I my job as a child/adolescent psychologist, I work with a lot of distressed parents. Parents who do not think they can possibly take on more. And I often ask them to take on more, for the health of their children.
I see families in times of great stress, divorce, illness, etc. Sometimes, a major barrier to making necessary life changes is anxiety. The anxiety that comes with running on the treadmill and losing sight of the fact that if your child if suffering, you need to find a way to exit the treadmill in order to meet their needs.
The children with whom I work, by and large, require much more time and energy than most children. I can empathize since I am in a similar situation as a parent. These children, even when given extra time and treated with appropriate love and parenting skill, can be rather unpredictable. Parenting can often be unrewarding. And the treatment plan can be daunting.
Yesterday, I found myself in the position of spelling things out for parents who had lifestyles that didn’t meet the needs of their children. And I’m talking about lifestyles that might change, not families in desperate financial circumstances. I found myself saying, “You need to work less hours so that you can spend more time with your child and be more involved in treatment. If you need to move mountains, move mountains. We are called to be our best as parents, when we feel at our worst.”
Interestingly, I felt more comfortable being forceful like this when I thought it was merited, before I became a parent. Then I became a mom and it became a bit more difficult to ask a lot of parents because I understood how hard it could be from first hand experience. It wasn’t like I was totally different as a therapist, but there was a perceptible shift, which I noticed.
But over the past few years, my husband and I have moved mountains, we have done our best as parents when we felt at our lowest. So now it all feels more possible. Tuesday, I told a mom, ‘Look, I understand that you might think, “Easy for you to say, Elizabeth.” Up until two years ago that would have been true. I am a parent just like any other and two years ago, I had to make major changes in my life because I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And all of those changes were possible and had an incredibly positive impact on my family life.”
Some people may question my use of this kind of personal disclosure. I do so sparingly but with great sincerity and when I believe it will help parents gather the inner strength necessary to get off the treadmill that they don’t even want to be on.
When we feel at our very worst, it is often when we are called to be our very best. It’s not fair but it is real.