|Why You Should Often Ignore Your Child’s Opinion of You As A Parent
BY DR. JOSHUA COLEMAN
I think one of the hardest tasks of being an estranged parent is countering your child’s opinions of how you were or are as a parent.
This is probably counter-intuitive for most of us since it seems like our children should get the ultimate vote on our job performance. And yet, there are so many things that go into a child’s perception of the parent, that giving them that much power over your well-being, identity, and self-esteem is kind of a dumb thing to do.
Here are a few reasons why your child’s perceptions might be wrong:
1) Their own temperament colors how they view you and others. New research shows that a child’s temperament, which is largely a function of inheritance, can greatly color how they see the world. Children who are at risk for Borderline Personality Disorder, for example, maybe more likely to wrongly perceive aggression in other’s faces. Oppositional or defiant children, of any age, maybe wired to be critical of the parent as a way to establish a position of independence or authority. Alcoholic or addicted teens or adult children may view the parent through the blaming lens of their disease.
2) Parental Alienation: After a divorce, it is fairly easy for a parent to brainwash a child against the other parent. This may cause the child to see the other parent in a harsh and unsympathetic light. Left unchallenged, this perception may persist for years.
3) Separate realities: Because a child may wish that a parent made different decisions, it does not mean that their perception of the parent’s motivations or resources at the time they were raising their children is correct.
4) The era when the child was raised: There is some evidence that the era in which a child is raised is in many ways, more predictive of outcome than the parent’s behavior. For example, many of today’s children under 40 were raised with expectations of parental sophistication and involvement that were rare or non-existent in generations before them. These expectations can create resentment and feelings of disappointment in the parent for behaviors that most cultures and eras would consider perfectly normal and expectable.
5) Influence of a daughter-in-law, son-in-law or another motivated family member: Your child’s spouse or some other person may be powerfully motivated and successful in persuading your child to have a negative opinion of you. This may not only distort their view of you in the present but may cause them to rewrite their childhood.
In summary, you can’t leave such an important job as your opinion of yourself as a parent up to your child to determine. You have to decide what kind of a parent you were (and are) and then do everything in your power to hang onto that feeling.
This does not mean that you should argue with your child by citing any of the above points, or that you shouldn’t make amends. Only, that you have to be able to hold onto your memories and good feelings about your parenting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JOSHUA COLEMAN
Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists, and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings of American families. He has lectured at Harvard University, The University of California at Berkeley, The University of London, Cornell Weill Medical School, and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine.
Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice has appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London, The Shriver Report, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.