Are You Tormented by Guilt For How Your Kid Turned Out?
Adolescence is just one big walking pimple.
-- Carol Burnett
Teenage Stranger at Your Table
Well, that umbilical cord may have been severed at the time of your baby's birth, but that invisible emotional one has stayed intact for the rest of your life. It goes much deeper than love -- it's a feature of our primordial, if not animalistic core where that love boils down to a strong protective instinct.
While the offspring of other mammals may end up as food before they reach age of adulthood, our kid may fall victim to the street influence, finding its permissive spirit more attractive than our parenting drill of all "don't, should, shouldn't, must, and never".
A shrink once said, of course, not without a little exaggeration, that teenagers with their crazy hormones are almost not humans. It may sound totally wrong to some of you, if your kid calmly mastered all those piano lessons, or found healthy outlets in competitive sports.
And yet, some other parents might completely attest to the correctness of such observation. So that one day you looked over the rim of your morning coffee cup at your teenager somewhat shocked by a strong impression that you are facing a stranger at your table.
One that just eats and sleeps there, between the time spent in their untidy, noisy room, and the time they leave to hang out with their friends. There is something almost cold coming from their eyes as they stay quiet upon your asking some of those uncomfortable questions.
Those are times when you desperately try to play a shrink, brainstorming for an answer to the nagging question which is like a dark mantra haunting you:
"Where did I go wrong with this kid?"
In a pursuit for those answers you may hope that facing your kid with those realities might bring you closer to understanding -- but soon you regret such a move, which, like opening a proverbial can of worms merely deepens the gap between you. Being brushed off with an impatient "Leave me alone!", you retreat, hoping for some other solution that might come to you in the future.
There is no problem that awful that you can't add some guilt to it to make it even worse.
Inner Judge Whose Verdict of Guilt We Are Accepting
Then comes the next phase, when out of a sheer need for your own emotional stability you decide to assume a less caring pose. "O.K. -- you are saying to yourself -- I can play this game too" -- hoping that now your kid will miss feeling important and hard-to-get.
Maybe your hurt parental pride is also seeing it as a strategy to get even, now that it's an altogether different game being played between the two of you. But, to your shock, you quickly realize how naive you were -- because your kid is even welcoming that change, now not being pestered by your parenting.
As the time goes on, more and more you see the signs of your kid's alienation from you. That little drama may also involve another kid and your spouse who are contributing to the tension in the house.
Or it was just the two of you all along, plus that eternal question hanging from the ceiling above your bed late at night: "Where did I go wrong with this kid?"
Somewhere in the personality makeup of all of us is that nuisance of a judge always ready to sit us on the suspect's bench and throw at us a verdict without a heard defense. Looking left, looking right, or inside, we don't see our defense attorney, while the verdict is loud and clear: "One way or another, you messed up that kid, and now learn to live with it".
In a merciless act it also pulls out all other, mostly imaginary and exaggerated mistakes in your life -- as if just for the character assessment, now saying: "You are also a lousy spouse, a lousy cook, a lousy household keeper, a lousy provider..".whatever else, to make a dent on your self-esteem.
It's all hard, and many arguments later, many slammed doors later, you are bound to start developing something like a thick skin over all that, now helped by a notion how "that day will come for your kid to leave your house, so at least you won't be daily facing that proof of your failure".
Sometimes my children think I am getting on their back. What they don't understand is that I am the only one who has their back.
When They Turn Calculative and Abusing
Now, the reason for your kid turning "that way" may have absolutely nothing to do with you and your style of parenting. I have seen many cases where parents did their very best, while kids turned to drugs, alcohol, dropping out of school, or emotionally blackmailing parents for support as young adults.
Which inspired me enough to conclude that there is no way to predict how our beloved offspring may turn out. Nevertheless, many parents will swallow their pride, and rather see themselves as a failure than their kid as being one.
Actually, there are many quite calculative kids who will internally justify their mental or physical laziness by brainwashing themselves into a belief that "it's all their parents' fault", and that parents have to pay that emotional debt to them by catering to their needs.
They are proverbially "biting the hand that feeds them", telling anyone willing to listen about their "bad childhood of neglect, verbal abuse, and lack of understanding". Somehow, it quiets down their conscience while people are responding with compassion.
Yes, I've seen quite a number of kids, who refused to roll up their sleeves to make something of themselves -- while playing one or another version of a "wooden leg syndrome", someone who can't make it on their own. Many a parent may even see the game their kid is playing, but they see less of aggravation in going along than wrestling with tactics which have been proven not to work.
What they lose from sight is the life truism that love is a two way street, and if the kid feels no remorse for playing that abusive card with them, they should not reward it with any loving gestures.
It's also a simple truth that after a certain age everyone is responsible for their life -- of course, except for those unfortunate handicapped young folks.
But, can your kid present their neurotic personality trait as a handicap? No, not really.
Oh, I'm sorry, I only exist when you need something.
Excessive Emotionality Doesn't Spare Them From Responsibility
There is one distinct difference between neurotics and psychotics -- the ones who might qualify for such exemptions in family and in society. Psychotics have a narrowed field of consciousness, losing the rational attachment to reality, with possible emotional flareups over which they have no control.
On the other hand, neurotics are fully coherent, and even if their emotions may mess up much in their relationships, they have enough of introspective ability to see what's going on with them.
However, many of them, almost with a pre-psychotic passion develop an exaggerated respect, almost a religious one, towards their excessive emotionality. They get literally addicted to their crappy emotions, which doesn't make them emotionally handicapped, just unwilling to snap out of their addiction.
There is no stigma attached to neurosis, since many famous artists, inventors, philosophers, and even more than 30 American presidents had one or another version of emotional issues.
But then, when it's about our kids, we easily fall for their racket of displayed tantrums, feeling sorry for them, and feeling guilty for their being like that. I am not going to play a shrink here by offering an advice how to deal with kids like that. With my little diploma in psychotherapy I am too well aware of individual differences between kids, and when it's about a right approach, there is no such a thing as "one fit all" formula.
But, I certainly can suggest to the parents to stop feeling guilty for the way their kids have turned out. It's beyond their control, we are not talking here about how to train a dog to behave, but a complex human being who may simply not respond well to any style of parenting -- whether friendly, or authoritative, or a smart mix of both.
We, parents, are not perfect beings, so we can't be perfect parents, and the same goes for our kids, who simply have their own limitations which will generate mistakes and problems known to the human race.
Our guilt may ultimately mean just our lack of love for ourselves, as we are using our kids's failures to beat internally on ourselves. Maybe if we changed that, on some energetic, vibe level our kids might change as well. Love is contagious, so we have to be "infected with that bug" first, hoping that others in our life will feel it enough to start loving themselves too, enough for a change to happen.
© 2020 Vladimir Karas