What If We Did It All Wrong?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 200 · Duration: 00:13:05

What If We Did It All Wrong?

What do you do when you realize that your parenting was damaging to your children and now they are young adults? Is there anything a parent can do to promote healing?Click To Tweet We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, What If We Did It All Wrong?

Today we’re hearing from Janice from Yakima, Washington and Janice writes:

Dear Neil,

So if we have had the problem of the Mom, namely Me, being too relaxed and then Dad being very black-and-white and yelling, like you described in this article, and the kids are now 16, 18, 21 and traumatized and damaged from it. How do I heal the anxiety that the kids have?

Janice from Yakima, Washington

Janice, your question is shared by a lot of parents who know what their kids have been through and want nothing but the best for them.  Maybe they feel guilt or remorse for not having protected them, or for being less mature and informed as parents than they wish they were. 

But here you are, and you can see the effects of the imperfect parenting, the trauma, on your kids as young adults. In your case Janice, you don’t say exactly what you’re seeing in your three kids, but kids, then young adults and adults, manifest their issues in different ways. They can be anxious and fearful, perfectionistic, depressed, angry and hostile, abuse drugs and alcohol, or seem perfectly fine but hold a lot inside, sometimes not acknowledging or being aware of their issues and eventually manifesting symptoms of chronic illness. On the other hand, they may have found ways to manage the family issues and stay focused on their own growth and development in truly positive ways and continue to learn and grow as an individual.  

Janice, you’d be amazed to learn how many folks out there have experienced trauma during their developmental years. Well respected sources cite 60% of US adults report abuse or serious family dysfunction as children so you and your kids aren’t alone. Before we jump in uninvited to help your kids, let’s take a look at a couple of things here.

First of all, you undoubtedly suffered abuse as a child. Why do I think this?  Because you coupled with a partner who was abusive and apparently that was familiar enough to you that you accepted it and responded by trying to make up for it by being, as you call it, too lax. 

So, Janice,

Before you can help your kids, you need to help yourself.Click To Tweet and since I know little about your life, I don’t know what that could look like, but it needs to include you having and enforcing your own personal limits and boundaries; for yourself and with others. That of course will need to include not only your husband, but also your kids. What are your own personal needs?  What do you need to do for yourself to feel healthy and happy? Time with friends, yoga classes, reading time, help from the kids cleaning and home care responsibilities?  

What are you experiencing with the kids?  We can care and empathize, but we can’t - we must not continue to be lax, or permissive as that will be counterproductive.  It will be enabling and not empowering, and empowering is a critical concept here; it goes hand in hand with healing.  

Empowering means: 

  1. I believe in you.  I see your capabilities your talent and your lovability.
  2. By investing in yourself and taking healthy risks, and setting personal goals, I know you will be successful.
  3. I know you are a worthy person and deserve happiness and success. 
  4. Empowering means I support you in embracing opportunities to succeed with self-valuing choices.
  5. Empowering means I don’t support destructive or self-destructive behavior.    
  6. I do support healthy investment in yourself.  

It doesn’t include letting your 18-year-old stay in his room all day playing video games.   It doesn’t include letting your 16-year-old smoke cannabis, or stay home from school, or self-harm.  These are all behaviors you can and need to set limits with.  

Janice it will be helpful to be open about your awareness of the issues, the yelling and the hurt and trauma that caused. As well as the lax permissive parenting you presented and how confusing that must have been. You can offer to be available to talk about it, to listen to their feelings, to go to therapy with them or support them in going on their own.  But you don’t want to make excuses for destructive or self-destructive behavior.  Understanding trauma and its impact on the human nervous system is more widely known in the behavioral health community now than ever before.  The therapy community is much more sophisticated in their ability to help clients on a path to healing than ever before and if you and your young adult children can invest in healing, the sooner the better.  I was reading Annie Hopper’s book, Wired for Healing recently where she describes Leonardo DiCaprio preparing for and playing the role of Howard Hughes in the movie, The Aviator.  It involved DiCaprio learning to think and act with obsessive compulsive disorder.  When the movie was finished, he had rewired his brain for OCD so well that he needed to work to rewire it back to normal. That explains two things; that our response to trauma goes into our nervous systems and creates a variety of symptoms. The brain by the way, is a major part of our nervous systems.  And that we have the capacity to rewire our brains, re-regulate our nervous systems, and heal.  

So parents, therapists and helpers of all kinds.  Of course, we have nothing but empathy for those suffering the effects of trauma and abuse.  And yet we must believe in their ability to recover their physical and social emotional health, we mustn’t wring our hands and say, “poor thing”. We need to empower and resource their recovery and refuse to resource self-destructive behavior. But we mustn’t forget that critical first step.  The step where we focus on our own recovery, our own needs, our own boundaries before we encourage the same in others.  

Thanks for tuning in today listeners and special thanks to you Janice for sharing your situation with us.  Before we close, let’s do this together, take a slow deep breath, hold and exhale very slowly, ready?  Inhale through your nose, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, good, now hold, 1,2,3,4,5 and exhale very slowly 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.  Are you remembering to slow down and breathe and do other easy positive things for yourself.  They’re important because as I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again,

This parenting business ain’t easy so self-care is essential; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.Click To Tweet  Bye for now.

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