This week, we have a letter from one of our readers. They write, as follows:
Hi, Dr Eddie.
I have a history of what you could label a dysfunctional family in the past. I have parents who had a very rocky marriage which ended in a messy divorce that went through the courts.
My childhood was characterised by shouting and fear and quite authoritative parenting. I’ve struggled with self-esteem, social anxiety and depression most of my adult life.
However, I’ve always wanted to cut the cycle of the past and learn to be an assertive, loving parent, so to be a good parent to my child.
I have tried to deal with my own issues along the way, with some help.
I am on antidepressants at a low dose. I hate taking meds though, and for many years I tried doing without.
I have done quite a bit of counselling and read many self-help books. I have done Cognitive Behavioural Therapy online and I’m a big fan of mindfulness.
I now feel I have more tools to help. It’s about balance for me now, and with changing meds I have found I get a little help mentally and physically and have learned nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, yoga, relationship skills, and giving back to my community is just as important.
In the last few months I started some volunteer work in a charity second hand bookshop. I love reading and helping others and I’m finding doing a few hours each week gives me a happiness boost. I’m full time in the home otherwise.
I am a parent of a young teenager. I want to make sure I can do the best I can for her.
I would like advice getting the balance as parents between sensitive and authoritive parenting so we are more assertive.
Dr Eddie’s response;
Wow, first of all I am impressed with the proactive way you have set about the tasks of keeping yourself well and your wishing to expand that to build a stronger relationship with your teenager.
In terms of your mental health, many times I have met people who take medications and don’t feel good about that, yet when they come off them they regress.
I see medication as a life jacket in stormy water, and in your life at present you may just need this lifejacket. It’s not a sign of weakness or anything like that.
Two words which I would say are helpful here are ‘ acceptance’ and ‘compassion’.
Accept that the meds are working for you, and convert that negative energy into acceptance. Also be self-compassionate and shift from the hate thinking to that of a person who is coping and thriving and seeking growth with many challenges.
I once heard, when it came to teenagers, that they “fire you when they are 12 and rehire you when they are 20!”
I see the sentiment in that but don’t buy it.
In terms of getting to assertive parenting, it is always a significant challenge and if we can get there 75% of the time, I think we are doing well.
Many households have blends of strictness; being firm and setting boundaries and sensitivity; and being available to the needs of our children/teenagers.
Too much strictness in adulthood leads to well-motivated but crushingly low self-esteem and too much sensitivity without strictness leads to poor motivation with poor behaviour.
Hence the sweet spot of assertiveness that balances between sensitivity and strictness.
When it comes to teenagers the challenge is to listen more than continually offer your own opinion.
Teenagers are fed up being told things by teachers and parents — hence the need to listen more and talk less.
Remember, the world and social media don’t care for your children, not like you, so it’s your real time/real world relationship that counts.
Coordinating in the house is important. It’s not fair that one parent is always the strict one and the other gets to do the fun stuff. Sharing strictness is only fair.
As parents, this needs to be discussed in advance. In our house, I have to learn daily to be less strict and more sensitive to our two boys as they hurtle towards their teenage years.
This sharing and consistency needs to be discussed and planned and reviewed.
One Good Adult
In life and in psychological research, we talk about the importance of ‘one good adult’ in a young person’s life.
This, no doubt, is you but it can also be a teacher, or a coach.
I think in families that we need a person who can influence the teenager during periods of high emotion.
Grandparents usually play this role brilliantly.
If they are not in a position to do so, someone who is a positive influence, be it an uncle, aunt or cousin, can take it on.
If they replicate the parental voice they will be rejected. If they are supportive and similar to a peer voice then they will be heard. Try to strategize and get one of these in your child’s life, as they can be invaluable.
Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to www.facebook.com/ dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist