Entries in temperament (1)

Tuesday
Jul262011

Sometimes, no one is to blame

I met a woman some years ago who had gone out for a Sunday drive with her husband and baby. They drove to a local beauty spot, parked and got out, leaving the baby asleep in the car. They walked a little way to get a good view from a bridge, still with their car in view.  Glancing back they saw the car roll towards the edge of a cliff and then as they watched in horror it went over the edge. Miraculously, though the car had extensive damage, the baby was uninjured.

This is literally my nightmare. It’s a recurrent dream I have had throughout my life. I dream I am driving a car, there are children inside it and somehow I lose control. I try to gain control, to stop the car from moving but I can't. I am full of fear and foreboding that the children will be harmed and paralysed by an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand what this dream is about. When children are in danger, as parents our instinctive urge is to move heaven and earth to save them. If we can't, we feel we've failed; after all, what is our primary responsibility but to keep our children safe? I've been thinking about the parents of Amy Winehouse, both of whom have said they expected her early death by suicide or drug overdose. They saw the car moving towards the edge of the cliff but were powerless to stop it.

We love the blame game. With Amy we blame the industry (“too much too soon’), or her ‘fragile personality’ or her ex-husband for his role in introducing her to hard drugs. As yet no one has speculated about the role her background may have played in her downfall. Just the contrary; the normality of her North London Jewish background has been a counterpoint to her drug induced excess.    

As parents we often blame ourselves for the way our children turn out. I used to say jokingly ‘A mother’s place is in the wrong.’ And it is true. Sooner or later you will look at your children and wish you had done something different: not chosen that school; not had another baby so quickly; not suffered from post natal depression; taken a stronger stand on an issue: given more freedom; given less freedom, etc etc. The list is endless. And for most parents it’s a waste of time.  

There is no one right way to parent a child beyond the basics of love and boundaries.  Children are born with different temperaments and ways of responding to the world and what works for one child is wrong for another.  Most children are resilient and will bounce back but there are a few who are particularly vulnerable to addictions, psychological disorders and extreme behaviour. When this happens parents may do their best but sometimes sadly it's not enough. Parents cannot control everything and protect their children from all dangers. Sometimes the car goes over the cliff and there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it.