What Parents Want Therapists to Know – Part I
–by Lorraine Fuller
As a mom who is trying to help her children in every possible way, I research so that I can learn all I can about the issues my kids face. I join groups, I read books, I take classes, I attend trainings, I go to conferences, all so I can help my kids live their best possible lives.
Several years ago, I attended a conference that had classes for both therapists and parents. At that point, I had already been trying to learn about attachment issues for quite some time. As I read the class descriptions, I realized I’d heard some of this before, so I decided to look at the classes geared toward therapists. Some of them sounded very interesting. As I got in the elevator to attend one, I could not help but overhear the conversation going on between a trio of other attendees about how they could not use what they had just learned because they “knew” the parents would not follow through.
I am ashamed to say I said nothing.
Still feeling ashamed, I entered one of the classes and hid in the back of the room. It soon became clear that this class was pretty much a sales pitch for a product the speaker had created. Realizing she was losing the room, she stepped aside to let some people try her product while others clumped together to talk. The trio from the elevator was nowhere in sight, yet the conversations were the same.
I was hurt and sad. Yet this time too, I said nothing.
I did, however, send a message to the listserv of the organization who had sponsored the conference. In it, I shared some things that parents wish therapists knew. In this post and my next, I want to share some of those thoughts with you. Then, I want to hear what you think.
We don’t know if we can trust you. You ask us to, but we have our reasons for being nervous. We have been burned before. A lot of us were lied to early and often, starting with the adoption process, when we were told our children didn’t have issues, or things were omitted that we really needed to know. Then once we had our kids and went seeking help, some of you didn’t believe us. Others blamed us. Not to mention that I am not the only one who has overheard professionals bad-mouthing parents. It can happen anywhere, not just conferences. If you’re out with friends or family, venting about your work, be mindful of who might be listening and what they might hear.
We love our kids. We might be angry and frustrated and yes, we are very, very tired, but we do. We genuinely want to do what’s best for them. It is not our fault that they came to us hurt. Maybe it was pre-adoptive trauma. Maybe we’re the step-parent, picking up where an abusive or neglectful parent left off. Maybe we’re caring for our biological child whose attachment was interrupted by medical issues, natural disasters, or any number of other crises beyond our control. And yes, we know you may, probably do have abusive parents on your caseload. We are not, I repeat not those parents. Please don’t treat us like we are.
We have other responsibilities. One complaint I heard was that parents won’t put in the time doing the therapeutic work kids need. Here’s the thing. We are just that, parents, sometimes of multiple kids. We want to be therapeutic parents and goodness knows we try, but other things demand our time too. Other children, spouses, aging parents, jobs, paying bills, groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, lawn care, car maintenance, PTA, kids’ sports, church… all of this takes time. Plus some of us even do crazy things like sleep, shower, or use the bathroom alone. Our houses are homes, not residential treatment centers. RTC staff get to clock out and leave. Parents don’t. If our children are sick at 3 a.m. or rage till after midnight or get up at 4 to try and steal, we’re the ones on duty, no matter how we feel, how much sleep we’ve had, or what else might be going on. We make hard choices, sometimes several times a day. Do we let one child destroy his room so we can keep ourselves and others safe? Which parent has to miss the piano recital to stay home with the kid in full-blown meltdown? Do we go to work and face our child’s issues later, or do we call in and risk losing our jobs –and with them the health insurance that, if we’re lucky, pays for the very therapeutic support that we are supposedly unwilling to provide?
There you have it, the first three things on my list. Next time I’m on here, I’ll share the other three. For now, I’ll leave parents and therapists alike with this: we are, or should be, on the same team. Our goal is helping kids. How can we work together to make that happen?