Parenting For Prevention
by Mandy Saligari
‘I just want you to be happy’
Of course, as parents we all want our kids to be happy and successful and most of us will do our utmost to ensure this happens…and that’s a good thing isn’t it?
Yet when a parent says something along the lines of ‘I just want you to be happy’ to their child, most teenagers will respond with a belligerent sigh and raise their eyes, heavenwards. This type of response may simply be a case of the teenager not feeling understood, or of wanting a parent to stop treating them like a child. In fact, ‘child rejects parent’ is a very natural part of the maturing process.
However, when a family ends up in my office, there are usually pretty serious circumstances surrounding the ‘I just want you to be happy’ statement and response. Beyond rejecting a parent, that child, if I can refer to a teenager as a child, is often also harming themselves. Fashioning sustainable solutions and building bridges is the (relatively!) easy part of the process. Breaking through the denial often is where the lion’s share of the work lies.
Behaviours, ‘good and bad’ are often a barometer of what is going on within the family dynamic and it’s important to listen, to hear what is being ‘said’ through the behaviours. This way the true nature of the problem can be identified.
When I assess troubling behaviour in a child below the age of 12, I look to the family dynamics first. Sometimes I never meet the child; rather I work with the parents who can then adjust their parenting to address the problem.
At other times and usually when the child is older than 12, it is a family affair and, when possible, everyone gets involved.
As a working parent, I know all too well the pitfalls and pain of timetabling family life alongside a demanding job. The guilt of being a working mum is a place I could go to if I chose. But I don’t. I know why I do what I do, and I take responsibility for that.
It’s important not to shirk from the truth; because as parents we do have a significant influence on our children’s development… through our own behaviours. It is worth remembering that as we manipulate our child to do what we want - give it a few years and your own tricks may well come back to bite you!
Instead use boundaries, consistent clear boundaries. Not to control the other person, but more as an influence, a guide, a GPS signal that is consistent and congruent, emitted from you to the world. These boundaries signify the demarcation of who you are, what is acceptable to you and what is not, what makes you laugh and what makes you sad, what interests you, what is appropriate and what is intolerable. It allows you to be truly known.
When a boundary is compromised, it corrupts that signal, breaking your own moral code – and you end up lying, denying your needs, manipulating, enabling or acting in ways that are not ‘you’.
Be ‘Good Enough’
Having respectful boundaries makes you a ‘good enough parent’; one who stands in your own esteem exemplifies dignity and respect and who is consistent and congruent … regardless of whether what you say and do meets with your child’s approval or not.
It’s a powerful anchor for a child to have true knowledge of a parent who is in good self-esteem. It will allow them to ask for help and advice when they need it, and trust you not to judge or micromanage; it will allow them to share their success, knowing you won’t want a piece of the accolade; it will let them know where they come from and give them a sense of identity they can respect; whatever life throws at them, it will allow them to remain in honest relationship with you - what more could you want?
Mandy Saligari is the founder and Clinical Director of Charter Harley Street (www.charterharelystreet.com). Information on Parenting for Prevention workshops can be found at www.charterharleystreet.com/charter-workshops.html