It’s typical for parents to equip themselves with knowledge on how to raise healthy children. However, we are rarely knowledgeable or prepared to deal with a struggling child.
In an effort to motivate our children toward healthy behaviors and attitudes, we unfortunately and unintentionally say things that produce more shame and resistance. Over the many years of working with families, clients have shared their perceptions and feelings about certain statements that parents frequently make.
Below are 5 statements parents often make with love and good intention, and what their child who is struggling often hears instead:
- “But you have so much potential!”
What they often hear: “So why are you such a screw-up?”
- “If you loved us, you would stop drinking/taking drugs!”
What they often hear or perceive: “You are doing this to us intentionally. We have absolutely no understanding of your pain or situation. You do not love us.”
- “It is best not to tell anyone you have been in rehab. What happens in our family should stay in our family.”
What they may hear: “We are so ashamed of you. We don’t want anyone to associate you with our family. It is not okay to reach out beyond our family for support.”
- “You have been provided with more than most kids could ever hoped for.”
What they often hear: “Because you have money and privilege, you have no right to have problems. You are a failure and a disappointment.”
- “You brother and sister never did anything like this.”
What they often hear: “We love them more than you because they don’t have problems. You do not belong in our family. Our family is wonderful except for you.”
Intention and impact are two very different things. We all say things in fear and pain that may not be the best choice of words to share. There is such healing and relationship mending when parents apologize to their children for statements that may have hurt them. Empathize with them, do not justify your statements and admit you are struggling too without blaming them. There is comfort in knowing parents are human, fallible, imperfect and willing to walk beside them in their struggle.