I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Challenging presence

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Edwin Friedman has his own way of charging parents to keep a close watch on ourselves, to pay attention to the logs in our own eyes:

Everything I have said above [about data addiction and anxiety] holds true for parenting as well. Over the years I found parents so engulfed in data and techniques that I stopped trying to educate them and started trying to free them from this “syndrome.” I developed a presentation entitled “How to Get Your Kid to Drop Out and Save $100,000 in Tuition” (it was $30,000 when I began). I always mention at the very beginning that all the specific “techniques” I am going to offer such as how to escalate conflict, screw up communication, and increase the generation gap will work better if parents will commit themselves to reading all they can about raising children. This, I point out, will help make them more anxious, more inconsistent, less self-confident, and far less the kind of non-anxious, challenging presence that could ultimately cost them a bundle of tuition. The advantages of trying to keep up, I point out, are that they can consistently worry if they are reading the right book, if the real truth has just come out and they do not even know about it, and if there are experts out there who “know” how to do it.

Parenting is no different from any other kind of “managing.” The critical issues in raising children have far less to do with proper technique than with the nature of the parents’ presence and the type of emotional processes they engender. I have, for example, almost never seen a mother who had mature relationship with her own mother have trouble with her daughter. Similarly, I never saw a highly reactive or hypercritical father who was not distant from his own family of origin (and who, thereby, made the members of his new nuclear family too important to him).

Where parents are willing to take responsibility for their own unworked-out relationships either with their own parents or with one another, children rarely develop serious symptoms. Symptoms in a child are most likely to develop in the areas of the parents’ own traumatization where they, therefore, have the least emotional flexibility. (Parents never seem to get the problems they can handle.) And to the extent child-focus enables parents not to have to deal with their own relationships or their own unresolved issues, that projection process will retard if not nullify all techniques and well-meaning efforts to improve the child, including the aid they seek from tutors and counselors.

To expect parents to focus on the emotional process in their own relationships rather than focus on their children requires having counselors (therapists, educators, clergy, and so on) who are willing to do likewise. And it is much easier for everyone to conspire to focus on data and technique instead. The social science construction of reality that would diagnose children instead of family emotional process, and that would allow parents to blame their ethnic background rather than take responsibility for their own responses, furthers the anxiety.

Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 112-113

Written by Scott Moonen

November 17, 2019 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Parenting, Quotations

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