Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Myth of Perfection

Psychologist Diana Siskind, in her book Working with Parents, suggests the image of the ideal parent who is loving, wise, kind, patient and reasonable (the one we wanted for ourselves and the one we aspired to become when we had children of our own) is an image only. This applies to grandparents as well.

We would love to be that "perfect person". Is that realistic? We may have perfect intentions but life gets in the way of our plans. Being perfect suggests that we are all powerful and gives us the illusion that we can control the events and people around us.

Emotions, ours and others, get in the way of our relationships and we often find ourselves responding with anger, threats, criticism or playing the blame game. Some people respond by internalizing the anger and might withdraw or beg to be listened to.

Being "perfect" puts a lot of pressure on everyone. When we pressure a child to be "perfect" that child often feels they are failing us because they are unable to live up to our demands. Hearing our anger, children may think it is their fault. In actuality, it probably has nothing to do with them, you just may be having a bad day. Children may also feel responsible for your happiness. That is a tremendous burden at any age.

We are human and we don't have all the answers. It is alright to say,
"That's a good question...I don't have the answer right now, but let me think about it."

We often ask children too many questions. This can add to feelings of insecurity when children don't know how to respond, since children feel safe and secure knowing that the adult is in control.

If we can get rid of the myth of "perfection," what a relief it will be for everyone.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Happiness Trap

When you get right down to it, parents and grandparents have the same goal for their children. They just want them to be happy all the time.

What you think might make a child happy is not necessarily what the child needs or wants. Our need is to continue to take care of them but their need is to become independent and self sufficient.

Realistically, no one is happy all the time. Life is made up of a range of emotions but as parents and grandparents we get caught up in the "Happiness Trap."

When a child is very young we are needed, and that tends to make us happy. But as a child matures, that need for our constant loving presence diminishes.

Here is an example. A 19 year old comes home from college for the holidays. As is typical, he stays out late with friends, and sleep past noon. Mom waits for his door to open and immediately runs to the kitchen to brew fresh coffee and make him a big breakfast, even though the refrigerator is full, and he is capable of making his own breakfast. He waits for his mother to do it, because that has always been the pattern. When asked why she still does this, the mom responds, "it's one of the few things I can still do that makes him happy."

Even for our college aged grandchildren, we fret if that child isn't 100 percent happy. The most important gift we can give is letting them know that we are confident in their ability to make their own decisions and feel confident, capable and in charge of their own futures.

But.... We still hope they will be "happy."