Opinion > Star Staff
Being approachable is a high calling for parenthood
By Doug Smith, Reminders for the Journey
I was a "youngish" parent at 22, then I continued having children through the years at 31, 39 and 44. I became a better parent as I progressed through the years, and I have told my youngest daughter that she got a better dad than my oldest did. I am confident that my last two children found me very approachable, and think that the next to the oldest did as well. However, since I felt the need to be somewhat of a "law and order" dad with my oldest, I am equally confident that she didn't find me to be all that approachable. I will carry that shame to my grave. I have apologized.
A common question I ask most all that come to see me for counseling is how approachable, on a scale of one to 10, was (or is) each of their parents. More often than not, Mom was easily approachable, but Dad not so much. Of course there are exceptions. Especially back in the day, nearly all parents, and especially dads, feared that if they gave too much praise to their kids, they would have no motivation and just become vegetables. Perhaps these days we have gone too much the other way, giving gushing praise for our kids just because they get out of bed in the morning, or call a rather routine scholastic or athletic accomplishment "awesome." I have enough old school in me that when I say, "awesome," I want the feat to fit the term! By the way, I know a few kids who are so lazy that if they get out of bed by 8 it is awesome, and if they do so by 7, it is astounding!!!
Regardless, our kids can certainly respect us as parents without living in fear of us. I recall a young woman client of mine about 15 years ago who told me that she would begin to feel tense when she saw her dad drive up in the driveway at the end of the day. As I look to my own childhood, even though I now wish I would have had more guidance from my parents, I could at least approach them.
So what do I mean by that word, "approachable"? I define it by being able to say what we think or feel, coupled with being able to ask for what we want or what we need. Mind you, I said ask, not demand!
Parents can be kind, yet firm when necessary. So often, parents are mostly one way or the other, either being a dictator or a pushover. Neither extreme works well for children ultimately.
Children of divorce often face great difficulties in this regard, for multiple reasons. If their parents hate each other, the kids are already in an impossible situation, as their divided loyalty is put to the test almost on a daily basis, depending on which parent they are with. At least we now have a term for this abusive practice: parental alienation. It is despicable and even though the courts and judges frown on it powerfully, some parents are unwilling or unable to contain their vitriolic contempt for the other parent in the presence of the children. Some years ago, a client of mine became very upset with me when I called her hand on her practice of constantly bashing her ex-husband to her children. Even though she had been a client of mine for some time, she never contacted me again. Even though the dad was approachable, the children thought they were betraying their mother if they "approached" Dad, much less seemed to like him.
Having voice with our parents gives us a solid foundation for this very important freedom that is essential for a successful life. If we cannot approach our parents, working through this becomes quite a challenge later on in life, albeit it a necessary step.
Doug Smith is a licensed professional counselor. 972-436-6227, email@example.com or visit his website at ccclewisville.com
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