Sitting on my couch were other adults in their 20s or early 30s who reported that they, too, suffered from depression and anxiety, had difficulty choosing or committing to a satisfying career path, struggled with relationships, and just generally felt a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose—yet they had little to quibble with about Mom or Dad.
Instead, these patients talked about how much they “adored” their parents. Many called their parents their “best friends in the whole world,” and they’d say things like “My parents are always there for me.” Sometimes these same parents would even be funding their psychotherapy (not to mention their rent and car insurance), which left my patients feeling both guilty and utterly confused. After all, their biggest complaint was that they had nothing to complain about!
At first, I’ll admit, I was skeptical of their reports. Childhoods generally aren’t perfect—and if theirs had been, why would these people feel so lost and unsure of themselves? It went against everything I’d learned in my training.
But after working with these patients over time, I came to believe that no florid denial or distortion was going on. They truly did seem to have caring and loving parents, parents who gave them the freedom to “find themselves” and the encouragement to do anything they wanted in life. Parents who had driven carpools, 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,” as we therapists like to say, and had made sure to guide my patients through any and all trials and tribulations of childhood. As an overwhelmed parent myself, I’d sit in session and secretly wonder how these fabulous parents had done it all.
Until, one day, another question occurred to me: Was it possible these parents had done too much?
Lots of good points to discuss there — -about teaching personal responsibility, self-esteem and what do we mean by happiness, for instance — a few interesting books mentioned, so read the whole thing. I want to pose another question: did the first eighteen years of Gottleib’s clients count for a childhood? They were chauffeured from playdate to tennis to music lessons, not allowed to experience a negative emotion and had their friendships managed by parents. In fact, it seems like they don’t have any friends.
I love my parents and remember my late grandparents fondly. My family provided a secure foundation that enabled me to go out and explore the world. However, it would never occur to me to refer to my mom as my best friend. My best friend was a few months older then me, lived in our apartment complex and attended the same school.
Gottleib’s clients are the ones who went along with their parents ‘captoring. I want to know what happened to the kids who rebelled.
An equally interesting question is why would any woman want to deny herself the joys of motherhood. As Gottleib mentioned, we are now expected to talk through our kids’ feelings. Sure, I want to clear up misunderstandings as they arise. Is she crying because she was under the impression that I was going to take her to eat ice-cream today, when I said I’ll do it Friday? Well, then I’ll explain what Friday is. I try giving her strategies about what to do when problems come up, like pre-school kids (whose parent love to discuss their progeny’s feelings ad nauseam) grab all the crayons. But why would I want to talk about her feelings if I expect her to get over them? I’d rather opt for one of the fascinating discussions my four year-old initiates. Topics range from how they make a merry-go-round and why there are mosquitoes to Blossomie, the ice-cream queen, who’s coming for dinner. Way more fun for everyone involved than dwelling on her emotions.