Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Parenting: Where do “bad” feelings come from?

My last post was about the negative feelings that are as ubiquitous in the process of parenting as are loving feelings and the intense desire to hold and nurture.

In my exploration of parenting blogs I came across an interesting post on Motherlode
the NY Times parenting blog:

Rebecca Abrams, a novelist, writes about having “fallen out of love” with her firstborn after the arrival of her son. This was a courageous and frank confession of not-so-nice feelings towards daughter #1.

The comments on this post were numerous, and generous. Most commenters applauded the frankness of Ms. Abrams and openly owned their own negative impulses toward their children. Alas, outside of the blogosphere, this admission is not so common.

Reviewing these comments, I thought about what I would do as a therapist with mother’s (more likely than fathers) whispered their horror and shame. I and most other therapist would get very interested in the well-springs of these feelings: where does this all come from? Where were you in the birth order? Do you know how your mother fared after giving birth to your sibling(s)? Or to yourself? What was going on in the family around that time? What do you know about the early relationship with your siblings, younger and older?

Creating a family of one’s own, inevitably invites “re-enactments.” Not all memories are conscious. We stumble somewhat blindly through unconscious re-enactments from our own early dramas.

A friend of mine spoke frankly to me about flashbacks, horrifying flashbacks, of physical abuse from her own childhood. These pictures came unbidden when her first child was born. She had no impulse to harm the baby, but she became very afraid in caring for her first-born. Her confidence in caring was undermined.

Having a chance to explore all of that, creates a context for the present moment, helps us to be both compassionate with ourselves, which is key to handling all of this, and leavens the guilt, allowing us to be creative in solving the present dilemma.

One never knows what is going to trigger the flashback or the enactment. One can sail through the early days and years of our children’s childhood and then hit a wall when they go to school, or they hit adolescence, or they threaten to go to college and leave us, or they fail to leave home at what we deem the appropriate time, or they act up in a surprising and distressing way. If its not happening now, it probably will after awhile.

When in trouble: think “context.”

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