The Third Option

Three Roads

I had the privilege of participating in a panel for HuffPost Live yesterday, which focused on parenting methods. It was prompted by a viral blog post about a new parenting “method” called CTFD (Calm The Eff Down). The post was written by David Vienna, author of The Daddy Complex. Although it was mainly meant as a joke, the idea that parents need to calm down and stop stressing is serious.

I was asked to join the discussion because I have admitted to being a helicopter parent. I think they were expecting me to argue with David about parenting approaches, but I explained on the phone that I am not an advocate of helicopter parenting. I am interested in examining the reasons for my need to hover, and adjusting my internal approach to parenting. They still let me participate in the panel.

I enjoyed the discussion immensely. I thought everyone had excellent points to make about parenting. However, there was one comment from Lisa Belkin, a senior columnist, that concerned me. She claimed that people will either parent the same as their parents, or the exact opposite. While I do think this is true for the majority of parents, I don’t think it is a given. If this were always true, there would be no evolution. We would spend eternity moving from one side of the spectrum to the other. Society would never move forward. Some may believe this is the case. Call me optimistic, but I don’t.

The worst part about that comment is the societal complacency that it justifies. I don’t know how many times I have heard parents make comments that reflect that complacency. “My parents did it that way and I turned out fine”. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “I can’t change it. It’s all I have ever known.” These phrases are a symptom of the issue that Lisa is discussing, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

As I mentioned in the segment, I believe there is a third option. It is the option that I demonstrate on this blog. The process of observing our internal thoughts and emotions is critical to improving our parenting style beyond what we experienced in childhood. For my friends who have had a relatively nice childhood, the motivation for self-observation may not be very strong. There is no obvious harm done. In the case of a parent with childhood trauma, self-observation is absolutely critical to the health of the children.

Through my own self-observation, I can see my tendencies to move in the opposite direction from my childhood experiences. Instead of abusive and neglectful, I can observe my own thoughts and emotions as I try to overprotect my children. Hence, my previous posts about hovering. However, I also know that it is not inevitable. I don’t have to lock my children in their rooms until they are 18. I can feel anxious about giving them freedom, but still give it to them. I just have to observe the anxiety and understand why it is there. Sometimes, anxiety comes from intuition, and sometimes it comes from old childhood wounds. It is my job to know the difference. And that takes honest self-observation. It means picking the third option.

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11 thoughts on “The Third Option

  1. Very brave of you to confess to being a hovering parent. My mother was abused as a child and simultaneously hovered AND neglected me! Talk about anxiety inducing. I was a very anxious child and not much less so as an adult. Mindfulness has helped a lot but I still struggle with anxiety from being over protected as well as neglected (and abused). I think over protecting kids leads to anxiety or rebellion! Depending on the child. My sister rebelled and I got neurotic 😛

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  2. This is a very intelligent article Elisabeth. I agree with you, we can feel the anxiety and still give the freedom.I also strongly agree with your comments about complacency.And yes, it is our jobs to honestly assess ourselves as parents.

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  3. I agree with you Elisabeth, and I picked up on that same comment from Lisa Belkin. In my experience awareness of your own history and dealing with the baggage you are left with from childhood can help you to break free. I’m afraid to even imagine having kids myself knowing how my mother repeated her own mother’s parenting, but I am hopeful when I see how my older sister has re-created herself and is now a wonderful mother. It is possible, but only when we move from denial of our past, to awareness and growth.

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    • Thank you Liz. I love hearing about your sister. I am always excited to hear about those who break the cycle. It is not impossible even though it feels like it sometimes.

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      • My sister tells me that she had to sketch a diagram of our inter-family relationships and interactions when she was studying theology. It was only then, age 24, when she realized that what she was sketching was very abnormal. Fortunately she got help and support to deconstruct the family relationships and today, 10 years later, she is there to support me on my journey towards truth and healing.

        I spend a lot of time with her and her family, and it’s beautiful to see how she radiates calmness and serenity. Kindness and care. It’s not forced, it’s internal. Although she is strict with her kids, she is never cruel or mean. Beautiful to watch…

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      • I am so glad you have her support. I have one family member who started her recovery before I recovered my first memory. She has been instrumental to my own process.

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