|Are You the Manager in Your Child’s Life?|
|Posted on April 27, 2011|
It is hard to change the person if you don’t also change the system. I recently watched the movie Country Strong – a country music film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I thought it was going to be an entertaining movie with some drama mixed in; but it reminded me once again that rehab jaunts are rarely successful when the old family dynamics are still at play.
In Country Strong, the main character Kelly, a superstar country music singer, is also a reckless and self-destructive alcoholic. She enters rehab to rest, sober-up and reexamine her life after a drinking binge while pregnant, resulting in an accident and miscarriage. Of course this movie had all the Hollywood theatrics, yet it also had some hauntingly familiar familial patterns that are exhibited in many treatment centers around the country.
Her husband, also her manager, removes her from treatment one month early to get her back on track with her career. (You could also say removing a child early from treatment to get back on track with “school.”) Clearly this move has everything to do with the husband/manager’s needs and nothing to do with Kelly’s wellbeing or recovery. Though she has beauty, talent, wealth and fame, she has no freedom to make choices and feel empowered in her own life. Kelly continues to look externally for love and validation from her husband and others – to be seen and heard for who she is. When these attempts continue to come up short, Kelly grows more and more depressed, reveals herself as the fragile person she was before treatment and she continues to act out and drink.
In short, Kelly quickly fell back into her “role” of being an acquiescent wife to her husband/manager’s directions – rather than relying on her own inner-strengths and inner-resources. Her husband becomes increasingly frustrated with her fragility; yet he is unable to see how his over-bearing and withholding personality fundamentally contributes to her instability. When her husband shifted into a managerial role, their marriage lost their love and she lost her power. She was unable to go on stage with confidence and brass when she had none in her own life.
Although this story may represent an extreme – many parents may not be aware of the patterns and relationship dynamics that exist in their family system; that contribute to their children getting stuck. How many parents are the managers in their kid’s lives? When kids start to get better in treatment, it is usually tentative, as they are learning to independently manage and stand on their own two feet. Parents might think – “My child is better, time to get back on track with school, and resume a normal life.” However, parents have to examine if the parent-child relationship has also shifted enough to support the child’s emerging emotional growth.
When the system is unexamined (as in the movie), familiar familial patterns are still right there. Kids are good at collapsing into the parents and handing over the responsibility for their life. Parents who missed being “in-charge” while their child was away in treatment are ready to get back into the pilot seat. None of this is malicious or ill-intentioned; it is just familiar familial ways.
Yet, it is evident that kids also relinquish their emerging independence, their new found coping skills and their personal accountability. To preserve the gains of treatment, parents can engage in a Parallel Process to grow alongside their child, and examine the patterns of over-involvement, enmeshment or co-dependency that may underlie their child’s struggles. There are two ingredients needed for new outcomes: a child examining his or her own struggles and choices while the parents examine their roles and patterns in the parent-child relationship. It is impossible to change familial patterns without, insight, awareness and bravery.
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