Sophia, age 18, recently went out to dinner with a group of girlfriends, and they were discussing how they were all currently going to therapy, or had in the past. (The pandemic was rough on teens mental health, y'all.)
One of the girls said, “You know what I wish? I wish my mom was in therapy.”
My darling daughter said, “My mom goes to therapy!”
To which the group of teenagers responded, “Lucky!”
Who knew that the way to be the cool mom is to go to therapy?
This makes complete sense to me. Who among us has not, at some point, wished that one or both of our parents would grow in self-awareness? I have made a lot of mistakes as a mom, but one I will not make is pretending to have it all together. I need help. My kids know this.
As we’ve been talking about mothering this month, I’ve been focusing on our ability to be present and attuned to our children. The greatest challenge to tuning in to my babies, seeing them as they are, loving them well and disciplining them wisely has been my broken perceptions of reality, and my own attachment wounds.
Jesus told us in Matthew 7:3-5 that before we can correct another’s wrongdoing, we need to deal with our own issues -- the plank in our eye.
This applies to parenting. When I have a plank in my eye...
· How can I determine if my child is being disobedient and willful, or if I’m being controlling?
· How can I set limits on my child’s behavior if I have no ability to set boundaries elsewhere in my life?
· How can I help my child succeed without pushing them into perfectionism, if I haven’t dealt with my own issues surrounding work, value, rest, pride and failure?
· How can I help my kids process their emotions when I don’t know how to process my own?
In other words, in order to see my children clearly and wisely parent them, I have to correct my own internal vision.
I’m deeply grateful that I had acute postpartum depression after my second daughter was born; it forced me into a clinical psychologist’s office. I was 30 years old and had been living according to multiple lies about myself, God, the world, and my place in it. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I learned to name my thoughts and beliefs, ferret out their origins, and correct them when they were distorted.
A critical example: at the time, I had an infant and a very smart four year old who was running our household. I had been taught in my family of origin that the way to get a child to obey you was to make them love you; the parents’ emotions would then motivate the child to good behavior. This false teaching led me to believe that a) consequences were both unnecessary and cruel and b) something was wrong with my daughter, because she lacked empathy for me and was not motivated to put on her shoes by my tears. In therapy, I unpacked the origin of this belief system and put it to death.
Parents do great damage when they believe lies and teach them to their kids as truth. John Mark Comer writes in his book Live No Lies, “There is no perfect parent (surely not this one), but when children are brought up in a loving relational matrix of trust and taught to live in congruence with reality, as a general rule, they thrive. Bad parenting, on the other hand, is the exact opposite –absence and lies.”
Most parents teach their kids untruths unconsciously, because the parents believe them; the worst parents teach lies on purpose, and this is called gaslighting. In either case, presence and truth are intertwined and equally essential. Mental and emotional presence comes from a mothers’ peace within herself; living in truth and reality with our kids comes from knowing it. And make no mistake, in this broken world in which the enemy, father of lies, still works and reigns, we won’t be able to be present and truthful without going into battle. Mental health work is one of our weapons.
I’m aware that I speak from a place of privilege; I could afford to go to therapy. Sometimes it came out of the savings; sometimes it decreased other budget items, but it’s never kept us from paying for basics. And I’ve struggled with guilt spending the money on myself, and wanting to be “tougher” in the face of all those who parent without the benefit of professional mental health services. The only way I could overcome that guilt was to believe what I learned would help others; if you’ve heard me speak, you may have heard me say, “Please enjoy this truth I paid a lot of money to learn.”
Looking back I wish I had been sure that the others most deserving of this investment were my children.
If you have any wiggle room in your budget, get thee to a therapist, mamas. As Christ said, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his own soul? And what good is it to spend money on clothes, vacations, date nights, pedicures, and endless activities for the kids, when you can’t be present to enjoy them? When your brain is locked in confusion and deception; when you are a slave to perfectionism or OCD?
So that’s my pitch for therapy – the ultimate form of self-care and parent-training. May you one day also be the mom the kids are jealous of because you have owned and healed your issues.
If you can’t afford counseling or aren’t yet sold on the idea, here are my best therapy-on-paper reading recommendations.
Boundaries for Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies by Aliso Cook, PhD and Kimberly Miller, MTh, LMFT
Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No to take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People by Gary Thomas
How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family by Dan B. Allender, Ph.D.
A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth by J. Keith Miller
The Secrets Women Keep: What Women Hide and the Truth that Brings Them Freedom by Dr. Jill Hubbard
And my latest favorite read: Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies that Sabotage Your Peace by John Mark Comer