I’ve seen thousands of healthy and troubled kids grow up in my pediatric practice. Now, many of those kids are adults and bring their kids to me. Because I know them well, we’ve had great conversations. Many are happy and successful, but some aren’t. And among those who struggled, there are common themes and phrases they use when talking about their parents.
Here are three that surface regularly:
1. Where were you?
Every hurting child feels isolated and alone. Troubled teens say, “No one listens to me/I feel invisible/No one has time for me.” These aren’t just, ‘You didn’t make it to my concert a couple of times…’ – this is a consistent experience that Mom or Dad was not available for the child emotionally or physically. This happens when a parent’s priorities get out of whack – they work too much outside the home, focus too much on their own interests, are simply too tired to engage the kids or they suffer serious mental illness.
Second, a child may ask this if he was in a situation he should never have been in, i.e. at a friend’s home and was sexually abused. The problem may not have resulted from a parent’s mistake. Nevertheless, the child felt unprotected and therefore blames his parents. If a parent finds out that something terrible happened to her child and responds in a nonchalant manner, the abuse feels intensified.
2. Why Didn’t You?
Kids of all ages (yes, even 17-year-olds) need to feel protected by their parents. They will reject gestures they feel are protective, but deep down, it makes them feel loved and secure. This means saying “no” to certain activities and behaviors. Many parents don’t say “no” either because they want the child to make decisions (remember – they’re kids) or they want to minimize conflict in the relationship fearing that it will drive kids away from them.
Kids of all ages need to feel protected by their parents.
3. What were you thinking?
When kids are over-scheduled, pushed too hard year after year and never given time to play, relax and grow up, they look back over their young lives, feel like their childhood was taken or lacking, and ask why their parents did things that way. Adult kids also ask this when a parent allowed them to do something that clearly was detrimental to their health, dangerous or just plain stupid. Kids who are not prevented from these harmful activities grow up and seriously question their parent’s judgment. When they are older, they don’t see their parents as cool, but as weak.
When kids are over-scheduled, they often look back feeling like their childhood was taken or lacking.
Those can be some heavy, daunting questions. For those of you with little ones now, you may even be carrying around some of these questions about your parents, yourself, and hoping not to leave your kids with the same questions you’ve had.