This site will try to help you answer these questions and this one: How can that self-knowledge and family knowledge be used in helping your child grow and develop along his own path?
Sigmund Freud assumed that there are psycho sexual stages in how you, your spouse and child interact that will determine the course of her or his life. Dr. Benjamin Spock tried to minimize the demands and criticisms of loving parents when they tried to raise their kids. Teachers, guidance personnel even police procedures were influenced by the combined policies that followed from these two men. Many of the concepts about parenting and family life in the western world that have been colored as of the early twentieth century, originated with the books and lectures of these two men. While recognizing many positive accomplishments, we view their parenting views and advice as seriously flawed.
Confusion and turmoil about the “right” way to raise kids has been with humanity for a long, long time. Never more than now.
There is a whole parenting industry, alongside the psychotherapy industry, as parts of the mental health establishment. I guess we’re a part of that too.
We will offer specific pages for Therapists and Academics. Please see,
This page, for parents and others, will drill down into the connection between origins going way back, and results showing up in strengths and challenges for our children. These connections are often not obvious.
Our goal in helping you to parent in the modernity, western world is this:
Understanding yourself as a person and as someone who has already been parented, is the first step to help your child grow into a mature, effective and emotionally connected adult. Look elsewhere for how to get your child to do her homework or when to begin toilet training. We do not emphasize formulas or, "one size fits all" prescriptions although general approaches and facts have their place. All knowledge is worthwhile. Assuming every individual, every parent and every family have their origin and identity in different contexts, we believe multi-generational self-knowledge and environmental sensitivity is crucial for good parenting. How families function is multi-determinant; we're focusing on the larger group and cultural factors.
What are the most fun years as a parent?
In the western world, there are two really exciting periods FOR THE PARENTS in most children’s growing years. These are only rough approximations, with great variability, but;
The first is between age 18 and 36 months; the toddler years, or “terrible two’s”. The second period is roughly between 11 years and 22 years. You will never be bored if you have children in these two age-phases. Life will have almost daily excitement and challenge. No need for safari or mountain climbing.
But this is only true in the urban industrial or post-industrial west.
Thanks to "modernity" the age phase of 17 years to 25 years is the most exciting if your people are from the south and/or eastern parts of the globe. Especially if you find yourselves living in, or having access to, the industrial or modernity areas of the western world.
What these three age phases share can be called “the egg shell shatters.” The newborns hatch and become ….”themselves.”
Birds hatch and leave the nest when they are ready to fly. Humans also gradually learn to spread their wings and fly.
(Different cultures define "flying" in diverse ways. Some birds only fly in flocks. Others fly solo.)
These age phases mark different points on the developmental scale of “individuality”. Physiologically and biologically the child achieves certain milestones at different chronological points.
In the western cultures, gradual separation from the mother and reduction of the "mother-child-bond intensity" is achieved, or rather encouraged, in the “terrible two’s”.
In the pre-industrial, village cultures however, this readiness is not encouraged in the same way or to the same extent. “Think or choose for yourself” is a deal breaker in some cultures. As stated, some birds only fly in flocks. Others fly solo.
The eastern child is part of a larger whole and individuality can be dangerous.
Separation from the “pack” or family into a separately functioning, independent adult is the adolescent developmental challenge in the west.
Again, in the east, separation from family (individuation) is not encouraged as a developmental milestone. Achievement in a career, often mentored by a relative, and finding a spouse but remaining within the family hierarchic circle, is the adulthood model and goal in many pre-industrial village cultures.
However, for those preindustrial, non-modernity families who reside in the west, or who have the means to send their children to western educational opportunities, there occurs in junior an often-belated sense of freedom and behavioral opportunities for which the youngster is not prepared. A more indulgent society encourages freedoms of thought and behavior at odds with the life for which the youth was emotionally set.
Nor is the family prepared. The prior developmental-separation phases have not been resolved, in child or parent terms, so as to prepare the emerging spirit for such flight. Friction is almost universal; it can be very hurtful to all involved
Can we offer a shortcut, bumper sticker clue to self-knowledge? Nope. We can only guide your efforts from our personal and professional prior experience. What we suggest is very difficult even for those who are consciously committed and convinced. Why? Partially because seeing ourselves accurately and objectively is a lifelong and often painful journey; a journey that starts way before and continues after good parenting was a goal. Courage and endurance pay off. We guide by sharing forty years of individual and family therapy experience and thought. We educate and guide, you work and sweat.
Not enough time? Think about that. If this doesn't make sense, ok, don't spend any time on it. But if it makes partial sense or more, than it might be time to re-prioritize. Of course go slow, no faster than you can absorb. And if it stops making sense, drop it. But realize that your greatest gift to your children is...you. You can't give them you without time; Contact time and thought time. It follows that the more you learn not about formulas but about who You are and how you got to be that way will be adding to that greatest gift.
Every family is as unique as the individuals in it and those relatives who came before it. We don't know you or them. Almost all of us have already been taught about parenting...by our own parents. Our natural inclination, usually outside awareness, is to be the kind of parent that raised us. Unfortunately, most of us have never articulated those origins or methods. This blog will try to show those origins and explain processes of which you may not have been aware; knowing more about the vectors of our own origins can help us with many parts of our current lives; especially parenting. We will try to show you some of the origins of who you are, so as to give you more choices about what kind of parent you might want to be. Once we know a clear goal we can implement it more effectively. We can help. Yes, there are certain general principles that apply to all parenting and we will discuss them, but they are the smallest part of current parenting challenges. We all have a parenting procedure inside our heads before the first baby arrives. It would be disrespectful to assume we know what that is for you. We believe this disrespect of you as a unique person and parent, is true for all mass-help media: books, manuals, advice, shows, etc.
What we can try and help with, is exploring the tools, underlying principles, and understanding of the family (and societal) processes that helped mold you and all of us; these principles are in play in all families and knowing them can help you make productive choices to raise your kids. So please do not expect a cookbook with various recipes or "if-then" scenarios. Use this blog to find about your own selfhood in order to help your kid with theirs.
Here are some principles to keep in mind.
1 - Like a river, power floats downhill; parents are the bosses. No amount of philosophical theory can change that. (Democracy is a political concept and procedure only.) As in all enterprises, the bosses set the tone. Their interactions with each other and with other family members are the models the children internalize. Not the words or sermons; the real interaction patterns over time. So observe those interactions and note the disparities from your words and lectures versus the truth. Kids know truth.
2 - We want to teach you about the nature of those interactions of which you may not be aware. Your parenting behaviors are significantly determined by multi-generational and multi-cultural factors more than by what happened when you were yelled at, as 3-6 year olds.
(Please see The Course and Premise I)
3 – In the 1940s Harry Stack Sullivan distinguished between chronic and sudden difficulties. This still holds. If your child shows changes in her normal patterns of adaptation and daily functioning or actual symptoms are newly developing, Systemic Family Therapy (Please see Systems)
would hypothesize that something in their environment has changed and that they are reacting to that.
It could be school, family, marital issues or some other important area of their lives. Search, explore, support and seek professional help if symptoms warrant it. If the connection is discovered and neutralized, I have found that recently developed symptoms more or less disappear. Easier said than done, but true and doable.
Is parenting today harder than ever?
It certainly is compared to the 20 years before and after WWII. It's harder for all parents. Why? Because children need safety, stability, consistency, predictability and connections to adults they love and respect, in order to grow into confident functional partners and workers.
Where do they get all that? From the two adults that give them cereal each morning? No! No two people, certainly not one person, alone, can give all that to a child. School teachers, school principals, policemen, judges, civic leaders, extended family, media editors and media moguls (who enjoy the eyeballs of our children several hours per day), newspaper editors, politicians, EVEN bureaucrats need to all push in the same or at least a similar direction. Another way of describing that last sentence is to say the ''institutions of a society '' all need to be on the same OR SIMILAR page; as well as the parents. If kids need structure, and they do, then that structure cannot be made of rubber or feathers. it needs to be firm, repetitive and predictable.
Our globalized world is anything but that. "Holding it together" falls on the parents' shoulders more than ever. If your values coincide with all the institutional surroundings of their world and if that describes your family situation today, you are truly blessed and quite unique.
Today, most institutions of western society are conflicted within as well as without. The people to whom we entrust our children 6-8 hours per day, 5 days per week, are judged inadequate by half the politicians. The politicians are judged corrupt and inadequate by most of the teachers. I won't go on with this; if it doesn't resonate there's no need for further reading. In my experience most people are dazed and confused by where our institutions and values are headed.
How does this connect to parenting?
Since Dr.’s Spock and Freud wrote their books, it has been the overly critical, overly restrictive parents who have borne the responsibility for whatever went wrong. It was thought that parents (and educators) being "laid-back", was the magical bullet that would make our kids become happy, successful adults.
Moreover, parents have sometimes been mis-educated by the academic, medical and educational institutions about what is necessary. The attitude was that if parents could not "letup", that was their pathology and needed to be changed asap.
Adults raised in secure loving communities (often smaller cities and towns) were more equipped to evaluate and add a grain of salt to these self-help, “parent pathology” specialists. Those in the large mega-cities, coping with anonymity, immigration, competition, insecurity and alienation were more vulnerable to accepting an unreasonable burden of "pathology" that was at least due to the crumbling societal institutions surrounding them.
It is at least as important that you learn about the different forces that impact your child than about which media pre-defined procedures to follow. When you understand those factors, what to do will often emerge within your child's closest environment; you his parents and family.
There are several dimensions to explore. How did you get to be you? Who is your spouse and how did they "happen"? How do the two of you overlap and where do you diverge? How do you deal with that divergence; which relationship tools do you use and which tools are difficult for the two of you? There are many more of these current type of "communication-relationship" questions to ask but there are other areas too.
How were you parented? How was your spouse parented? Is there much overlap and consistency there or more diversity? Do you ever think you might be too judgmental in a globally connected world? Is moral relativism good or bad for your child? Are you and the spouse on the same page about that and other questions of the "internal yardstick" you want for your kids? Do you think that they should even have an "internal yardstick" that might impede their future success in a corrupt urban environment?
Societal ( ie. ethnicity, social class, urban-rural economy, religion, education) background of spouses can be a biggie.
If you look to your parents and grandparents as role models and wise advisers (Choice # 1) you have a big anxiety reducing advantage in your parenting tasks. You are also in a minority. Most parents in urban America today do not turn to their families for parenting advice. They say "the world has changed; you don't understand it. I need to look elsewhere” (Choice # 2). That’s an easier dilemma than "I would never raise a child the way you raised me." (Choice # 3) or "I wouldn't raise a dog the way you raised me." (Choice # 4).
We also believe that many of the vectors that helped form who you are, were in play before you were born. If your family roots were in northern Europe, the sense of right and wrong or a greater sense of readiness to take responsibility were probably part of your family's heritage centuries ago. How does that work?
We will try to answer that.
(Please see Premise I)
On the other hand if your 2 or 3 generation roots are in the rural European south, southeast or eastern Europe your people were not raised within an urban industrial framework or industrial societal institutions. Nor, believe it or not, were THEY raised in a secure predictable and long lasting independence supportive economy or culture. What does that mean? Here is part of what it means.
Southern and eastern rural Europe (the Balkan countries, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, southern Italy, Portugal and Greece) had a very different history, (going back hundreds of years) than the urban northwest. Same for most of Asia, South America and Africa.The enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the foundations of democratic and protected individual rights reached them much later, many generations later, than the west (Germany, Scandinavia, Britain, Northern France).
Ruled by tyrants, exploited by other civilizations (tribes) as well as their own urban bureaucratic cliques, the agrarian citizens adapted to a long-lasting reality in ways very different than those of industrialized, urban and democratic northern Europe and North America. The contention of this website is that that makes a very bfd. There is a big, albeit mysterious, connection between who your forbears were and who you are today.
To be raised in an agrarian village, in a long-lasting undemocratic political framework, in a non-market-driven vertically powered economy, requires different internal psychological structures in its citizens. The parents in a multigenerational framework, can be seen to pass on those structures through several generations. That’s why agrarian Irish dads raise agrarian Irish sons and daughters; not urban Irish or agrarian Italian sons and daughters.
The same is true for the Asian and Middle Eastern countries. It is not a matter of better or worse.
We are all a product not of our environment but of the adaptations we and our forebears internalize to cope with that environment. Many of these structures (ways of living, performing, esteeming and relating) do not go away in a generation or two. They affect us, in unarticulated ways, through definitions and modes of intimacy, loyalty, honesty, and many other areas of personal life.
"East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet" has never been used to understand the family and how to parent but because of our ever-homogenizing world, it encapsulates much of what you will read on this website. The world has indeed changed since this was written by Rudyard Kipling in the late 1800s. The "twain" is meeting in your kids and in the world they are in the midst of entering.
Having said all this about my using the parents’ societal/ethnic background to understand and help a child referred to therapy, I will now mention other parameters that may be of help to the parents reading this website.
Here are some principles; how to understand and use them. For a more thorough introduction to part of the framework I used in my systems related clinical work please,
Click Here and read the associated pages.
We’ve already mentioned the dimension of power. Parents do and should have power. How to use it knowledgeably and wisely is the challenge.
Another dimension involves the concept of triangles, emphasized in Dr. Bowen’s Family Systems Theory. Please, Click Here.
This concept is useful in many contexts besides parenting. It ruled the British government’s foreign policy for hundreds of years. In families, triangles have one particular pattern that is worth noting.
In my work, allowing a child to divide the two parents over big or small issues was always a no-no. This simple statement and concept requires elaboration. The family process is anything but simple.
We’ve discussed children’s need for “homeostasis”. They crave and need stability, structure and predictability in all aspects of their developing lives. Of course, this reverses somewhat in the pre-teen and certainly in the teen years. In those years, challenge, exploration, limit-testing and stimulation become the biggies. Nevertheless, I concluded that a constant working principle is the maintenance of family homeostasis; it is always in play.
Getting back to triangles;
Here is a general definition from an excellent website on the subject:
“A triangle is a three-person relationship system. It is considered the building block or “molecule” of larger emotional systems because a triangle is the smallest stable relationship system. A two-person system is unstable because it tolerates little tension before involving a third person. A triangle can contain much more tension without involving another person because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of “interlocking” triangles. Spreading the tension can stabilize a system, but nothing gets resolved.”
This is a good general definition of family triangles.
Here is another:
"Triangulation is a family therapy concept discussed most famously by multigenerational family systems theorist Murray Bowen. Bowen described dyads as being inherently unstable under stress, much like a two-legged stool. …
According to Bowen, some triangulation is normal and even healthy in the course of a family’s interactions. Because dyads are inherently unstable, the involvement of a third party can assist a two-person relationship in overcoming impasses, meeting needs, and coping through stressful times. … When the triangulated person gives input, it is accepted into the dyad and processed together in a way that moves the original dyad forward in their relationship. Healthy triangulation can also occur in the context of parents (or other family caregivers) who come together to meet the needs of a third member, such as a child.
Triangulation can become unhealthy in families when it causes undue stress on the third party and/or when it prevents, rather than invites, resolution of the dyad’s conflict."
For current purposes however, there’s another aspect of triangles. Please read this from further down the Thebowencenter page.
“Triangles contribute significantly to the development of clinical problems. For example, getting pushed from an inside to an outside position can trigger a depression or perhaps even a physical illness, or two parents intensely focusing on what is wrong with a child can trigger serious rebellion in the child.”
When two individuals partner-up to run an enterprise together (a family and household) there will be inevitable differences of opinion. In this context I have noticed a recurrent theme. Although we’ve addressed children’s universal needs for structure and stability there are times when this need is less obvious. For instance, I’ve noticed a pattern of children making efforts to increase any divide between parental authority positions. they test the limits of the structure the parents are enforcing.
To put it simply, children of any age and any circumstance lose, if they succeed in dividing the unified authority position of the two parents. I have found this to be a major challenge for many parents in our western modernity culture.
There are several angles from which to tackle this family-parenting dimension.
Most descriptions of triangles in the family rightly describe two adults who somehow triangulate a third adult or child or other object. As remarkable as it may sound, the suggestion here is that at times the child triangulates the two parents in an active but outside-of consciousness procedure. Currently it is a mysterious process that has been repeatedly observed. The child may not only be reacting to issues in the adult-marital or family anxiety scenario. The child’s anxiety is actively impelling a testing of the unity he wants the parents to hold onto. The child seems deliberate if not fully aware.
In any case, what is clear and not mysterious at all, is that the parents owe the child rough, more or less parental and family unity for the child’s sake. Whatever it takes; find a way to project a united front! It is hard in such a forum to be more specific because, yes there are nuances. Parents are not programmable robots. In general, to repeat, be creative, be disciplined and reliable in this regard; project unity through and through. Very important for your child.
We live in a moral climate that is more volatile than any commodity index. In the name of flexibility and global tolerance of differences our society has developed a difficult challenge to all families and their leaders: the parents and grandparents. This has been partially discussed in