This morning I wanted to make a comment on the article in the New York Times ‘Accepting that good parents may plant bad seeds’ by Dr Richard A. Friedman (a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College of Manhattan), but there was no comment box. I wasn’t deterred; I have a blog!
Dr Friedman writes, “For years, mental health professionals were trained to see children as mere products of their environment who were intrinsically good until influenced otherwise; where there is chronic bad behavior, there must be a bad parent behind it.”
I can’t help, but think that most people who go into the mental health profession (if they were taught this and believed it) must have predominantly been either only children or from very small families who didn’t regularly go to church and interact with numerous other whole families over any length of time. I have six siblings. I’m the second child, the oldest daughter. Every week we went to church and interacted with a group of families. I knew the families as a small child into young adulthood many of them in public and private spheres. People have always fascinated me. Over the years I watched and listened; I know good parents can have bad children. I know bad parents can have good children. I also know that good parents aren’t always as good as they think they are.
The Dr writes…
“Another patient told me about his son now 35, who despite his many advantages was short tempered and rude to his parents – refusing to return their phone calls and e-mails, even when his mother was gravely ill. ‘We’ve racked our brains trying to figure out why our son treats us this way,’ he told me. ‘We don’t know what we did to deserve this.’ Apparently very little, as far as I could tell.”
Truth has many facets. What might have been thought good by the parents might from the child’s perspective have been hateful. For example; when I was about three my older brother, baby sister and I all slept in a room at the back of a trailer. I hated that room. The shadows scared me. One night for some reason I became terrified. I felt if I climbed into my sister’s crib where she was sleeping I’d be safe. I woke her trying to lie down beside her…she started crying (she’s two years younger)…my mother came in…grabbed me out of the crib and beat me (presumably because she thought I was trying to hurt my sister) and put me back into my own bed. If she’d asked me why I was in the crib I could have told her, but she didn’t ask. From her perspective she was being a good mother…from mine she was being cruel and unloving.
Add up a lifetime of misunderstanding or assuming wrongly a child’s motives, intentions or needs and it’s easy to see how by 35 a man might be rude and short tempered with his ‘good’ parents. I actually know a man who fits this description. His parents were good parents. They had their faults, but they did their best and it was pretty good. The man is very rude and angry with his parents. He’s not a bad man (though he has problems). His parents did all these things for him and bought him whatever he wanted/needed, but I suspect his love language (read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages and you’ll NEVER see your family the same way again) was Quality Time…the one thing he really wanted/needed was his parent’s time…one on one. When he starts shouting that’s what comes up…how he didn’t get enough time. For someone whose love language is Quality Time, that translates into…”You never loved me!”
Imagine you’re a grown man. Your whole life you’ve felt unloved by your parents and yet these people expect you to be a devoted son…how would you feel? Would you call them up regularly to see how they’re doing? Would you spend time off work to go see them? Would it enrage you to know they think you’re ‘bad seed’? Would you get upset and say rude things to them or try to cut them out of your life to end the hurt? It’s all about perspective!
The Dr Writes…
“We marvel at the resilient child who survives the most toxic parents and home environment and goes on to a life of success. Yet the converse – the notion that some children might be the bad seeds of more or less decent parents – is hard to take.”
Why is this hard to take? Has Dr Friedman’s life been that sheltered? One of the most kindhearted and loving women I knew growing up had a son who gave me the creeps. He was truly “BAD” seed! He enjoyed being a person who was not loving or kind; I suspect it made him feel powerful. Some people enjoy hurting other people; not because they’re crazy, but because they can. Why has it taken the mental health profession so long to see that we are all Individuals?
Regardless of what parents do or don’t do…at the end of the day we become the person we want to be.