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Around Our Town...Family

Re-parenting Ourselves

07/01/2005 - Last month, we looked at the need for structure and nurture in healthy parenting. We also discussed the importance of both parenting our children and "re-parenting" ourselves. It is my belief that we cannot be the best parents we can be if we do not deal with areas that need to be "re-parented" in our own experiences. As a therapist, I take a family history not in attempt to blame or shame parents but rather to acknowledge the sometimes-painful messages we received as children, to identify what is true, and to allow ourselves to be changed in terms of how we see ourselves, other people, and the world we live in. In a Christian counseling setting, it has been extremely helpful to have a view of God as a perfect parent: His structure being the "law" (e.g., The Ten Commandments) and his nurturing being expressed in unconditional love and forgiveness (e.g., grace) for ordinary people who do not keep the law all the time. In a healthy home, standards, expectations and rules are established to set boundaries that teach the child responsibility (both morally and socially) and keep the child safe. In a healthy family environment, there would also be plenty of love, forgiveness and patience even when giving a consequence to a child who has violated a standard or broken a rule.

The problem with many of us is that we have either experienced deficits and/or excesses in the areas of structure or nurture. Therefore, we don't have any training or experience in healthy levels of these two very important aspects of parenting. This can result in our parenting with the same excesses or deficits we experienced as children or reacting to these excesses and deficits with an extreme response on the other end of the continuum! An example would be an adult who was parented with extreme rigidity, excessive and unreasonable expectations, and a family system that does not allow for negotiation. This individual might become a parent who gives a child too much freedom and not enough guidelines. Conversely, this same adult raised with extreme rigidity might also perpetuate that rigid, controlling style of parenting with the next generation. Parental style is largely a function of an individual's family background, personality and temperament, personal belief system, and life experiences. It is extremely helpful to be able to identify how your reactions and decisions in parenting might be based on unhealthy habits, thought patterns, and beliefs that we have internalized as "normal" and legitimate. One interesting note here is that two opposite approaches to parenting can communicate and reinforce the same message to the child. For example, an overprotective, enabling parent and an under-protective, highly critical parent might communicate the same message to their child: "You are not adequate. You cannot take care of yourself. You are a failure." These messages come through loud and clear from a parent who is always there to catch you before you even think about falling, cleans up your messes, and prevents you from learning how to care for yourself. A sense of inadequacy and failure is also the result of being pushed too hard by a parent who has unrealistic expectations, conditional love and leaves a child feeling that he or she will never be able to please that parent.

Once a parent identifies some of these patterns, how do we change? The "path of least resistance", the easy way, is to continue what we have always done. It takes a desire to become more aware of what a healthy parent looks like. In next month's column, I will be describing more specifically the aspects of healthy structure and nurture. Beyond awareness of the problem, it requires effort and discipline to break the patterns that are destructive in order to implement new ways of interacting and, most importantly, it requires the willingness to say "I'm sorry" to your child when you are unsuccessful and make a mistake in parenting.

Comments or suggestions for future

topics? Mailing address:

The Healing Place,

Highland Park

Community Church

411 S. Walsh,

Casper, Wyoming 82601

email: rkirk@hpcc.cc

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