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How To Be The Best Parent - 3/24/2008

Eric is in his late 30's, extremely successful at work and well liked by almost everyone.  Emotionally, he is immature, frightened of heterosexual relationships and awkward in dealing with the opposite sex.  Consequently, he has never married or been involved in a serious, long-term relationship. Eric is now in therapy.  He is realistically aware of his problem and has grown to the point that I anticipate the future will not only be emotionally rewarding, but meaningful for both himself and whomever he eventually becomes involved with.  

You might ask, however, how he got this way and what caused his arrested psycho/sexual development?  The answer is complex, but let me try to give you a “People magazine version” of Eric’s childhood.  He was raised in a midwestern family, in a rural community.  The school he attended was small and included far more boys than girls.  Therefore, it afforded limited possibilities for dating or interacting with the opposite sex, unless you were one of the more assertive, gregarious males in his class.  He was, nevertheless, extremely well liked and had numerous friends.  He recalled no problems in his family, described himself as “father’s favorite”, and his sister as “mother’s favorite.”  He and his father enjoyed many activities together and had no conflict or discord.  

His history sounded almost too good to be true, probably because it wasn’t.  Not necessarily because of any falsehoods but because of some pertinent facts about father that Eric initially neglected to provide.  For example, throughout his childhood, father, a very outgoing salesman-type individual chided, criticized and carped about his son’s lack of heterosexual relations. Additionally, he frequently recounted tales of his exploits during his youth and the numerous trysts with women he described as beauty queens, movie stars and cheerleaders.  Those tales continued throughout Eric’s entire life.  On the one hand, father’s stories had to be tremendously intimidating to his young son.  On the other hand, they served as a behavioral model that was impossible for Eric to compete with.  Consequently, Eric withdrew from the race.  

Eric’s story  provides a wonderful example of what not to do with your child, how not to provide role models or have expectations that are impossible to meet.  As a result of Eric’s relationship with his father, he totally avoided heterosexual relations in order not to fail.  It was only years later that he realized he was depressed and lonely and desperately wanted to establish an intimate, loving relationship with someone of the opposite sex.  There was one problem.  He lacked the courage and confidence to do so.  Thus, he entered therapy.  

Eric’s story is extremely important.  If you look at it closely, you will discover a wonderful but inverse illustration of what it takes to become an adequate parent.  Eric’s home wasn’t necessarily pathological in nature.  Mother and father had their favorites, but the family functioned in a very moral and adequate fashion.  In their community, they were perceived as a model family.  Father dearly loved Eric.  His actions were never delivered with malice aforethought or ill will. Quite the contrary, father was only attempting to provoke Eric’s interest in heterosexual relations.  Although I never met the man, it’s obvious that he had severe feelings of insecurity, so much so that I suspect he wanted to live through his son, by having Eric be what father wished he could have been.  The sad fact is that Eric’s father probably harbored even more feelings of emotional inadequacy and was at least as heterosexually challenged as his son.  That being the case, it may well be that, despite overt appearances, Eric did, in fact, follow in his father’s footsteps.  

So, the answer to what it takes to be the best parent is simply that you recognize that you are not best because of what you do or what you are, but because of how happy, satisfied and accepting you are of who you are.  Think about it.  If Eric’s father had been satisfied and pleased with himself, he would never have had to flaunt his own achievements, real or fantasized.   If he had felt sufficient in his own right, he would have said, “Here I am.  I wasn’t necessarily the most popular, assertive, confident stud on campus.  I was me.  I was lucky to find your mother.  She accepted who I was and that made my life all the better.  So, Eric, all you have to  be is who you are; to value you, accept you, and know that someone will love you, as well.”  Instead, most parents who are dissatisfied with self, who feel inadequate, take another course with their children.  On one end of the continuum, they unconsciously punish their child for everything they see in that child that they’re unable to  accept in themselves.  On the other, they pressure their child to be what they wish they could have been, in order to live through their child’s achievements.  In the end, the result of either behavior is the same.  The message the child receives is, “I’m not good enough.  Something is horribly wrong with me.  I don’t deserve the support, care and loving relationship I desire. I am a failure because I couldn’t live up to my parents’ expectations. “  As a result, these children either avoid future emotional challenges, similar to Eric, or expend all their energies and efforts trying to prove their adequacy in all of their interpersonal relations.  Sadly,  even when they’re successful, it’s never enough.  Because, no matter how many sexual conquests, how much money they make, how much notoriety they achieve, inside, their feeling remain the same.  For them to become whole persons, or be good parents in their own right, they will have to do what their parents before them and, probably their parents before them, failed to do - accept themselves, be satisfied with who they are, and know that, despite their shortcomings,  idiosyncrasies and fears, they are people who have worth and  deserve to be loved for who they are.

There you have it.  The best parent is one who knows that they’re alright and can pass that message on to their child.  The message being, “You don’t have to be everything, or first.  You just have to be real and you have to be satisfied with the real you.”

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