I recently had an overwhelmed mother of a teenager come to visit me with numerous complaints about her son. She told me her son would not follow directions, would not come home on time, was mean to his siblings and would not even try to do well in school. By the time she finished, it became obvious that this mother was frustrated with her son, her marriage, her family and her life. She ended her discourse by saying, “I don’t need this parenting stuff any more. I’m fed up with being a parent with everybody expecting everything from me. What about me?”
This was truly a sad state of affairs. I felt sorry for this woman who had nothing other than her family to identify with. It is not unusual for me to hear parents questioning their role as a parent or asking, “What do they want from me already?” It reminds me of a doctoral study I completed many years ago entitled Motivation for Parenthood. In that study I was asking the question of why parents want to be parents. More specifically, I found that most of those who wanted to parent children never really thought through their reasons for doing so, while those couples having problems conceiving were more likely to ask the question of why they wanted children.
This issue of motivation for parenthood or “should we have children?” is critical. Irving Leon, PhD, Clinical Instructor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor writes, “Not all motives for parenting are necessarily positive. But parenting is such a daunting task and such an important responsibility, not having sufficient motivation is a recipe for disaster.” He further states that “the crucial cement for the construction of parenthood is the motivation to parent and the action of parenting. The psychological achievement of parenthood is the natural response to the child’s need to be nurtured–the behavioral, emotional, cognitive–in a word–social–relationship of parenting.” How many of my readers who are parents have asked the question as to why they wanted to parent or did they just take it for granted that once they were in a meaningful relationship they would have a child or children? How many of our children who will one day make the decision to have children will do so after discussing it and its reasons with their spouse and process their rationale? My experience tells me that not as many couples as we would think really discuss the reasons for being a parent and how they will parent their children.
The decision to parent is a private matter. Others cannot make this decision for us, though there certainly are socially related expectations about parenting. We also know that the demographics of parenthood within the general population have changed over the years, with the average age of initial parenthood on the rise. It seems that more and more couples want to first advance their careers before parenting. Of course, this leads to the questions of whether they really want to stop their career to have a child or will the child be a “burden” on the self/professional esteem of the parent, especially the mother.
Back to my client whose son presents much frustration and hurt to his mother who is trying to parent him. How does a parent deal with the pain of raising a difficult child? This is a topic all to itself. Obviously the parent of a difficult child needs as much support as possible for him/herself as well as the other family members. Family counselling as well as individual counselling is a good source for such support.