Your decision to create life was born in the unrestrained optimism that having children would help make your existence worthwhile. Perhaps you came from a wonderful family and wanted to give to others the gifts of love, compassion and happiness. Maybe your own childhood was not pleasant, and you wanted children to help make up for an upbringing that was filled more with distress than delight.
You did all the right things. You found a spouse that was not only a great person but also someone you felt would be a superb parent. You waited until you were financially secure, and prepared yourself by reading endless articles and talking with your friends.
However, when you actually did have your first child, you came to an uneasy insight that many parents feel but are reluctant to verbalize — raising children takes more work and you get less satisfaction than you anticipated.
For some parents, there is yet another dilemma. They are not emotionally connected to their child. Perhaps you rarely hear from your son in college. Maybe you feel you have absolutely nothing in common with your 8-year-old daughter and find work more rewarding than she is.
Perhaps you are counting the days until your teen graduates and you can resume a life without tension and turmoil.
What should you do?
Acknowledge reality. You need to first acknowledge your own feelings that you are not connected with your child and perhaps even that you don’t like him or her. Talk this over with your spouse. Try to gain some understanding of how and why this happened. Accept the reality that not all parents feel a strong bond with all of their children.
In many situations, parents tell me their feelings are based upon the many problems they had raising a particular child. My mantra as a therapist, parent and person is “Scars remind us of where we have been. They do not have to dictate where we are going.”
Reach out. Once you have accepted the reality that your relationship with your child may never meet your expectations, be willing to settle for something less. Find something in common with your child and put forth the effort to stay connected. Text your son in college that you were thinking about him after you saw a movie he might have liked. Ask your youngster’s opinion about something that you think matters to him.
Never give up. Here’s the really hard part. Your efforts to connect may be met by hostility or ignoring. After a while, you may be tempted to just psychologically walk away.
Don’t ever give up on your child. Continue to reach out in different ways, and communicate love and interest.
This is one of the toughest issues confronted by parents. This may not be a problem you can ever solve, but you can make the situation much better with insight and focused attention.
Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton. To sign up to receive Dr. Ramey’s Family Wise monthly E-newsletter, click here. For more of his columns, visit www.childrensdayton.org/ramey and join Dr. Ramey on facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey.
[Reprinted by permission from the March 20, 2011, edition of the Dayton Daily News, “Parents can experience disconnect from children”, Family Wise, Gregory Ramey, PhD]
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Guest Contributor Gregory Ramey, PhD, Child Psychologist and Dayton Daily News Columnist
Gregory Ramey, PhD, is a nationally recognized child psychologist and columnist who has worked at Dayton Children’s Hospital since 1979. In addition to his weekly column in the Dayton Daily News about effective parenting, Ramey has conducted more than 200 workshops and has recently been quoted in articles in Redbook, Parenting, Ladies Home Journal as well as columns distributed by the New York Times Wire Service.