As mentioned in the post just before this one, it does not feel right from a psychological perspective to impart parenting instructions to reunited families where parents and children have been separated from each other for a long time, without acknowledging and starting a healing process for the many feelings parents and children struggle with upon starting this new and fragile relationship. A workshop directed at educating and opening a dialogue about the separation is a paramount first step. And this may not be enough, but a therapeutic intervention maybe an ongoing necessary experience for the parents and the children to consolidate their chances at succeeding in starting to repair the lost bond between them. Without this process of education and repair about the normalcy of such feelings and help for everybody in the family in how to deal with them, parenting may continue to be difficult and conflict ridden while nobody talks about the “elephant in the room.”
Only then, the parents may be ready to incorporate the idea that parents’ love sometimes requires firmness and setting clear limits, even when this will be met with resistance, angry feelings and threats. And that this is a challenging and scary experience, for both a parent, with whom the child grew up, as well as for the parent who once left and is now trying to set rules; and there is no denying that it is even scarier for the latter. Perhaps then encouraging the parents to communicate to these new members of the family that: because they love them, they will set firm limits to protect them, even though they (the children) may feel angry as a result. It is their duty as parents and they want to take care of them from now on in the best way they can. I often educate parents that one of the most difficult, but very important things about their role is learning to say and mean “no!”, when that is necessary to protect children and teens from harm. Furthermore, if they want their children to learn to say no to their peers, they can really help by showing them by example. However, when their relationship with their children is taxed by a prolonged separation this becomes even more difficult. But if, as a parent feels the growing anxiety of losing control of the child, instead of the anger and shouting that come so easily to all parents to assert their authority, if they can take a deep breath instead and remain calm and put strong fearless love at the forefront, then the result will more likely be at the end, the favorable one they seek, as I have witnessed and experienced myself. The secret is learning to calm your fears and calm yourself down and that is the key element to teach to an anxious parent and really to any parent. All of us as parents get tangled in the trap of reactiveness, perhaps without realizing this are our own fears getting the best of us, and then regretting it when we see the results.