Feeling Like A Bad Parent? Pretend to Be a Writer!


One thing I’ve learned from being a parent is that kids often don’t want to hear us. They don’t listen. They don’t obey. And no matter how hard we try, they just don’t heed our advice.

But sometimes, they do want to listen. They do want our input and our stories. Our past experiences matter to them when they run into difficulties and want solutions. Or maybe just when they need someone to bounce ideas off of, they’d come to us.

I’ve been thinking about cognitive discord and how none of us want to listen when things “hurt our brain.”  Sometimes it’s just too much information, too much to have to fix, or too much to have to figure out.  Kids are the same way. Why should they want to listen to our correction, guidance, or advice when all of that is hurting their brain/causing cognitive discord?  Everything was at equilibrium before mom or dad started pointing out their mistakes. Everything was just peachy until grownups started spewing too much reality.

So how do I want people to break it to me when I’ve got the facts of life all wrong? How do I want to have my mind changed? Certainly not from someone who’s going to pound it into me by talking me to death (like the way I tend to do to my own kid sometimes). Quite frankly I don’t think it matters what parents say.

The only way I’ve been able to tolerate cognitive discord  long enough to change my mind about something is when I read about it in books after years and years of wrestling with challenging thoughts. Perhaps parents can learn a few things from authors — it’s not high emotions that drive change, but rather calm logic.  Which is why I sometimes prefer writing letters to my kid.  Pretending to write to an audience helps me contemplate the issues at hand. Plus he keeps everything I’ve ever given him so he can take those letters out to read over and over again if he wants.

So perhaps by pretending to be an author, we can become better parents. If we cannot remain calm in the heated moments of dealing with our kids, we have the option of writing a logical and high minded book for them to read.

No, You Can’t Be Anything You Want!


Adults often have fantasies about how kids, whether or not their own, might turn out one day. I’ve had some parents and teachers attribute such greatness to my child that sometimes I wonder who all is going to be disappointed one day when he doesn’t choose to do or be everything people hope for him to.  The likelihood of becoming exactly like someone else’s fantasy is almost nil.

Unlike most parents, I don’t actually believe kids can become “anything they want to be.”  We are contributing to lies and misunderstandings when we adults say that to children. I know that goes against the whole Disney culture of having all your dreams come true, but reality does have a way of speaking  its truth — we can only become what we work at becoming. And that is the idea I try to plant in my son’s head.

So, we can only become what we work at becoming = if you are not putting in the time and effort to improve different aspects of yourself, you cannot hope to “be anything you want.”  This means someone who doesn’t put in 3 hours of piano practice per day during childhood is most likely not going to become a concert pianist. It also means kids who don’t study and don’t care about having study skills are not going to be successful as an academic scholar.  Much in the same way a boxer who neglects to eat healthy or train can’t expect to be a champion.

Learning and Earning.  Those are two ways to improve yourself, but even then, it’s wiser to tell your kids they are limited by time and energy. When you help them put away the childish thought of “being anything they want” or “having all their dreams come true, ” then they can begin with a solid footing in reality — actually becoming what they work at becoming.

Normative social influence and Teens


The issue of mass rape in Cologne, Germany got me wondering about the whole idea of normative social influence. Who you hang out with and which group you belong to can carry real consequences.  They say people who tend to lose themselves in a group tend to be the ones who act out most violently against members of the other group.

This has ramifications for us parents.

Not too long ago a fellow parent told me an awful story about some rich, privileged, entitled 8th graders during the summer acting so irresponsibly that a small group of them caused one boy to get his arm cut off by accident while flipping an ATV for fun on a ranch. This boy was a star athlete of some kind, but due to stupidity and lack of supervision, he (luckily didn’t die but) lost his arm and his chance at continuing in high school sports. 

As a parent of a middle schooler, it’s hard for me not to have strong reactions to this.

So back to normative social influence.  Is it really “social” to almost get your friend killed because you all decided it was a good idea to flip an ATV?  Or are most anti-social behaviors these days confused?

Another Religious Terror Attack Not Taken as Seriously as Paris


Since the Paris terror attacks, there have been many more happening on a weekly basis. But because this most recent one took place on a Pakistani university campus, Westerners don’t respond with quite the same level of outrage and media coverage.

I continue to wonder how CNN or NBC might replay the same awful footage of carnage for days   had it been a university on U.S. soil.  It’s almost as if we expect terror in the mideast region so it’s really less of a big deal.  But college students and faculty are human beings no matter which region they come from.

I think if 20 some U.S. college students die from being gunned down, there would be no end to the political commentary. The gun control lobby, Homeland Security, the President and countless others would have a lot to say. But because Pakistani lives are not the same as American lives, it was treated as just one piece of bad news in the world today. Maybe there’s a #prayforPakistan somewhere, but it’s just not popular on Facebook or Twitter.

How to Best Help Yourself through Depression


The topic of depression was on the first page of the personal section in the paper this morning.  The fact that it made the first page signified that Journal readers still struggle with depression or know someone who does. Today’s “news” was about how neural feedback can help the patient along with talk therapy and medication. I have no doubt these approaches have helped countless people.

From my own postpartum depression I learned that it probably mattered less WHAT the therapy was, but it was very important that I had an understanding expert along side to walk with me through a season of difficulties. I was very fortunate to have had two such wise old men whom I call Dr. G and Dr. S.

My first real psychoanalyst was Dr. G who happened to be the son-in-law of one of my professors in grad school. He seemed to understand from a wealth of experiences that the sickest people are those who come from the most respectable looking families or organizations.  Once I realized how insightful he was, I trusted him to guide me through my particular sorrows which was mainly related to the loss of my grandmother, who was really my mother figure, and the realization that my biological mother wasn’t fit to be a mother at all.  So in short, mother issues. 

Not surprisingly after I had my only child, all these mother issues came flooding back about acceptance and how to raise a child. I felt I should have been as equipped as anyone else to be a competent parent. But reality had a way of sneaking doubt into every single issue of child rearing.  The first couple of months were the hardest, and then we moved to another state and that became the straw that broke the camel’s back. When I met Dr. S, I was having panic attacks multiple times a week ( I had not had them since elementary school). 

I think about my old psychotherapists once in awhile especially when I run into women who obviously need one, like women who break down and cry for an hour in public or are grieving over a parent.  Good therapists like the ones I was fortunate enough to have worked with will set a goal to get you off meds. If that’s not the goal, then you have the wrong therapist. Believe me I had a couple of experiences with doctors/counselors who were less competent and I left them in a hurry.

Now that depression is behind me, what I want to tell people is that you don’t have to get sucked into popular psychology or the latest wonder drug to cure depression, but sometimes that is a perfectly good and helpful path to get you somewhere better. The key is to pick the right people to help you. And there’s nothing like depression to clarify who you are and what you want to do once the fog is lifted. For me, depression was necessary; otherwise I would still be living a life that wasn’t mine.