Children are not pets

Pets Corner, photo by Hazel Moore, United Kingdom, appropriate loveThe love we feel for our children needs to be different from the love we feel for our pets, because children are not pets. When we want to hold our children non stop we teach them to be clingy and they get serious abandonment issues. This slows the child’s ability to develop good ego boundaries and affects their relationships later on in life. When I see that type of behaviour I, as a family therapist, suggest that the parent(s) get a pet in order to balance out their need to cling onto their child. Pets thrive on cooing and playful love, and humans benefit from showing them that. Children thrive on appropriate parental love and parents benefit from having their children develop healthily.

Zelma was totally focused on her disabled daughter Elli
and took great pride that she was a loving mother but
hadn’t noticed that she was treating Elli like a pet
hugging her, cooing to her and using baby talk
even until she was an adult and
didn’t see how it annoyed Elli
then one day Zelma became embarrassed
when her daughter barked at her!
so she got a dog and a cat so that
they could coo over them and kept
appropriate love for her daughter which
made a huge difference to Elli’s development

Pets Corner, photo by Hazel Moore, United Kingdom, appropriate love

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Children need love, so parents chill out

Anger, photo by Ivar van Bussel, Groningen, Netherlands, abusive tantrumsFathers and mothers, with small children, are usually at a Life Stage when stresses affect their behaviour, making them intolerant. It’s vital that we don’t psychologise abusive behaviour exhibited by stressed parents. In other words, avoid excusing abusive actions just because parents are stressed – there’s no excuse good enough for abuse. So parents, remember that although you’re having a hard time, when you over-react about your children’s mistakes this negatively impacts on their self-esteem. Also your behaviour is seen as inappropriate and abusive by children and everyone around too! What’s more if the ‘punishment is too severe then the lesson is lost’. When you’re finding it difficult to keep your cool, then maybe you need to see a therapist so that you can let off steam before it becomes abusive for everyone concerned. Children need love to grow healthily, not fear. Childrearing specialists claim that prisoners didn’t get there from too much parental love as children.

she was almost hysterical as she told me
how her family was driving her crazy
her husband was in the same state!
you may say “no wonder” when they
are in stressful jobs and trying to
make a decent lifestyle for their family!
then as the story unfolded they realised that
their lives had become unmanageable due to
hard work, lots of bills and not enough rest
everything had become so serious and
children have no way of knowing how
to deal with their parents’ stress, therefore,
they chose to do things as a family that
would bring them fun and relaxation
as well as putting their home in order
instead of just excusing the dysfunctionality

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Role models

Dad's Shoulder, photo by Joseph Zlomek, Pottstown, United States, loving parentSome people have had abusive parents as role models. Others have had one parent functional and the other dysfunctional. Unfortunately, there are those who have been abused and become abusers, mainly because they experienced how powerful induced fear was. The promising thing is that as we grow most of us learn to appreciate the healthy role models and mimic them in adulthood.

Nina was surprised that her mother’s abusive behaviour
hadn’t made her an emotional cripple, but remembered
that her father was a gentle, loving parent and
whenever she was tempted by her mother’s words
to believe that she was ugly and worthless
Nina would recall her father’s unconditional love
which gave her the confidence to make healthy choices
at times it took a lot of work to raise her self esteem
because her mother’s words would creep into
Nina’s thoughts unexpectedly, however
that was short lived as she developed the skills
to diffuse such thoughts by sending them
off into the universe in imaginary balloons

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Male influence in the family

Walking the trunk, photo by Janet Burgess, Geneva, Switzerland,  paternal  guidanceAs a family therapist and as a woman, I am pleased to see the growing nurturing role of men in family relationships. A man nowadays does more than provide financial security and play with his children. Usually he takes more of an interest in the child’s choices in life and is more supportive of their achievements, apart from sport. A man is not ashamed to take on a more nurturing role which was once only attributable to a woman. Likewise, a woman has more of an active role in what was once considered only that of a man’s, so the sharing of responsibilities is both effective and welcomed for the progress of humanity. Therefore, male influence in the family can provide a more balanced foundation for childrearing.

he remembered that as a child his father was
emotionally unavailable to him
sure, he played with him and showed some
interest in his son’s sporting activities but
if they were lesser talents than that of his father’s
then the criticism and insults were extreme
what’s more his father did not show pride in his son’s
academic and chess playing achievements
fortunately, it can be said that the son is
a better father, more responsible and caring
and this sometimes happens in opposition to the
inappropriate behaviour of a dysfunctional parent

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Generation gap

Mummy and me, photo by sanja gjenero, zagreb, Croatia,  parent  childTake back your authority as a parent, regardless of the age of your children. Even adult children need to feel that there is a healthy generation gap. You are the parent they are the children. You can be a friend but that role is governed by your role as the parent. They have friends who are there to share in their fun and foibles but do not confuse that role with the role of being a parent. In this way you keep good boundaries for yourself and also role model healthy boundaries for your children. Otherwise, children take on parenting roles towards their siblings or even towards their own parents – they become the parentified child. So, before long the roles are reversed, with children becoming critical towards their parents or feeling overly responsible for them and this is all due to the ambiguity. It is the parents’ responsibility to ensuring this does not happen by not relinquishing their role as the parent.

she wondered why she felt fear around her adult children
unable to express her needs to see them more often
she became depressed and confused
their claims that she was being needy felt accurate
until we discussed it and she became aware that
her expectations were quite normal for a mother who
had spent her life dedicated to the wellbeing of her children
now that they were adults it was not unreasonable
to expect her love to be reciprocated accordingly
expecting her busy offspring to reach out was unrealistic
yet trying to arrange visits was being met with
resistance and sometimes intolerance
until she realised that she had to take back
her role of mother and correct the imbalance
before more harm was caused to her and
to her adult children by being role modelled
ineffective parenting skills
in taking back her role of parent she became
confident, nurturing and specific about
what her needs as a mother were
resulting in renewed respect from her children

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Fathers

father and kids, photo by mario gonzaga, Bage, Brazil, smiling eyes Nowadays it seems that fathers are not credited for how important they are. Quite often people minimise how caring fathers are and it’s maintained that males are only interested in their work, mates, sport and sex and that they leave the family things to the women. Yet so many men make wonderful fathers and this is so important for their children.

my father was so reliable
not demonstrative with his affection but
I sensed he loved me by his caring ways
he worked hard to provide for us and
when my mother left he took on
both parenting roles
when he didn’t approve of something I did
he firmly but gently expressed it
when he was pleased his smiling eyes
were my reward
he died forty years ago and still I miss him

father and kids, photo by mario gonzaga, Bage, Brazil, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/473343

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