Okay. We can admit that children are great! But treating them as equals? It’s a whole lot easier said than done. When big family decisions are being considered it is difficult to imagine that every family member should have a say. It is especially true if we as parents have never been treated as equals. If we have never known equality in our own lives; if we have been either ruler or peasant it can be difficult to even envision relationships among equals. It is easy enough to imagine in the abstract. We can commit to equality among all people. But it is within the intimate bonds of family that we are put to the test. It is here that the experiences of our own childhoods inevitably play themselves out. Seesaw parenting requires the difficult task of self-exploration and probably some re-programming at deepest levels. So it is a challenge to treat children as equals when we ourselves have never experienced equality.
Based on years of clinical experience it is my belief that many people have not been treated as equals in their childhood and that mutual respect is not typically a component of child-rearing practices. That was certainly the case for Bob and me. We knew going in that we could not be the kind of parents that we wanted to be until and unless we had addressed our childhood wounds. There are, of course, many ways to heal childhood wounds. We both decided to enter therapy—not because we were “crazy” but because we believed that therapy would provide the fastest and, in some ways, the most efficient way to address and reconcile the pain and conflict that we felt.
Bob was the child of missionaries and spent much of his childhood in Nazi and later Communist-occupied Prague. The mission took precedence over all else in the family and the development of the children, including Bob, was left to God or to chance, depending on one’s point of view. Therapy allowed him to address the underlying terror that accompanied the missionary work in the dangerous situations in which his family lived. He gradually became more engaged with the children. The loftier goals which had preoccupied his parents could be set aside for the day-to-day demands of being an involved parent. He became less the preacher and more the father to the benefit of all of us.
My own childhood was characterized by a domineering but unengaged father and a highly anxious and controlling mother. My mother’s vital essence had been very nearly snuffed out and my sister and I suffered the consequences of her oppression. It was played out in an ongoing restriction of even the simplest of everyday tasks like sleeping, eating and personal hygiene. My growth and change was radical. Having grown up as the younger of two dainty girls I was now faced with four rambunctious boys. My early life of playing with dolls and bathing sometimes twice a day whether we needed it or not was drastically altered. I came to appreciate the joys of sliding down a stairway on a remnant of carpet or flooding the bathroom to turn it into a swimming pool. More importantly I came to respect myself as a being with needs—real needs for love and physical affection and the freedom to enjoy and partake of the world around me.
Bob and I were highly motivated to change—in part because we wanted to be happier and in part because we wanted desperately to give our children a different kind of parenting. As the years went by we began to develop the model of parenting as outlined in Family Entanglement.