Sunday, June 6, 2010

What we think we do for love.

I am lucky. I get to see a whole lot of adult children every time I work. I get to see them with their whole family, with their mom or dad, sometimes even with their grandparents, too. A whole generation together. Telling me many stories. Sharing their lives with me.

It is the best learning environment I could ever imagine. I learn more about child raising by watching how these kids turned out than I could learn from any book written by purported "experts" ever.

Most adults have issues. I know. We all have been raised by less than perfect parents. We are less than perfect parents ourselves.

But some things that parents do just stick out. And I see the results over and over again.

The one thing that adult children talk about is denial. How their parents denied everything, like in "No, I am fine", "I am not angry", "You don't need to know that" and so on.

Parents think they are protecting the kids by withholding information. But they are not. The kids know that something is wrong. They may stop asking about it, but worry silently instead.

Some adult children complain to me that their parents are still denying them the chance to discuss things with them. They say that it made them mistrust people, that they always felt that people would not tell them the whole story. They often quit asking questions. They say that as much as their parents thought they were protecting them, they weren't. They were making them more frightened, cause if mom or dad can't talk about it, it must be really bad. Or I must have done something to cause this.

The adult children get even more upset now when I can talk to the patient, their own mom or dad, and they tell me about their pain, but won't tell their own child, who is now an adult. That adult child still feels shut out. It is a bad feeling. It causes much despair.

"Mom never talked to me when I was a kid and now won't do it even though I am an adult. She would rather confide in strangers. It is so maddening. Nothing has changed. There is always a chasm between us."

Lesson learned.

Talk to your kids. Don't feel the need to go into detail, but talk. Don't shut them out. It is not protective. It is hurtful. And sometimes cruel.

Another thing I see a lot are issues around food.

Food is a big part of our lives. We eat when we are happy, when we are sad, when we go the the movies, when we celebrate, when we mourn.

And food is always a touchy subject. Even very sick elderly parents will talk to me about the poor eating habits of their adult children.

"Can you believe the crap that they are eating?", one 70 year old woman recently said to me. The patient was in a hospital bed in the living room at her daughter's home. They were all eating pizza and drinking Coke.

"I never raised them to eat like that. We always had home cooked meals in my day."

"Ma has always been on my case, ever since I was a child", said the daughter, now in her 40's. "She never let me eat what the other kids were eating, we always had to have something homemade, never from a box. I always felt like I was missing out on everything. When I got older, it lead to binge eating and sneaking food."

I looked at her. She was a bit overweight, but not too heavy. I asked her how she raised her own girls. There were 4 of them; all thin, all healthy.

"I denied nothing. I teach them moderation. I don't judge people based on what they are eating. Too many people do that."

She is right. I am also tired of the pompous, self-proclaimed "smart eater" who say they only feed their kids "healthy" food.

I mean, no pop-tarts ever? No Fruit Loops? No ice cream? No Oreos with milk? No Lucky Charms?

I don't think we are doing any favors to our kids by being militant about food. A healthy diet is not something you enforce, it is something you teach.

And, as Mary Poppins most famously said, "Enough is as good as a feast."

So teach portion control.

But, geesh, let your kids be a kid. It is really okay. They will love you for it as they look back on their life with you. Those few years with you mold them into the adults they will one day become. And they are adults for many, many decades. Beyond your control.

So anyway, I do find myself looking at my own 11 year old daughter and thinking, what am I doing today to screw her up for tomorrow? Is is really wise to withhold information? Probably not. Is it wise to deny her my true feelings? Probably not. Is it okay for her to have Fruit Loops, at least once in a while? Of course it is.

We really don't need advice from all the experts. We have our own lab; our friends and colleagues and siblings. Look to see how they turned out. Listen to what they say about growing up. It is quite telling.

So, my daughter does know more than she probably should, eats more junk than she probably needs to, and sees more movies that she probably shouldn't. I am not sure if it is all okay. I am sure that I have made and will continue to make plenty of mistakes to screw her up. We all will. It is just a fact.

But it feels right to include her in my life. It feels right to see her eating ice cream and laughing on a hot summer day. It feels right to have pizza and a Coke once in while while sitting on the floor in the family room with friends. It feels right to see her happy most of the time. It feels good to say yes more than no.

And if things feel right, than that is all I can hope for.

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.
~~~Katharine Hepburn


  1. Great post. I see that in my own family. My grandmother managed to give all her kids food issues, and lo and behold, they all have weight problems. Most of the grandkids don't.