Parenting tips for Families
Families have deep roots and family connections last a lifetime. However, families can be mysterious and difficult to negotiate. To quote the English Philosopher Charles Handy:
“We unravel the mysteries of the galaxies but not our own families”.
Indeed, sometimes we can’t live with them and sometimes we can’t live without them.
Despite this there is surprisingly little training available about how to handle family life. Most people learn to drive when they are in school but it is the rare person that has any input on
how to better handle relationships.
It’s not that there isn’t information out there, there is 60 years of Family Therapy wisdom that family therapists have used to help families but this information is unfortunately not readily available.
The clinical staff at Reconnect has been serving troubled young people for decades. We have developed extensive expertise helping with youth and their families. This section of the website is to share some of the wisdom that we have gathered over these decades for families that have less serious problems.
We believe that families can learn some of these ideas and put them into practice in order to help themselves get through some of the painful but not impossibly difficult roadblocks that seem to come up in families’ lives.
Let’s take a look at this video of this struggling girl. It is re-enacted by an actor but the statements are that of a 14 year old “out of control” girl.
What is important to notice in this video is that while this girl has some personal responsibility for her behaviour, clearly the context or the circumstances she finds herself in – her Mother, her Step-Father and the pressures from them – are crucial. In other words, problems in her family are making her misbehaviour worse.
The crucial principle of Intensive Family Therapy (IST) is that when there is stress in the home such as in this video, children activate to diffuse the stress in the family, usually between parents. Although she does say that she intentionally does this in the video, the participation is usually completely unconscious.
In your own life when you are angry and there is tension between you and someone else think about how easily and unconsciously you focus on something or somebody else. The same happens for children when there is stress in the family.
Now we are not blaming families. I am saying this is a reality of life, it’s no one’s fault it is just human nature. However, this pattern is unfortunate because not only is there a child who is
diffusing the conflict, parents are unable to resolve the issues because they are so busy focusing on their troubled child.
The powerful videotape is a re-enactment of an actual session. The overall important concept is that of triangulation. In Allie’s situation she was caught between her Mother and her Step-Father who had raised her, she loved them both very much and while she was angry at the time she still felt torn.
When children are caught between their parents or one parent is saying to do one thing and the other is telling them to do something else, the children are what we call triangulated. When children are triangulated they are in a no-win situation, if they side with one parent they will alienate the other and vice versa. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
This is a powerfully harmful situation for young people. The symptom emerging when there is stress in the family was mentioned above. This is a family pattern that families can avoid.
The lesson for parents we believe is that they should be very aware of not putting their child in the middle when there are differences. Couples can disagree but disagree away from your children. Families should aim to be a “triangulation free zone” and to not fight through their children. This can be very difficult for couples who are divorced.
Do you hate the other parent more than you love your child?
This is a powerful profound statement that parents sometimes need to ask themselves. Are they so angry at their spouse that they are jeopardising their children’s well-being?
Remember kids are damned if they do and they are damned if they don’t and children really only have two biological parents even if parents have partnered many times after their birth. I have seen many times that although parents sometimes are not around children still have tremendous loyalty toward them.
What to do?
- Discuss with the other parent, away from your children, what behaviour you think is appropriate.
- Support one another at all times. (If you should find points where you disagree, go back to point one).
- Remember always, the parents’ greatest power is the being together – SPEAKING WITH ONE VOICE.
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Dr Charles Fishman is the Clinical Director at Reconnect Family Services. He is the author of the book You Can Fix Your Family.