When Parents Check Out on their Kids
There is one common and disturbing theme amongst the numerous life stories I get to hear in therapy sessions. This is the one that leaves lifelong ripple effects in its wake. While the stories and character types vary, the central theme is constant: the so-called Primary Caregivers did not deliver on their role.
Whether they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, somewhere along the way they failed to be adequate parents to their young. This is not to suggest parents must be perfect, or highly rated on their skills. Nor is it to disregard extenuating circumstances that may throw parents off track for a while. There are many obstacles that pop up and challenge human behavior. Certainly illness, divorce, or financial problems can be a detour. But when children are involved, hopefully some resilience kicks in and they get back on track.
What exactly am I referring to when I say “check out” ? Simple. Being attuned, available, consistent, loving, and accepting. Not really so simple. It takes a mind shift, a perspective that includes the children’s needs, and yes, a willingness to be in an unselfish role for the next 20ish years. When one gives birth, they release also the smaller world they have come to know, and enter into a more expansive role, that includes the wellness of other human beings. This can be overwhelming and lies at the core of Postpartum Depression. It takes time, and support, but healthy people grow into the new role and can sustain it by caring for themselves along the way.
But what about those who cannot successfully transition? Or those who choose not to adapt? Did they wake up one day and realize, wow, this is too much? Or perhaps were never cut out for it. Do they somewhere along the way decide to get back to doing their own lives, focusing on their own issues, turning their backs on responsibility? It is no secret that parenting requires willingness to re-prioritize, re-focus, and redesign your life. There should be a licensing exam for parenting. Complete with a study course, practicum, and final exam! And a prerequisite of emotional stability.
I am privileged to bear witness to the intimate details my clients trust me to hear. As I sit and listen to the descriptions of “parenting” they received, I get the pain, the emptiness, the faulty beliefs that have arisen from this deficit. I witness the voids, the compensation and the addiction issues that came to be, from not feeling whole, not feeling worthy. That is the result. Ultimately, people come to believe they are not worthy.
Some people should not be parents. Selfishness is on a spectrum. Emotionally stunted imposters of what a parent should be, some lost in their own deprivation, some repeating generational wounding, some on the extremes of narcissism and sociopaths. I do not say this lightly. I hear it all, and it makes me angry. I know I’m supposed to be nonjudgemental, but I see how innocence can be crushed, and I am heart-broken with my clients. I am a parent. Not perfect I’m sure, but I gave my all. It took putting my life on hold and living up to the role I signed up for. Parenting overrides. That’s all one can do. It is a selfless mission, and it is priceless.
You step up for your children. You don’t get to check out. It causes damage and a lifetime of healing. If you need help, seek it. Better yet, work on yourselves fully before having kids. It is the ultimate sacrifice. And the reward is a most fervent love.