For most parents, raising children is one of the most important and meaningful parts of their lives. In response to our unconditional love and total commitment, we get hugs, laughter, challenges and a sense of purpose and passion.
However, for a very small number of parents, children are a burden to be tolerated rather than a blessing to be experienced. These youngsters typically have a variety of severe emotional and behavior problems, usually beginning in preschool. Parents have usually sought help from a myriad of professionals over many years, with little success. They eventually discover the uncomfortable truth that despite our best efforts, there are some children that professionals don’t know how to help.
In a moment of terrifying honesty, these parents tell me they feel more loathing than love for their child.
Early in my career, I dismissed such feelings as reflective of ineffective parents. All would be fine if only parents would set clear rules, be consistent in their discipline, and adjust their style to meet the special needs of their children.
I was wrong. I’ve learned over the years that good parents can raise bad kids.
I’ve now changed my approach in working with these families. While I’ve never suggested that parents ever give up on their child, there are rare occasions when I do recommend that parents get a divorce from their youngster.
This means pulling back emotionally from the normal commitment that parents have for their kids. You continue to care for your child, but you maintain your sanity by not allowing your child’s misbehavior to determine your happiness. You accept the reality that there are limits to your influence.
The goal is to not allow your child to ruin your life. You focus more attention on your relationship with your spouse, and you develop other interests. You make a conscious decision to get off of the emotional roller coaster that has been driven for years by a disturbed and disturbing child.
You always love your child, but from an emotional distance. You develop a different type of relationship with your teen. You are available and somewhat engaged, but you stop acting so desperate and distressed when things go awry. You reassure yourself that you’ve tried your best, and that by the teenage years your child is responsible for his own behavior.
This isn’t easy. This approach violates every normal reaction that a parent has for a child. However, sometimes divorcing your child is the best way you can help them, and have a somewhat normal life.
Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton. For more of his columns, visit www.childrensdayton.org/ramey and join Dr. Ramey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey. Dr. Ramey has been a guest contributor to the Ohio Family Blog since 2007.
[Reprinted by permission from the August 14, 2016, edition of the Dayton Daily News, “Should you divorce your own child?” 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.