“The Child Is Father of the Man”: Dr. Kevin Leman on Childhood Memories
by Alicea Jones from an interview with Christian psychologist, author and humorist, Dr. Kevin Leman on how our pasts affect how we parent.
Q- What advice do you have for parents who may not have had healthy role models?
A – Parenting is not a popularity contest. Every kid needs vitamin “N,” which is “No,” and vitamin “E,” which is encouragement. Kids don’t need praise. Praise is actually destructive. Praise should be reserved for God. It’s the false praise that gets me. I mean, the kid strikes out at little league, and the parents are screaming “Great at bat!” I’ve got news for you. It wasn’t great at bat. “Everybody wins, everybody gets a trophy.” That’s the mentality today. It’s crazy. Failure is important. Talk to anyone who has done it in life. Ben Carson: His mother was illiterate but made him write a book report every week. I love that. She was a domestic, cleaning people’s houses. Ben Carson is the top neurosurgeon at John Hopkins Hospital. Those kinds of stories inspire me.
It’s sometimes hard for me to watch my child fail. But I know that’s how they learn and mature. How about you? Were you allowed to fail as a child? How do you handle failure with your own children?
I stood with my mother and father on a bustling sidewalk lined with vendors selling baskets of apples and oranges. The sea of red and orange distracted me and I let go of my father’s hand to feel the fruit mounded up in the baskets. I turned back to grasp my father’s hand but it wasn’t there. I looked up as far as my little neck would allow but all I saw was strangers. I ran yelling down the street. “Daddy. Daddy.” My heart pumped wildly and I could feel the heat of panic rising up under my coat. I was alone. I was lost. Abandoned.
Unbeknownst to me, my father had been there right beside me at the apple stand. He couldn’t figure out why I suddenly bolted and started running down the street. Finally, he caught up with me. “Why did you run away?” he said.
“I lost you, I couldn’t find you,” I cried.
“But I was there all the time, right next to you, even when you were running, I was running after you.”
This happens to mom sometimes. We’re walking down the road of parenting holding on to the Lord’s hand. Then someone comes out with a new parenting book and we’re all over it. After all, we want to be the best mothers we can be so surely the more information the better. Right?
Bookstores have complete sections dedicated to parenting books: some good, some not very useful. Yet God’s word is a consistent and ultimate guide for parenting. It is the foundation—the building block. No doubt, we will glean parenting wisdom from others. But when we turn away from God’s parenting truths and then grow weary chasing after the latest trends, God is right there with us, ready to grab our hand again, gently guiding us back to the the road of parenting. All we need do is ask.
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays…
If you grew up in a home where one or both of your parents were alcoholics or addicts, you developed ways to cope in order to survive. Some of you did everything you could to please your addicted parent. By making them happy, maybe you could get them to love you more or at least stop them from using.
Perhaps there were times when you had to parent your parent even though you were just a child. Of course, there is no way you could have filled this impossible role. You were just a child. As a result, you naturally developed coping mechanisms that became a part of how you function in the world as an adult.
These coping skills have a good side. You became self-sufficient, hardworking, high achieving—an employer’s dream. However, while these traits work well on the job, they don’t translate well to parenting. Our skills are often hyper-developed as the adult children of addicts. Therefore, what is successful project management on the job could look more like dictatorship in the home.
For you it may be a tendency to over protect your children, a lingering habit from a time when you had to parent your addicted parent. For another mother it is perfectionism–trying to make up for the shame of the past–never a dirty window or snotty nose in her house!
I imagine many mothers struggle with control and perfectionist tendencies. But adult children of addicts magnify and stretch these traits out of proportion.
But what I’ve learned over these years of mothering is that God is a God of renewal. He can take all the old weapons that you formed out of the metal of dysfunction and turn them into tools for joyful mothering. He can start a new generation with you and your children. Ask Him. Trust Him. It is possible. Read Matthew 19:26