Shattering Illusions, One Parent at a Time.

It’s a heck of a job description, I’ll give you that.

Every day, all day, I listen to and work with parents. One on one. One (me) with two (couples). Small groups. Large groups. Really large online groups. I’ve been doing it for years. And every once in a while, something hits me about the nature of my work, which I reflect on almost all the time.

This week’s consults and interactions have revealed to me, perhaps for the first time, that a significant portion of my work is, on some level, about shattering illusions. I offer some examples here for your consideration, you know, so you can disabuse yourself of them in all your spare time. I’m sure I’m missing some, but it’s a good start.

Sorry about the shattering part.

Illusion of control

The idea that we can make another person do or feel or know or eat or listen to something simply because we want them to.

Illusion of control over “end product”

The idea that we can make a child turn out a particular way, if we work hard enough or are intentional enough or “do it all right.”

Illusion of influence

The idea that, as parents, we are omnipotent, most powerful, or sole influencers of what our children know, think, believe and do.

Illusions of power over others

The idea that we can control what other adults do or say.

Illusions of frailty

The idea that children are intensely fragile such that they must be protected from difficult experiences, “negative” emotions, or distress lest they be “traumatized” or damaged.

Illusions about development

Believing that children can process or understand information or questions that are not a match for their development because they are “smart” or articulate, or that for some reason, our children are somehow immune from the typical trajectories of development (yes, including children who are neurodivergent!)

Illusion of perfection

The idea that there is such a thing as a perfect, calm, serene parent who always “does the right thing” and never says or thinks negative things about their child or being a parent.

Illusion of obedience

The idea that a compliant child is “the goal” or better in some way than a child who resists or tests boundaries or is “strong-willed.”

Illusion of reflection

The idea that our children are, at all times, reflections of us as parents and our efforts, successes, and failures.

Illusion of projection

The idea that children think or feel something because that’s how we feel or how we “would feel” in a similar situation or how we felt in a similar situation as a child.

Illusion of Uniqueness

The idea that we are the only ones going through whatever challenges we are facing.

Whew. It’s a list, isn’t it?

I want to be clear here. These may be illusions–or that’s what I’m calling them, anyway. And they’re all perfectly “normal.” We all feel these ways at times. Our communities and cultures, often lacking in support, reinforce these sorts of perspectives. Parenting is often a hard and lonely job.

There may even be some that seem contradictory. “But Robin, you’re always saying, or at least implying, that if we do x or y, it will likely lead to better outcomes…and now you’re saying that no matter what we do, we don’t have control over the outcomes? So now it doesn’t even matter what we say or do?” I can see how you might draw that conclusion. And no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that it matters a great deal what we do….and that it behooves us and our children to remember that we are only one piece of the puzzle. Parenting is not a recipe: put in these ingredients, and get this product. And neither is it a free-for-all, where anything goes. As ever, the answer lies in the middle.

Parents matter. A lot. And not as much as we sometimes think.

This list and these examples are an invitation, as is all of my work. They are not a critique or something to either embrace or avoid. They are presented here for your consideration, not as instruction or correction. The core of my work, both with children and parents, is about trust. I trust in your competence, just as I trust in the competence of your children. It’s okay–not only okay, but valuable–to question. It’s okay to disagree. It’s even okay to cling to any illusions you might have or to deny that they are illusions. You very well may be right. Your path is your own. And if one thing that you read here, even just one of these, helps you to forge a more balanced, mindful, or less reactive relationship with your children, I will have succeeded. At least until I reject the illusion that your successes have anything to do with me.

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