The most important role in the world – that of being a parent – is the one role we receive no training for, and very little guidance in. What guidance we do receive often comes from others who, as uneducated as we are, try to impress us with their methods and beliefs, whether or not we share their values or aspirations. And human beings being what we are ie. conditioned and shaped by our personal experiences and backgrounds, and therefore largely unaware that our own upbringings may have been somewhat toxic, fall back on habits learned from our families of origin.
When you put two such people together, with their differing experiences, attitudes, and ways of being and doing, then introduce a ‘new addition’ to the family, the results are often not far from explosive. Without careful thought, discussion and planning, the cherished children of the couple will soon be on their way to becoming the next generation of dysfunctional people. And dysfunctional people are never happy. Dysfunction always involves pain, both for the individual and the relationships that surround it.
The good news is that there is a rich well of wisdom from which to draw and be nourished. It’s a matter of knowing where to look, and also of sifting through the often technical jargon available to psychologists and counsellors, in order to make practical use of it. A number of theorists have researched human behaviour from a developmental perspective. That means they’ve studied the way humans behave from birth right through to the grave. It’s these theorists who offer the most help for the majority of parents who struggle with the day to day issues of bringing up children in a fast-changing and often frightening world.
I believe that with a little forethought, it’s possible to put together a set of flexible guidelines to help parents negotiate the milestones, not only of their children’s lives, but of their own lives also. Indeed, we human beings have the remarkable capacity to learn, grow and change well into old age, if we so choose.
Because of his clarity of thought, as well as the longevity of his theories, my favourite expert on such matters would have to be the well-known, German-born American developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson. His theory is a psychosocial one, which means that he believed human beings negotiate life by reaching, at appropriate ages, certain social crises, which must be successfully resolved before moving smoothly into the next stage. He may be most famous for coining the phrase identity crisis.
At this point, things start to sound confusing for those of us without a basis in psychology or counselling, but the jargon can be set aside to reveal a relatively simple and very useful tool. Over the coming days, I’ll be tackling the task of reducing Erikson’s jargon to easy-to-understand lay terms. It’s not that we want our children to fit a formula or to be psychologically perfect, or worse, psychologically similar to one another. What we want is for our children to lose their fear of the world, to move forward on their unique paths with confidence, and to become everything they are meant to be.
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