C. G. Jung

Our Children’s Psychological Inheritance

In her wise book The Conscious Parent, Dr. Shefali Tsabary describes how we displace our own psychic conflicts onto our kids. She depicts such a dynamic between mom Anya, whose parents held her to impossible standards, and Anya’s daughter Jessica, who in adolescence began acting out her mother’s unresolved pain. “She was the flag bearer for her mother’s unfought war,” writes Tsabary poetically (2014, p. 30).

Jung noted this tendency to pass psychic struggles down...

C. G. Jung

Late Adolescence and the Need for Meaning, Part II

In part one of this blog post, I noted that adolescents are prone to face questions of meaning as they enter adulthood. At such a time, they often look to us to see how we have negotiated these existential matters. Often, youth find that the adults in their lives are suffering from spiritual sickness due to a lack of meaning.

Difficult Feelings

Late Adolescence and the Need for Meaning, Part 1

“The young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled in them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded….They must discover for themselves that all they have read and all they have been told are lies, lies, lies; and each discovery is another nail driven into the body on the cross of life.”
Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
The secret is that there is no secret. That is what we really wish to keep from our kids, and its suppression is the true collusion of adulthood, the pact we make, the Talmud we protect.
Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

In adolescence or young adulthood, our children confront the big questions of meaning. As the quotes above illustrate, youth must come to terms with the disappearance of mystery that accompanies coming of age. I remember a phone conversation with a friend who had been a passionate student of French language and culture in college. A year or two after graduation, she found herself ordering office supplies and scheduling meetings at a small firm that imported French goods. I still recall the deep sense of betrayal she expressed. “In college, we explored these incredibly fascinating ideas, and now there’s no place for that.” And it wasn’t just that her entry level job was unsatisfying. It was that she perceived that adulthood was an “arid and precipitous country” that must be crossed. We had been fooled. The adults had made false promises that life might be full of adventure and meaning, when really it was about trying to pay the bills.

Difficult Feelings

Our Children’s Big Dreams

Charley Pride was the son of an African American sharecropper in Mississippi. As a young man working alongside his father picking cotton, he mapped out his escape from the sharecropping life – he would play major league baseball and “break all the records” like Jackie Robinson, then become a country music singer. Pride of course did go on to play professional baseball, and became RCA’s bestselling performer since Elvis in the 1970’s.

Fear for Their Future.

Listening to Pride talking about bold dreams in this NPR interview, I was reminded of many childhood conversations I had with my parents, both children of Depression Era poverty. When I mentioned becoming a linguist, an anthropologist, a singer, a writer, an actor, my parents frowned and expressed concern. Even as a young child, I received the well-intentioned message that it might be dangerous to set my sights too high.

Personal Growth

When Our Child Is Suffering

There were a few days last fall when both of my children were away on overnight school trips. The first childless evening, I found myself disturbingly… happy. Happy, calm, relaxed. What was wrong with me? Wasn’t I supposed to feel lonely? Unsettled by the preternatural quiet of the house? Why did it feel so darned good to have my kids gone?

I thought for a minute about what felt different, and the answer came quickly. I wasn’t listening for slamming doors or raised voices. I wasn’t anticipating complaints about dinner. I wasn’t preoccupied because someone came home from school dispirited. In short, I wasn’t worried about one of my kids being unhappy.

Fairy Tales

Big Picture Parenting: How Parenthood Helps Us Grow

Before I became a mother, I asked an older woman who was a mentor to me what she would have done differently if she could live her life over. “I would have had more children,” she said. “Being a mother was my refiner’s fire. Who would I have become if I had had more?”

This story was related to me by a young mother in one of my workshops. The reflections of her wise friend have stayed with me through the years as I have been on my own parenting journey, and have helped others on theirs. Parenting certainly can be a fiery endeavor. We get angry, even enraged. We feel terror, rapture, pride, and heartbreak. With its extremes of emotion, parenthood is a little like a crucible in which we are cooked. The superfluous gets burnt away, the soul becomes tempered.