I know that a lot of parents joke about inevitably forcing their children into therapy as adults—trying to cope with the psychological damage we inflict on them when they are young. I often think the same thing whenever I find myself yelling irrationally at my children—especially my daughter—over their messy rooms, their seemingly constant fighting, or purely out of sheer frustration. The truth is, I really don’t want either of my children to end up in therapy—and if they do find themselves there, I especially don’t want it to be because of me. As I have mentioned before, I’ve spent many a lunch break sitting in my therapist’s office, working through any number of issues: feeling stretched too thin with working full time and having two young children; the frustrations of managing a career that is often not in my control; dealing with the stress of bills piling up during the tough times . . . I could fill a page with the number of things I worked on, talked through, sometimes cried about, and generally learned to cope with during those sessions—the least of which was probably my relationship with my father. Yes, I have spent years trying to find a way to silence the negative voices in my head that were planted there by my father—whether intentionally or not—in order to be a better wife, a more understanding mother, and a self-confident woman. So, I know what it truly means to have a parent send you to therapy, and I’ll do just about anything to make sure my children don’t also end up on a therapist’s couch. Unfortunately, I sometimes fear that it may already be too late . . .
Sometime in the last year, my daughter announced to me that she never wants to have children. At first, I didn’t think much of the statement, especially since she was only ten. Then, each time she saw a baby on TV or a mother with her children, she would remind me of her future plans, which most definitely did not include children. I finally asked her why she didn’t want children, and she simply said, “Kids are annoying.” I was stunned, shocked, horrified. How on earth had she come to the conclusion that children were annoying? I suddenly flashed to all the times I said, “Stop being so annoying!” or “You kids are annoying me!” along with many other variations on the same theme. Yep, I had planted the thought in my daughter’s head, and somehow changed her perception of the world, possibly forever. Up until that point, I thought of myself as someone who would never insult their children, never put them down, or intentionally make them feel bad, but I had done just that. I immediately wanted to make it up to her, to take all those instances of my use of the word “annoying” out of her memory for good, but unfortunately, that’s not possible. Instead, I explained to her that the greatest joy I have in my life is being their mother, and that I wouldn’t change anything. Now all I can do is hope that this might be taken off the list of potential reasons for therapy, but we’ll have to see . . .
This recognition of my own responsibility—my own culpability—in raising children who are free from the issues that would lead them to therapy is something that influences how I parent them. I don’t think I can really catch all of the potential damage before it makes an impact—I may not even be aware of all I do or how my kids see me. What I do know is that for every negative aspect of my personality (I am moody, impatient, quick-tempered at times) I try to counteract it with something positive (I am silly, lighthearted, affectionate, loving, engaging). My hope is that, years from now, if either of my children find themselves sitting in a therapist’s office, the memories that they will share will be of a mother who loved them—and although not perfect—never made them question my intention to be the best mother I could be to them.
My advice to my daughter is the same advice I tell myself all the time: be aware of your actions, of your words, and how they are perceived by the people around you—especially by the people you love. The last thing you want to do in life is to hurt someone so much that they need to seek professional help to cope with the negative feelings left behind. And, if you look back at your own actions and see a time when you could have said or done something differently, it’s never too late to try to make amends.