Why has the raising of children over the past fifty years become so much more stressful, confusing, perplexing, anxiety-ridden, guilt-ridden, and fraught with difficulty of every imaginable sort than it ever was before? Fifty-plus years ago, parents experienced their share of difficulties – more with some kids, less with others – but childrearing itself was not generally regarded as it is generally regarded today, especially by mothers.
“Had I known in advance that raising a child would be so gut-wrenching,” a mother recently told me, “I’d have made sure I never had one.”
Tragically, she was speaking not just for herself. Women of my mother’s generation rarely agonized over their kids. My mother certainly didn’t. Although I gave her occasional grief, worrying about me was not a source of perennial insomnia. Fact is, I worried more about what she would do if she discovered my shenanigans than she worried about them.
The answer to the question posed in the first sentence of this essay: Psychology. My chosen profession. Psychological theory concerning children has informed the rearing of children in America since the 1960s, and every small iota of said theory is wrong. If said theory is correct, then the mental health of children should have improved by quantum leaps. Instead, the mental health of today’s kids is at least ten times worse per capita than it was in the glory days of my youth.
Psychological parenting theory has caused a historically unique paradigm shift. In the 1950s and before, children were afraid of their parents. Today, parents are afraid of their kids. It pretty much boils down to that. We were afraid of our parents because they properly occupied their authority, meaning they properly communicated that we were underlings, properly communicated their expectations, and properly enforced them. Having done this “parenting expert” thing since 1976, I can tell you that today’s parents, with relatively rare exception, do none of that. As a result, their kids don’t learn to pay attention to authority figures, obey authority figures, and control their emotions, any portion of which often takes them into the offices of mental health professionals who diagnose them with attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder. Then said professionals, when asked by the parents to explain how these problems came about, lie through their cosmetically-enhanced teeth because if they told the truth – “You did” – the parents wouldn’t pay them any more money.
If you, dear reader, are one of the parents in question, you may be having inappropriate feelings toward me right now, but let me assure you that until YOU accept that YOU caused the problems in question, YOU won’t be able to solve them. You cannot deny responsibility for a problem and then solve it.
When my wife and I finally, after ten gut-wrenching years, accepted that our first child’s behavior – behavior that caused his third-grade teacher to tell us that he was the most undisciplined child she had seen in twenty years of teaching – was, despite good intentions, our doing, we were able to turn things around. Three months later, the same teacher reported that she had witnessed a “miracle” (her word). He was now a “model student.” And he stayed that way through the rest of his academic career.
Eric is why I do what I do. Eric is how I absolutely know that everything I was taught in graduate school was worthless. Eric is the means by which I recovered from that experience and why I am surely the most controversial psychologist in America, knowledge of which gives me great pleasure. I love driving them up a wall, them being my ersatz colleagues. Quite simply, they don’t know what they are doing, which is surely more harm than good.
I tell the story of Eric not to promote myself but to give people hope. Willie and I did not solve the “Eric Problem” because I am a psychologist. We solved it DESPITE my being a psychologist. That means you can solve your Eric Problem too. As the late, great Sam Cooke said, “Ain’t that good news!”