In studies about which kind of therapy is most effective, one of the results has been that the style of therapy doesn’t matter so much as the relationship between the client and the therapist. This is good news for parenting, and helps us find the key place to work to improve our parenting: getting our relationship right with our children.
There is a lot of parenting “advice” floating around. For example, there was a question about sleep on a prominent parenting blog and I tallied up the numerous comments only to realize that just about as many folks suggested an earlier bedtime as suggested a later bedtime. The thinking ranged from hypothesizing that the child was over-tired and needed more sleep, to the child needing go to sleep later, and without a nap, so that the parents could get a better night’s sleep. Given that the advice cancelled itself out, my conclusion is that you personally have to figure out what’s best for your particular child, given your own world-view and parenting philosophy.
Given that we get hurt in the context of relationships, and we heal in them too, it makes sense that a healing relationship with a therapist is more important than the semantics, theories and schools of thought that inevitably mean more to the people who originate them than to the people who simply want to feel better. For a psychologist who understood that relationship is key to healing, you can’t do better than Carl Rogers; he emphasized “congruence” between what a person thinks, feels, says and does—if they all line up, a person is authentic and typically feels pretty good within themselves and amongst others. Being authentic as a parent helps kids trust that what you say and do matches with what you think and feel; this builds trust and closeness. It also leaves room for healthy conflict and discord (i.e. when your kid authentically feels they should play more video games and you authentically stop them, believing that it’s not good for them to play too much).
Thus, going back to sleep issues as example, if you believe that your child should learn to sleep though the night in their crib, or if you believe in the family bed and nursing on demand, so long as the vibe to the child is, “in our family this is how we do it, we love you and believe that our choices will serve the greater good of you and of our family over time” (or something like that, it’s a vibe, not a script), the kid is likely to grow up feeling loved, protected and an integrated member of a cohesive healthy family. In contrast, if the vibe is “what do you want from me!”, no matter if it’s resentfully nursing while father glares at the intruder, or tearfully and angrily forcing them to tough it out alone as they wail until they give up in despair, sinking into the defeated and cruel vibe of an unhappy and put-upon family, the parenting style isn’t the issue, it’s the tenor of the relationship. If you are clear and loving in your style, own it and don’t keep looking around for the guru, rather trust that your love and authenticity will win the day. Later in life, your kids can follow your style or try a different one, but what we hope they’ll take with them is the trust that they are loved and can be real in the world.
So let’s dedicate today to being congruent between what we think, feel, say and do—and to doing this with as much grace and compassion as we can muster (i.e. being angry in an honest manner, and then letting it go); and let’s do this in honor of better relationships with all our collective children.