It is impossible to do therapy with children without involving their parents. You spend just as much time working with parents as you do working with kids. The most common question I get from parents is “Do you have any kids?” Sometimes they ask within the first session, other times it is a few sessions into it or in the middle of our sessions, but inevitably, it will occur. I figured they did it for one of two reasons.
One, I look young. I really do. I got carded buying a lottery ticket the other day.
Two, it is their indirect way of asking me, “Do you really know what you’re doing?”
However, it is clear to me that these reasons are not why parents always asked whether or not I had kids of my own. It had nothing to do with looking young or wanting to know if I was qualified. They were asking whether I had children because unlike me, they knew that you do not understand what it is like to be a parent until you are actually a parent. Sure, I had an idea. A pretty good idea. I certainly had a mountain of ideals. I had a Ph.D. saying I understood children and their development, personality, problems, and how to treat them. Yet, I didn’t really have a clue.
Kids were so easy to work with for the fifty minutes in my office even the most difficult ones. Changing behavior in a small room filled with therapy tools and toys in which there is only one focus and not any other distractions is quite easy even when it is hard. It is an artificial environment. It’s not real and it’s not the real world. In addition, you have zero emotions going on in regard to the child’s past behavior and there are not any outside influences or stressors whatsoever.
I am sure clients’ parents felt about me the same way I feel about Yancy when he gets home for the last 45 minutes before Gus goes to bed. He laughs at Gus’s whining and his fits about not wanting to go to the bathroom and brush his teeth. He is the King of Patience and Understanding as he gets him into the bath, brushes his teeth, and washes his hair. Meanwhile, I am stomping around the house, barking orders, and feeling as if I will pull every last piece of hair out of my head if I hear his high pitched whine one more time.
Now I know why all of the parents I worked with asked about having children of my own. They wanted to know if I was in the club. They wanted to know if I really understood their experience and the truth was that I didn’t.
So, consider this my formal apology to all parents whom I have counseled. I am sorry I ever presumed it was that easy. I am sorry I was so arrogant to believe you could simply apply a mathematical formula to your child in the way we did it in the office and your child’s problems would quickly disappear. You were right all along. I didn’t have a clue.