By Neil Brown, LCSW
Family therapists often find themselves working with one parent who takes a harsher tone with the identified patient (IP) child than the other. Often, the more protective parent is perceived as unsupportive of the harsher parent and feels caught in a “no-win” situation.
Here’s how one father explained this dilemma:
“When Ellen (mom) and Andre (son) fight, I don’t know what to do. If I do nothing, Ellen tells me that I’m not supporting her. If I take over, she accuses me of undermining her and mollycoddling Andre. If I join her harsh approach, Andre feels betrayed and ganged up on. I feel stuck.”
I’d like to share two solutions therapists can offer the protective parent that will provide much-needed emotional leadership in the family, and help create a transformation out of this negative interactional pattern.
You can invite the protective parent to use either or both of these two approaches. It’s best to practice them in a family session.
1. Offer emotional support to his or her spouse. Moving close and using a warm tone, the parent might say, “It’s really frustrating when Andre (for instance) doesn’t listen, and it’s not acceptable for him to talk to you that way.”
2. Offer emotional support and clear guidance to the child. Again, using a strong yet warm tone and moving close the child, the parent might say, “I know it’s hard having your parents always telling you what to do. And sometimes, when you don’t listen, Mom (or Dad) gets frustrated with you. It’s never acceptable, however, to be disrespectful to your mother (or father) who is there for you in so many ways. Listen to her (or his) words, not her (or his) tone, and do as you are asked.”
Neil D. Brown, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who has worked with families, couples, and individuals for more than thirty years. Deeply steeped in the theory and practice of family therapy, Brown uses a systemic approach that allows him to understand the system, or context, in which problems are both formed and are healed. This approach has revealed a simple yet profound method of empowering parents and their adolescent youth to put an end to destructive control battles for good. Brown is also a trainer of parents and mental health professionals. Additionally, Brown works in industry with teams and workgroups to increase organizational effectiveness. He is author of Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle.