Any time the experts can’t figure out a complicated problem they point the lazer of blame at the parents. Result: support for children engaging in a Gotcha War.
When I was first studying to be a therapist, parents were blamed for creating schizophrenia – now known to be caused by a brain change due to a number of yet unknown causes, but not by parents behavior–perhaps by family genes.
Double Bind communication was where the experts pointed their lasor of blame in terms of schizophrenia. My mother had a different term for what the experts meant.
“D — ed if you do; d—ed if you don’t. “
Never mind that the person or teen suffering from this mental illness distorted reality, heard voices, and acting irrationally; such behaviors make it difficult for anyone to understand what the person wants or needs at any particular moment. The experts focused on the parents as causing the irrational behavior. Fortunately, times have changed and serious mental illnesses are better understood. But not completely. Drives me crazy that every once in a while I see an article suggesting parents are the source of a child’s major mental illness. It is much more complicated than that.
In yesterday’s post, I talked about the Gotcha Wars – where kids want parents to behave wacko so the child feels less wacko. The Gotcha Wars are a normal part of some adolescent behavior. But, sometimes, they involve double bind communication from the child. Here’s an example:
One of my sons called home at the end of a school day. He had been grounded for five days. This was day number five. He begged me to let him off as he had been good and his friends needed him for a pick up football game.
Soft touch that I am, I gave in. Shake the finger of blame at me. Thought I was being sweet and kind. Did I get it when this son came home.
“You made a fool of me,” he complained; “I had all my friends listening. I had told them you would go ballistic if I asked to be excused from being grounded.”
I apologized but he sulked for a good fifteen minutes.
A parent cannot win sometimes.
PARENTING ADVICE ABOUT DOUBLE BINDS
Obviously, stick to your rules is good general advice for parents when it comes to avoiding double binds. When parents hold to rules, children know what to expect and that increases feeling safe and in control. I failed that one, but it was a good lesson for both of us.
Lesson for me: Hold to rules and punishments. Family meetings should be the only place rule changes and consequences should be re-negotiated.
Lesson for son: Be clear about what you want to happen when you ask for something.
More PARENT ADVICE
Tip one: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and try hard not to say it mean.
Tip two: Don’t ask questions instead of issuing an order. I am so guilty of asking a question when I am hoping the person will choose what I wanted. When you make that mistake, the only right thing to do is accept the other person’s answer.
Well, most of the time, but not if you have said to a three-year old: “Do you want to hold my hand or cross the street by yourself.”
Not, that you would ask that of a three-year old.
Tip three: Remember Parents Are People Too. I guarantee you will double bind your child more often than not. So hear this: parents and kids are not robots but living and learning human beings.
Bad news that means mistakes like double binds happen.
Good news: Kids are heaps stronger than the keep ’em happy gurus suggest. Otherwise, the human race would not have moved far out of the trees.
Tip four: As much as you can, follow Tip one, but when you haven’t, don’t have a hissy fit or beat up on yourself. Most of the time, life will go on and everyone will be A- Okay.
Lots of parenting advice seeks to make parents perfect parents. Not fair. As noted above, none of us are perfect; however, most of us are good enough and most kids are strong enough to survive imperfect parenting.
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