Being a parent is one of the most important jobs we ever undertake. As parents we are the guardians of the next generation of adults. We guide our children’s thinking and their values. The responsibility is enormous.
Because of this enormous responsibility, an amount of anxiety inevitably goes alongside the joys of being a parent. In addition to this, as our children grow and develop from conception through the various childhood stages, we are continually reminded at an unconscious level of our own childhoods.
Parents often want to ‘make up’ for childhood experiences they didn’t have. For example, if you are a woman whose mother was emotionally distant you may well be warm and affectionate with your own children, thus giving them a different, better experience. But the memories you have of being mothered yourself, the sense of a mother you carry inside you, are of someone colder and less emotionally giving. So who mothers you? You lack the internal resources to do so yourself. This situation can lead to the well-intentioned new mother becoming over-anxious about her child, and to a sense of isolation and powerlessness.
In adolescence we see the emerging young person often reverting to childish behaviour. Parents can experience a sense of being used, of becoming money suppliers and taxi drivers. They might wonder where their lovely child has gone. Why is this? One of the biggest tasks of adolescence is separation. In order to separate from parents whom you love and on whom you have depended all your life, you need to reject them. You even need to feel contemptuous of them, so that you can manage that scary journey from childhood to adulthood as well as they did, and better. It’s only when we have completed this task that we can form a new adult relationship with our parents. Parents often speak with immense pleasure of the joy of relating to their twenty-something young offspring.
These are some of the experiences that are normal for all parents. It’s a constant juggling act. You re-evaluate your own childhood experiences to fit your sense of being a parent. You try to look after yourself while you’re attending to the needs of an initially helpless little being. You hang on to your power of reflection, but have to spend much of the time thinking on your feet. Finally you let go into the world this little being you have loved and nurtured for so many years.
Dr Angela Evans
Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists