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GREGORY RAMEY: Practice of parental amnesia has benefits

by on June 13, 2014 11:00 AM

DAYTON, Ohio — The mom of a 17-year-old girl recounted in painful detail an incident in which her daughter remarked that her greatest fear was that she would grow up and be like her mother. “I can’t get those horrible words out of my head,” said a teary mom.

This discussion occurred when the child was 12 years old, but left an indelible emotional scar on the mom. Our relationship with our children, which we treasure as most valuable, also leaves us very vulnerable to their hurtful words and actions.

We are appropriately concerned about the impact of our actions on our children’s development. We expect parents to be kind, encouraging, affectionate and emotionally available to their children. We caution parents that failures on their part may have lifelong consequences for the children.

Doesn’t it also work the other way as well? Shouldn’t kids be careful about what they say to their parents? Isn’t it reasonable to think that children’s actions can leave permanent emotional wounds on their parents? I realize that kids are still developing and lack the maturity to fully appreciate the consequences of their behaviors. Perhaps the 12-year-old neither intended nor anticipated the devastating impact of her words on her mom.

However, does that mean that kids are given a free pass that excuses them from their insensitive behavior? Shouldn’t we expect, at least by the preteen years, that our children are considerate of our feelings, as we are expected to always be sensitive to theirs?

All kids, be it intentionally or inadvertently, have said or done things that caused anguish to their parents. While we can never truly forget these events, most of us develop a kind of parental amnesia to deal with this behavior.

Parental amnesia is less about forgetting and more about trying to put some event in a broader context.

I can understand why the mom felt so offended, but was that really the intention of her daughter’s comment? Parental amnesia means neither forgetting, excusing, nor rationalizing bad behavior. Rather, it is the ability to move on without constantly picking at one’s emotional scar. If you are offended by something your child said, don’t ignore it. Calm down. Collect your thoughts. Help them appreciate the impact that their words or actions have on you and others. Then, practice parental amnesia.

Dr. Gregory Ramey is a child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital. This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News.
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