You may have noticed that I’m on a bit of a campaign to stop parents from giving up too much ground to the current trends in parenting: lowered expectations, resigned acceptance of self-centeredness, screen-addiction, needing your kids to like you, and trying to be your child's friend - instead of being their parent.
A real life example: a young woman, recently divorced with primary custody of her two daughters, came to see me about ongoing problems with her younger daughter.
She said she’d always wanted to be a mom, and said wistfully, "I always thought I'd be good at it." She'd looked at her job as a clerk/typist as being secondary to being a mom, just like her own mom, but then she also hadn’t planned on getting a divorce either - the first in her family.
The older daughter was doing reasonably well, but she was also complaining bitterly that her little sister was "out of control" - and that their mom wasn't doing a good job at all dealing with the situation. To her credit, my client chose to use the opportunity to consult with me by being emotionally honest and candid, rather than defensive, and proceeded (sadly) to validate some of her older daughter's strong opinions about how ineptly her mom was parenting her youngest daughter.
Obviously, it wasn't all mom. Even back when the kids were little, and things were still relatively happy, the younger one was more of a handful: always intense, difficult to manage, wide mood swings. Because the parents were still together they did “okay, mostly” handling their daughter with decent consistency, but dad was now only seeing his daughters every other weekend, and now preferred to wear the white hat - and relieved not to have to step up and seriously engage in disciplining his angry, unhappy daughter.
No escaping it, mom was definitely the parent on duty, and to her credit she cringed as she described the divorce and the two "very messy" years leading up to it. So, in addition to being affected by all of the regrettable parenting trends currently loose in the culture – low expectations, reluctance to reproach (let alone discipline) unable to be anyone other than a smiling, always "positive," but helpless mom in semi-denial - she was also tortured with doubt and guilt that the divorce may have permanently scarred or damaged her daughter.
The school had been saying her daughter might benefit from counseling - and even medication - and that she may also need to be put in Special Ed to manage her behavioral problems, even though no one remotely suggested she was intellectually incapable.
To make a long story short, the gist of our work together - over the course of four sessions - came down to mom truly seeing that she needed to regain her "mom-ness." That didn't mean doing a 180 and flipping into an authoritarian stance - screaming and yelling, grounding her child forever, or dishing out harsh punishments. It did mean not walking on egg shells anymore, not being so afraid to be wrong because she might crush her fragile daughter if she gets too angry about her behavior. She now conveys that she expects her daughter to respond to her, essentially cooperate, and get back to being a participating member of the family that includes her. Easier said than done? Of course, but that's parenting.
Divorce Wisdom - Take the High Road (Even Though It's Hard)