This weekend we celebrate Father’s Day and last month we celebrated Mother’s Day. These days are set aside to provide us time to tell are parents how much they helped us as children and how much they mean to us. However, not everyone feels this way about their parents. Some people have a parent who abandoned them and others have parents who were physically and emotionally abusive. Therefore, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are not happy days for many people because they had parents but their parents were not there for them. As a result, many people are angry and hurt by their parents and don’t want to celebrate their relationship with their father or mother.
While this is true that many parents were far from perfect parents, at times there are reasons why parents acted the way they did as a parent. I do not say this to excuse their behavior and parenting style because they are responsible for how they decided to act and parent. I say this to help people, who had abusive parents or parents who were not emotionally available, understand why their parents acted the way that they did. Many people who had less than perfect parents tend to blame themselves for their parents actions. This often results in people carrying around hurt, anger and shame that they do not need to. Also they tend to make excuses for their parents behavior because they are afraid what other people will think of them not their parents. They feel people will assume they must have been terrible kids to raise so their parents actions were justified. This only adds to their hurt, anger and shame.
The truth is many parents abandoned their children or are physically and emotionally abusive because their parents were the same way, but worse. They had no role models showing them how responsible parents should act. Also our society provides little assistance or education to new parents. Therefore, they are left on their own to figure out how to act as a parent. This is a difficult task and then when you add the pressures from work and paying bills some parents cannot tolerate the stress. They use whatever is easiest for them which is usually using the same techniques that their parents used.
As a psychotherapist when I work with a patient or a teen, I do a family history. I find out from the adult what life was like when they grew up and what life was like when their grandparents grew up. If I’m working with a teen who is dealing with substance abuse or physical or emotional abuse at home, I find the pattern in the family history. Typically, the pattern goes back to the great grandparents if people can remember that far back. This means we are dealing with a problem that has been going on for over four generations and being transmitted from generation to generation.
How can this happen? It can happen very simply. In the early 1900s very, very few people believed in psychotherapy. In the 1950s people still did not believe in it except for “really crazy” people who were locked up in hospitals. This stigma still continues to this day. When people call to schedule a psychotherapy appointment for their teenager, many ask if they come to therapy will it prevent their teenager from being accepted to colleges or getting jobs in the future. If a teenager contracts a sexually transmitted disease, these questions are not asked. In fact, many middle schools give condoms to sixth graders. Our priorities are off if we don’t worry about a sixth grader’s future when we give them a condom, but we worry about their future if they go to psychotherapy to improve their lives.
Therefore, the main point is that our society to this day still places a negative stigma on psychotherapy and getting help. Therefore, many parents in the 1950s had no help when they became parents. Children do not come with instructions and there were few parenting classes at that time. Therefore, few parents knew what to do as a parent and there were few resources available to help parents who were overwhelmed.
Bottom line, your mother or father may not have been perfect and may have mad a lot of terrible mistakes, but they did the best they could at the time with what they knew. I have found this many times when I have interviewed the parents and sometimes the grandparents of a teen I’m seeing in psychotherapy. They admit they made mistakes, but they did not know what else to do at the time.
Therefore, for those of you who had abusive or neglectful parents, you are entitled to your feelings, but try to understand they did the best they could do. Maybe you can’t forgive them, but don’t blame yourself or feel ashamed. You did nothing to create the situation and there was no way you could have made it better. For teenagers today, again you did not create the problem and the problems have nothing to do with you as a person. Also you cannot change your parents. You can try to understand that they did their best in the past, however, now that you are in therapy they have an option to improve the situation. They can begin their own psychotherapy and address their own issues.
Decade after decade we are seeing the same parenting issues being passed down from generation to generation. We need to stop this pattern. We must remove the stigma associated with psychotherapy and the stigma associated with needing assistance with problems. No child comes with a parenting guide when they are born. As a result, parents will and do make mistakes. Instead of making them feel ashamed and embarrassed, we need to provide parents with options for seeking help such as more parenting classes. We need classes which focus on raising a toddler and other for adolescents. Also for parents who were abused themselves they need individual and group psychotherapy. Why do we keep repeating these mistakes and allowing the cycle of abuse to be transmitted to another generation.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children, teenagers and their families. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounsling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3