Did My Parents Care Too Much?
Guess what I learned on the way to therapy...
I just read an interesting article in the New York Times, June 14, 2011, and written by Lisa Belkin entitled, "Loving Parents, Unhappy Children." In the Times article, she discusses a piece done by a psychotherapist in training, Lorie Gottlieb. In it, Gottlieb says that she started to see many patients in their 20's and early 30's who were depressed and insecure despite reporting having parents who were loving and deeply involved during their childhood.
In Gottlieb's words:
"These patients truly did seem to have caring and loving parents, who gave them the freedom to find themselves and the encouragement to do anything they wanted in life. Parents who had driven car pools, and helped with homework each night, and intervened when there was a bully at school or a birthday invitation not received, and had gotten them tutors when they struggled in math, and music lessons when they expressed an interest in guitar (but let them quit when they lost that interest), and talked through their feelings when they broke the rules, instead of punishing them (logical consequences always stood in for punishment). In short, these were parents who had always been attuned... and had made sure to guide my patients through any and all trials and tribulations of childhood."
This quote is taken from Belkin's Times article.
What is so very interesting is that these children, now adults, were suffocated with love. In other words, too much was being done for these kids so that they never truly suffered the bumps and bruises that are part of growing up. Or, to put it another way, the impact of the metaphorical bumps and bruises were cushioned by too much love and protection.
By getting everything they both needed and wanted as children, they never had the experience of making a choice of one thing while losing something else. As in the example above, they could learn guitar if they wanted but could also stop the lessons if they so desired. In a world of finite materials, opportunities and limited choices, they never experienced real life.
What is meant by "real life" is the fact that it's important for children to experience, from time to time, such things as, failure, being corrected, making mistakes, and facing hardship.
We know that child neglect and abuse are extremely harmful to healthy development. We also know that households that are dictatorial and repressive are also unhealthy for development. However, there needs to be a balance so that our children emerge into adulthood with the necessary skills and self confidence to cope with life.
Your comments are encouraged, as always.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD