We have this thing we do.
We’re talking about our kids, and eventually someone says something like, “… and that’s what little Frank will have to talk out with his therapist in ten years!” Or: “… hey, at least Frankie will have something to talk about in therapy!”
We’re joking, but we also kind of mean it. Many of us fully expect that our kids will end up in therapy – or avoiding it – and that there’s nothing we can do to help it. We accept the terms of parenting to be that we will screw up our kids, imprint them with Issues, disable them with emotional conditions, harm and scar them with all our good intentions and love – no matter what we do.
We go into parenting facing defeat and failure as givens.
And we joke about it because it’s kind of comforting to not live with the illusion that we can control the inevitable catastrophic breakdowns to come.
I for one have never questioned this position. My mother’s Perfect Parents – the Greatest Generation! – caused her tremendous amounts of mental and emotional suffering. She went to therapy. She, babyboomer, – the Most Moral Age of Aquarius Generation! – had me in the 70s, didn’t recreate her parent’s style at all, but still, I ended up in therapy. Now here I am, -Generation X! – having kids in the new century, and it seems like, along with preschools and colleges, I should be saving for and setting up my children’s future therapists as well. It’s just par for the course.
Or is it?
Having wanted to be an anthropologist when I was in college, I tend to read things in terms of cultural impact, so I tend to think that much of the family trauma of the past few generations has its roots in very large, cultural issues – like the fact that we (middle class, at least) moved to these isolated nuclear families – the fact that our gender roles became so hierarchical – the ideas about identity with regards to tradition that didn’t – that don’t – give adolescents a lot of room for becoming themselves and becoming adults in truly healthy ways. I could rant on and on. I could write a book. Others already have…
What I’m wondering, though, is if we are truly as doomed as we think. For some of us – for a lot of us – we’re not still reacting to our grandparents and parents – we’re post the postmoderns – we have our issues, we’re embroiled in a confused culture defined by a money-hungry mass media – but despite all that, we’re fairly sane. Even if we haven’t been to therapy, concepts about tolerance and respect and being true to yourself and other cultures and listening techniques have filtered through the seams of our daily lives (Tony Soprano seeing a therapist) and however wonky that is, it certainly has informed us – we sit at a different table than our parents and grandparents did. Things have changed.
The very fact that we accept therapy as a norm differentiates us.
And I don’t think of therapy as a sign of abnormality or sickness only – we DO live in a society without a lot of shamans or guideposts to provide guidance and meaning – we’re left to our own devices, and that can be a very lonely, sad affair.
But for all the ways in which we’re not, say, the Aborigines in Australia with their respectful and intimate relationship to the land and to their lifecycles and their history and identity – well, we’re also not like a tribe I read about where the women are constantly brutalized; and we don’t leave babies out to die… We may be ruining our planet, but many of us are doing what we can to change that… No, we’re not perfect, but we’re also not the worst ever, either…
And I think it’s healthy to admit that. It’s a good thing that we’ve given up on perfection – we can focus on being honest and real. And if anything is going to keep our kids from being screwed up, in my opinion, it’s that: being who we are, flaws and all.