sad but inescapable irony.

Narcissistic parents of seriously ill children derive narcissistic supply from onlookers, friends, family, colleagues, and community by attracting attention to their role as saintly caretakers. They are demonstratively and ostentatiously patient, compassionate, suffering heroically, and dedicated to the child, its welfare, and ultimate healing. They flaunt the child’s sickness as a kind of a hard-won but well-deserved medal, down in the trenches with their tortured offspring, doing desperate battle with a pitiless enemy: the disease. It is an intoxicating part in the unfolding film that is the narcissist’s life.

But this irresistible craving for attention should be demarcated from the sinister affliction colloquially known as Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.

Patients afflicted with the Factitious Disorder colloquially known as “Munchausen Syndrome” seek to attract the attention of medical personnel by feigning or by self-inflicting serious illness or injury. “Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome” (Factitious Illness or Disorder by Proxy, or Imposed by Another, or FII – Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers) involves the patient inducing illness in or causing injury to a dependent (child, old parent) in order to gain, in her capacity as a caretaker, the attention, praise, and sympathy of medical care providers. Both syndromes are forms of shared psychosis (folie a deux or a plusieurs) and “crazy-making” with hospital staff as unwilling and unwitting participants in the drama.

Superficially, this overwhelming need for consideration by figures of authority and role models (doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers) resembles the narcissist’s relentless and compulsive pursuit of narcissistic supply (which consists of attention, adulation, admiration, being feared or noted, etc.) But, there are some important differences.

To start with, the narcissist – especially the somatic variety – worships his body and cherishes his health. If anything, narcissists tend to be hypochondriacs. They are loath to self-harm and self-mutilate, let alone fake laboratory tests and consume potentially deleterious substances and medications. They are also unlikely to seriously “damage” their sources of supply (e.g., children) as long as they are compliant and adulating.

As opposed to narcissists, people with both Munchausen Syndromes desire acceptance, love, caring, relationships, and nurturing, not merely attention: theirs is an emotional need that amounts to more than the mere regulation of their sense of self-worth. They have no full-fledged False Self, only a clinging, insecure, traumatized, deceitful, and needy True Self. Munchausen Syndrome may be comorbid (can be diagnosed with) personality disorders, though and the patients are pathological liars, schizoid, paranoid, hypervigilant, and aggressive (especially when confronted.)

While narcissists are indiscriminate and “promiscuous” when it comes to their sources of narcissistic supply – anyone would do – patients with the Munchausen Syndromes derive emotional nurturance and sustenance mainly from healthcare practitioners.

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by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, who is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

Read Guest Author Sam Vaknin’s “Munchausen and Munchausen by Proxy Syndromes: Forms of Pathological Narcissism?”

Read Sam Vaknin’s “How Does the Narcissist React “http://to Illness and Disability?”

Watch “Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting”