For the sake of the children

How often have we heard people explain big life decisions by saying that they are “doing it for the children?” Parents do large and small things every day for their children; in a sense that is what parenthood is about. When we can think and feel beyond ourselves it is one of the signs of psychological readiness to be a parent, whether we have actual children or not.

But good reasons can also be turned into rationalizations. Parents may face terrible dilemmas, where they don’t know what will be best for themselves and their kids. Here’s a link to a poignant article about a situation that may in itself be unusual, but illustrates the challenge of deciding what to do and why.

Jane Isay’s story points us to thinking through how to differentiate parents’ constructive altruism from destructive family secrets. Family secrets are usually toxic. Children pick up the vibes – they are good observers and they have amazing emotional sensitivity to blank spots, silences, and avoidance. They fill the vacuum with imagined possibilities that are usually worse than any truth. Then they shape themselves to fit that constructed reality. Our clinical practices abound with people who have to painstakingly reconstruct an accurate family history to counteract the lies they were brought up with.

Every family has hard things in their history; scandals, failures and betrayals are part of life. But grownups with strong emotional muscles know that reality is always better than living in an artificial world. Those are the parents who find a way to share hard things with their children, confident that they will be able to find ways to help them understand and master the feelings surrounding the issue.

Explaining the world, in its wonderful and more difficult aspects, respecting your children’s capacity to master and integrate truth, is the way to truly do something for the sake of the children.

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