Do therapists mess up their kids?

My younger son said something to a friend of his recently that cracked me up.  He said, “The good thing about having a dad who’s a psychologist is that you can talk about your feelings any time you want; the bad thing is that you end up talking about feelings even when you don’t want.”

This was said mostly in good fun, but it reminded me of a tossed off comment a training supervisor, a psychoanalyst, once quipped:  “Therapists screw up their kids by prematurely interpreting their feelings.”

I once told my older son about this idea that therapists mess up their kids, and when he’s mad at me (i.e. for criticizing his electronic gaming) he might retaliate by blaming me for messing him up by always prematurely interpreting his feelings.  I can’t help but interpret back to him that he’d never have come up with that attack if I hadn’t given it to him.  I guess our particular Oedipal struggles revolve around blame, but even more around originality rather than the “classic” father son power battles for dominance; yet maybe he has to seek others to fight with in the virtual gaming world to work out those old-school needs for aggression… so maybe I’m screwing him up by doing too much yoga and not wanting to compete about everything?

I like to think that my inner Great Santini has left the building, but I know too much about the Shadow to trust that idea.  But since the Shadow is typically behind us when we face the sun, perhaps it’s also behind us when we face the son (and the daughter).  Mostly I just think that it’s good to stay open to criticism and non-defensive; this is sometimes rather painful, but a great way to learn and grow ourselves.

So, do therapists mess up their kids?

While I do believe that we therapists mess up our kids, I’m comforted in the thought that we ALL mess up our kids in our own unique ways.  Therapists might over-talk and interpret, but lawyers probably over-negotiate, doctors over “fix” things, teachers may always be finding the teachable moment, chefs maybe spoil with good eats, while the rich often spoil with too much stuff and the worried poor often cannot help but mess kids up by being too focused on money; the religious may buzz-kill the spiritual impulse while the atheistic intellectual may inadvertently leave kids vulnerable to cults and charismatic leaders by making the religious attitude sexy by way of being forbidden.

Real and inexplicable magic is to be found in the paradox of opposites; we ALL mess up our kids to some extent, but we also ALL love our kids—and to a deeper extent, whether or not we are able to actualize that love on any given day.

My wife once had a cat named Fish.  Fish was a great talker, chatting the ear off of anyone who was around—and discoursing with herself when alone.  Fish and I had what I thought were great conversations.  I think she lived to twenty-seven, but when I look back at it I realize I should have listened more.  I really think she was trying to tell me something deeper than the topical chat I gave her back in return for her Buddha meows.

Perhaps the critical difference between premature interpretation and accurate attunement lies in the distinction between analyzing our kids (as if they are under the microscope) rather than simply and truly relating to them—seeing to their sacred essence and appreciating it.  Likewise negotiating, over-feeding, indulging, depriving, shaping, controlling and the like may be inevitable side-effects of both our Shadow selves mucking around, and also just inevitable aspects of the parenting relationship where we sort of are in charge for a swath of our kids’ lives.  Yet even when we’re in charge of our kids’ behaviors, their physical existence… we are never in charge of their deep Selves, souls or spirits… or whatever we choose to call the sacred essence of our children.

So, let’s dedicate today to mixing it up—to listening more than talking if we are generally chatty like Fish, but speaking up a little more (sharing what we actually feel with our kids) if we’re typically reticent—in turn observing what combinations of light and water, attention and space, helps coax open the blossoms of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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One Response to “Do therapists mess up their kids?”

  1. Lindsey M Nelson Says:

    Thanks for this! The second to last paragraph reminds me of the Kahlil Gibran excerpt from The Prophet, something I try to always remember but often find myself forgetting 🙂

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