The Good Parent’s Biggest Blind Spot

Do you prefer listening to reading? RC Podcast Episodes 125 and 126 provide an audio treatment of this topic.

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You were a conscientious parent. When your child(ren) came into your life, you wanted to be the best parent you could possibly be.

You told yourself, “I will never…” or “I will always…” about your parenting.

If you’re like many people, one of your pledges was to do things differently. To parent in a better way than your own parents did.

Whatever you missed in your own childhood, you vowed to make sure your children had.

Whatever you experienced as unhelpful or damaging in your own childhood, you ached to make sure to avoid as a parent.

If you were lucky, you decided to raise your child(ren) exactly the way you were raised.

Not every conscientious parent makes the choice to parent differently from their own parents. But everyone who does make that choice, is a conscientious parent.

You did your best. And like everyone else, you made some mistakes. But not necessarily more than other parents. So how did things go so wrong that your adult child is now estranged?

The Blind Spot

Obviously, wanting the best for your child(ren) comes from very good intentions. But when those good intentions have more to do with righting the wrongs of the past, than parenting a particular child in the present, things can go wrong in unexpected ways.

Good parents don’t always realize that the parenting they needed and didn’t get, can partially blind them to the needs of the child(ren) in front of them.

For example, you may have felt alone or  invisible in your family growing up. If so, it might have been very important to you to make sure your own child(ren) knew you were interested and involved.

While it’s hardly debatable that parental interest is good for children, parents motivated by unmet emotional needs from childhood can miss cues when their children have had enough of a good thing.

These parents continue to pay attention and stay involved, not realizing that they’re meeting not just their children’s need for connection, but their own.

In a sense, if you’re parenting differently from your parents on purpose, you may have been adaptively trying to reparent yourself alongside your child(ren).

Disconnection, Estrangement

Whenever unmet needs or parental emotional injuries find expression in parenting, blind spots can happen. These create a disconnect between the parent and the child(ren) they intend to nurture.

If I’m unconsciously parenting you the way I needed to be parented, my concentration on that task makes it hard for me to see when your needs — ones I’m not necessarily aware of — are not being met.

The more I miss your cues, the more disconnected we become. And despite my intense, genuine desire to parent you well, this disconnect may widen into an estrangement.

If you suspect you might have had a blind spot around your parenting that was based on your own childhood needs, it’s not necessary to be ashamed or mad at yourself about it. You’re definitely not alone.

Trying to do better for our children than was done for us is a beautiful idea. It’s one that millions of parents share. And if it hasn’t worked out well for building a good connection with a particular child, the remedy is not shame, but education.

Even longstanding relationships can change. Unmet emotional needs can be addressed and met. Healing and growth are possible at any age, and directly affect all our relationships.

For more on the concept of blind spots, see my conversation with Yasmin Kerkez from the 2022 Moving Beyond Family Struggles Summit.

And if you haven’t already read it, you might want to check out my book, Reconnecting With Your Estranged Adult Child: Practical Tips & Tools to Heal Your Relationship.

– Tina Gilbertson

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