When I was growing up, I heard a lot about tough love. It wasn’t actually in reference to me, or to my sister; it was about my mother’s best friend, who was trying to practice “tough love” with her promiscuous, drug abusing, disrespectful teenage daughter.
The mother went to meetings where she was called an “enabler” of her daughter’s behavior, and was told that the only way to fix the problem was to hold a firm line: If the daughter didn’t follow the rules, she lost all family support. She needed to suffer the consequences of her actions. It was the only way she’d learn.
The problem is, tough love didn’t feel much like love–to the daughter, or the mother. The suffering went on for years, ceaselessly. But maybe it would have been even worse without that guiding philosophy. What are the alternatives, anyway?
It’s not always easy to be fully present. When we’re doing one thing, we’re often thinking about the next thing on the list. And as a parent, the list can feel endless.
Theoretically, I want to be fully present in my life–and with my daughter–all the time. Sustained attention and interest nurtures the emotional bond between parents and children. But sometimes, it’s a challenge.
In my previous post, I talked about Lance Armstrong as a narcissist, and about how his greatest emotion in the Oprah interview came when he described confessing to his children. He instructed his son to no longer defend him; instead, his son was to tell people, “Hey, my dad said he was sorry.”
This struck me as extremely disturbing. It showed no insight on Lance Armstrong’s part about what he was teaching his children about the world. Apparently, we can bully people for years, destroy their reputations and our finances, and then just say sorry?
That’s what he called himself in the second installment of his Oprah interview: an optimist. He said constitutionally, he’s built like his mother to look forward and not talk about the past. And I suppose that’s what keeps a lot of narcissists out of therapy. They just keep moving forward, leaving the wreckage of other people in the dust, devoid of self-reflection.
Interestingly, Lance himself said that he has been in therapy only sporadically, when he needs to be in continuously. You can say that again.
The first half of the Oprah interview revealed a man incapable of true contrition, and to me, it’s because he seemed incapable of real empathy. The absence of empathy is a cornerstone of narcissism, as well as its twin, sociopathy, something that is also in evidence in the pattern of Lance’s ruthless campaign against those who spoke out (truthfully) against him.
In my previous blog post about temperament, I talked about how a child’s temperament can impact the bonding process between children and their parents. My intent was to reassure parents who sometimes have difficulty soothing their children, to give a framework to understand why, and thereby make some changes.
I received a response from a troubled reader: Even colicky babies, she wrote, bond to their parents. Don’t they?
It made me realize that I need to clarify what I was saying. I wasn’t talking about the absence of an emotional bond, but that some children are easier to soothe than others. And sometimes, there is a mismatch between parent and child temperament that needs to be addressed in some way so that it doesn’t negatively impact bonding.
A few weeks before my daughter’s first birthday, my husband and I looked at the milestone checklists for a one-year-old. We already knew she was behind physically (rolling everywhere instead of crawling, for example, which we planned to address with her pediatrician at the upcoming appointment) but we figured she’d be on target in every other way.
When we looked at the checklist of language and cognitive milestones, though, we were in for an unpleasant surprise. Our daughter was able to do a fair number of the items, but certainly not all of them.
Parents have a child. That child is fantastic in every way, and the parents congratulate themselves on their fine parenting. They have another child. If they’re honest with themselves, it’s not going so great this time around. No matter what they do, it feels wrong. The kid’s a holy terror. They think, “We must be terrible parents.”
People are often better at one than the other. So I guess that means our strength is also our weakness, our Achilles’ heel. Me, I’m a good changer. I can get a surge of energy and switch things up.
But place me in a situation where the variables are less under my control… That’s another story.
It also happens to be the story of motherhood.
There’s a couple I worked with for over a year. Recently, he made the decision to end their marriage. He didn’t seem to have made this lightly; rather, it was after much soul searching and individual therapy. His wife was understandably angry. They’d been together since they were in high school, and have kids.
She pointed out that he had made a lifelong commitment, that he’s supposed to keep working at it even when it’s hard. He responded that it was too hard–everything was a struggle, he was constantly setting aside his personal happiness, and fighting irritability because of it. He felt they both deserved better than that state of affairs. Which of them is right?