Parents, since the dawn of time, have been plagued with countless questions (most of them self-imposed!) surrounding their capabilities as parents. Are they truly cut out for parenthood? How are they going to navigate the path of ‘well you can’t really learn any of this out of a book, you just figure it out as you go along’.
Add to that the onslaught of social media posts showing smiling, happy babies and toddlers being cuddled by perfectly poised parents, all in a state of absolute zen.
An accurate representation of parenthood? Perhaps not. Most of us know that. However, it doesn’t change the fact that a large number of us get irked when we are constantly shown reminders of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, based on external perspectives and experiences that may be completely irrelevant within the context of our own lives. Parenting insecurities hits us all!
A ‘systemic perspective’ to parenting insecurities
When one takes the systemic viewpoint of a situation or recurring theme, it involves not only focusing on the issue in itself but moving a step back and taking into account a variety of different elements that also play a role in said situation or theme, be it directly or indirectly.
This is because the root cause behind the issue and the end result of it (if not resolved) may be further removed from the ‘starting point’ of the situation than originally perceived.
And how does this link back to parenthood you might ask? I will illustrate this via a few simple themes/perspectives which I have found most common. These are based on clients I have worked with in the systemic/family constellation therapeutic method space, as well as my own parenting experiences.
“I will never be good enough to do this/ nothing I do is ever enough"
Here is a theme that comes up very often with most parents. As much as we love our children and want to do what is best for them, a good number of us suffer from guilt around the themes of ‘I’m not doing enough’ and ‘I will never be good enough for my child’. This is usually peppered with generous helpings of ‘Why does it seem everyone else is coping so much easier than me?’
A certain degree of this might be considered normal, but when it becomes a recurring theme of anxiety and guilt in our lives, we need to wake up to the possibility that there may be a deeper root cause to our concerns.
So where might it all be coming from? Most clients that come in with these sorts of themes in their lives usually exhibit one or more of the following:
General feelings of inadequacy from the time they were a child themselves due to a variety of negative childhood experiences
Needing to take on more than their fair share of responsibilities in life, especially early in life, with no or little recognition
Having family members (usually parents/grandparents) who themselves struggled with similar themes of inadequacy due to their own life experiences/inherited trauma patterns.
These are of course only some examples, there are many others.
“My child, my mirror image”
Do any of these ring a bell?
- 'My child keeps exhibiting mood swings and random emotional outbursts, even though we aim for a calm and stable home environment’
- 'My child is always so withdrawn even thought we make every effort to include them in family activities. I’m so tired of people pointing this out to me’
- ‘Why does my child struggle with connection to people, especially those who they should trust, in theory?’
- ‘My child is convinced I do not care for them even though I make every effort to show them I care deeply’
Of course, there are various factors that could contribute to these issues (as well as others!), including the child’s age and temperament as well as other external factors. But what would the systemic perspective be on this?
With systemic work, we almost always find that children are holding up a mirror to the hidden dynamics and trauma patterns that we ourselves are or have experienced over our lifetime.
For example, one client worried about her child not fitting in with what society required of her as she was only animated around immediate family members; by and large she remained quiet and withdrawn in larger company. This child was only 4 years old at the time.
The work I did with this client revealed that she was in fact struggling more from a childhood trauma of her own where she was excluded from an activity for not showing the same level of skill as her friends. Her child was merely triggering something deep within herself. Once we acknowledged and worked through this, her expectations of her child eased and she herself was much less anxious overall.
This is one of the main reasons why we always work with parents first when we are approached with issues related to children, especially very young children.
“My child and I are best friends!!”
This is the popular trend, is it not? Be your child’s friend, it’s the best way of showing them you are there for them and that you care. I have had exposure to quite a few clients who, when asked what their relationship was like with their parents, would proudly say, ‘Oh, mum/dad is my best friend!’
There are a couple points that one needs to be aware of though, if one chooses to take up this option in their parenthood journey. According to John Payne, an expert in the area of systemic constellation work, when a child is placed in the position of being a parent’s best friend or confidant, they have been asked to do something that they simply do not have the capacity for. A child does not have either the intellectual or emotional ability to be in an equal relationship with an adult.
Some common examples of situations when a child takes on the ‘friend’ role are:
When a parent looks to their child to fulfil their social and emotional needs, and discusses these needs with the child
When it feels like the mature person in the relationship is the child and not the parent
When a parent confides about and/or discredits other adults in the child’s life
A child who has to be the constant ‘friend’ in the relationship may not have any idea what it is like to have a safe and reliable space where they can simply be themselves. There is a high probability of them taking on responsibilities much earlier in life than they need to, in addition to feeling the need to people please all the time.
About the writer:
All of the above are, as I mentioned at the beginning, some common themes that come up in parent-child relationships, perceived from a systemic lens; especially with regards to the cause and effect that tend to surround these themes. To learn more about how systemic patterns could be affecting yours or your children’s lives, get in touch.
About Systemic Constellation:
The systemic constellation therapeutic method focuses primarily on discovering the root causes behind an issue - be it a repeating pattern in a relationship, behavioural concerns, mental health issues, addiction patterns, the constant cropping up of similar themes in ones life, for example:
- always being the one who needs to carry the biggest burden/clean up everyone else's messes
- never being seen or heard in most (if not all) situations and/or communications
- an inability to connect to people around oneself
- never being appreciated (either in a specific area or in various situations)
Certified Family/Systemic Constellation Practitioner and Facilitator