Parenting and the Alienation Cycle

Note: On on January 11, 2009 I began facilitating a parenting class for DaySpring, the church I attend in Waco.  I’m going to be offering some of what I’m doing there in this space over the Spring.

This morning the paticipants in the parenting class and I will be looking at the chart that’s in THIS previous blog entry.  I’ll be focusing the conversation on how the alienation cycle might help us understand how conflicts around parenting develop and take hold.

Let me begin by insisting that your kids will become pawns in how you manage your personal anxiety, as well as in how you and your spouse handle the anxiety in your relationship.  I know that its theoretically possible to avoid this, but consider Mary and Jesus.  The Christian tradition tells us that Mary knew exactly who Jesus was and what he was up to in the universe, yet this wasn’t enough to keep her from telling him how to behave at weddings!

There are so many directions to take with the chart with regards to parenting, but I’ll be focusing on two elements:

  1. What did the family you grew up in teach you about parenting, and especially about the differences between how a mom “should” parent and a dad “should” parent?
  2. What do you understand about your most reactive response to anxiety?  Do you tend to attack, withdraw, or give up Self?

When a couple can work together to become more conscious and mindful of these issues, then parenting skills will almost certainly improve.

For example, the Love and Logic approach begins with the assumption that children MUST have the opportunity to take thoughtful risks and experience failure while they are young… while the consequences of failure are fairly mild.  And yet, they must have these experiences within a context of genuine empathy. Consider:

  • If you tend to attack in the face of anxiety, then it could be very hard for you to avoid angry lectures when your kids don’t have the good sense to follow your wise suggestions.
  • If you tend to withdraw, then it could be hard for you to avoid becoming cold and distant when your kids don’t live up to your expectations.
  • If you tend to give up Self, then it could be hard for you avoid blaming and berating yourself when your children make choices that create a bit of suffering for them.

I suspect that each of the three challenges above correlates with three different styles of ineffective parenting (I say suspect, because there’s really no research to support this.  You DO realize that there’s virtually no solid research that backs up much of anything in the psychotherapy, don’t you?)

  • Parents who tend to get aggressive when anxious may be more likely to be Drill Sergeants who create a rigid set of rules keep the kids inside of a very small and well-secured “playground.”
  • Parents who tend to withdraw when anxious may be more likely to become Ivory Tower  Parents who shout advice from a distance, but with very little empathy and connection.
  • Parents who tend to give up Self may be more likely to become Helicopters Parents who hover around the kids, directing them around every pothole while ignoring their own needs.

Okay… now help me here.  The terms “drill sergeant parents” and “helicopter parents” have been around forever.  But I just made up the term “ivory tower parents.”  I’d like to think that its because I’m brilliant, but the truth is, I just have this obsessive need for everything to fit, and since I’m suggesting three primary ways of coping with anxiety (attack, withdraw, give up), then there MUST be three correlating styles of parenting… right?  I mean… its all gotta fit… right?  And if doesn’t quite fit, then you gotta make it fit… right?  And who can guess which type of dysfunctional parenting style I wrestle with!?

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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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One Response to Parenting and the Alienation Cycle

  1. Emma says:

    Hey I love this blog. I can see the time and effort put into this.. Thanks!

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