Literary Nonfiction. Parenting & Family. LGBTQIA Studies. Translated by Sarah Moses. Winner of an Independent Publisher Book Award for Parenting. What happens when a father and a son, who both happen to be renowned psychiatrists (and a YouTube sensation) and who also both happen to be parents and children, discuss parenthood? Emotionally packed, entertaining, profound and insightful, OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN: TOOLS FOR NURTURING A LIFELONG RELATIONSHIP gets to the bottom of
?what it takes to be a good and responsible parent
?how to become an independent adult while maintaining a loving relationship with your parents
?and how to preserve this fundamental and lifelong bond as a source of strength and mutual renewal throughout your life.
|Publisher:||Upper West Side Philosophers|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Jorge Bucay, MD is a psychiatrist, Gestalt therapist, TV host, storyteller, and bestselling author of more than 20 books on personal development, family, love, relationships, and self-realization, among other topics, which have been translated into over thirty languages. For several years he has also presided of the Human Development for All Project at Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango in Mexico. He lives in Buenos Aires.
DemiÁn Bucay, MD is a psychiatrist, Gestalt and family therapist. He is a frequent contributor to the magazine Mente Sana and author of several books on personal development, identity, and family relationships—Mirar de Nuevo (Look Again), El Secreto de la flor que volaba (The Secret of the Flower that Flew), and Manual para estar en pareja (Handbook for the Real-Life Couple), among others. He lives in Buenos Aires with his wife and two sons.
Read an Excerpt
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A PARENT?
Essential vs. Non-Essential
If we're going to look at the relationship between parents and children throughout this book, it's important to define what that entails. What does being a parent involve? What's essential to the role? What is it that someone does that allows us to say, "This is a father" or "This is a mother," while we recognize that another person isn't?
In order to define what's essential about something, it's necessary to distinguish its constitutive parts (those that make it precisely what it is) from its non-essential parts (which may or may not be present).
This idea is better illustrated with an example in which my youngest son is the protagonist — in keeping with the subject we'll be discussing.
An angelic child with golden locks (a completely objective observation, of course), the boy learned to pick up a cell phone, and long before he could speak would raise it to his ear as though he were answering a call and say, "Ah?"
At first, however, he'd do the same with the remote control, raising it to his ear and repeating the sound. That's understandable: The remote is a black, rectangular object that's more or less the size of the palm of one's hand and full of buttons with numbers ... Of course, he soon understood on his own that a remote control is a different object and began to point it at the television instead of raising it to his ear. But the most surprising thing occurred around the time when he was given a toy Spiderman phone. It was a small flip phone, red in color, and not as big as a real one. And yet, despite the fact that no one in my house still used a flip phone, as soon as he received the gift, he opened it and pressed the numbered buttons, which resulted in a ring of sorts and a voice. He then raised it to his ear and, his tone of voice perfect, said, "Ah?"
How did he know it was a phone? Evidently, he understood that just because something is black, the size of the palm of a hand, rectangular in shape, and has numbered buttons, that doesn't mean it's a phone. Whereas when something rings and a voice comes out of it, he learned, then it's a phone. That is, he distinguished what's essential from what's not. And he was right: I've seen phones shaped like soccer balls, and those with touch screens don't have buttons, but all of them ring and 'talk', because that's precisely what a phone does. That's where its essence lies; the rest — though frequent — is secondary. Put another way: If you don't ring and it's not possible to talk through you, I'm sorry, but by definition, a telephone you are not.
What, then, is essential to being a parent? What is it that makes a person precisely that? In an attempt to answer this question, we'll make use of a 'comparative' approach similar to the one used by the child in the story to determine what's a phone and what's not — even when the latter appears to be one.
In 2010, the movie The Kids Are All Right was released. Two of the movie's characters appear as though tailor made to demonstrate our point: one who resembles a father, but isn't, and another who doesn't look like a father and yet fulfills this role completely. The story centers around a family consisting of two women, Nic and Jules, who are married, and their two children, Joni (a young woman of eighteen) and Laser (her fifteen year old brother). We find out at the beginning that the kids were conceived by means of artificial insemination using sperm from the same donor (the stuff of movie plots).
Laser is going through the period of adolescence when all of us feel a little lost as we try to discover who we are. He convinces Joni, who reluctantly agrees, to call the fertility clinic to try and contact their biological father, since he's not legally old enough to do so himself.
The sperm donor is a man named Paul, who's ostensibly on the immature side, drives a motorcycle, and runs a farm- to table organic restaurant. Paul's love life involves one fling after another, and he never really commits himself to a relationship. Even so, he's intrigued when Joni gets in touch and decides to meet her and Laser.
Encountering Paul has a different effect on each of the sib lings, though it's a surprising one in both cases. While Laser, who had higher expectations, isn't able to find things in common with his biological father, Joni is, to a certain extent, captivated by Paul's laid -back personality. Jules and Nic find out that their children have met their biological father and decide to get to know him as well.
For a while, everyone is confused. Laser thinks that Paul will be the male presence he assumes has been missing, Joni channels her desire to explore a world beyond that of her mothers through him, Nic feels threatened as an authority figure, and Paul believes it's finally an opportunity to settle down.
However, Paul ends up disappointing everyone (including himself), and it's clear that he hasn't risen to the occasion precisely because he's not the children's father (regardless of how many genes they share). An intense conversation between Laser and Paul, in which Laser asks Paul why he donated sperm, proves our point.
It's a powerful question. We can imagine that Laser had wanted to know for a long time and was eager to find his bio logical father precisely so he could ask him. Paul tries to get out of answering with a joke, saying casually that it "just seemed like a lot more fun than donating blood." But Laser doesn't laugh, he wants a real answer. So Paul goes on to explain that he "liked the idea of helping people" who "wanted to have kids but couldn't."
It's a good attempt, but Laser isn't convinced and presses Paul further, asking him how much he was paid. When Paul in turn asks why he wants to know, Laser plays it down, pretending that he's "just curious." But we know it's not mere curiosity. As a healthy teenager, what Laser really wants to know is: How much am I worth? "Sixty bucks a pop," Paul replies. "That's it?" asks Laser, astonished. Paul is visibly uncomfortable and tries to explain that "it was a lot of money" to him then ..."
Paul's response is obviously not good enough. Laser looks to biology for the answers to hundreds of questions. But he won't find them in his genes, only in his heart.
Joni will also have a message for Paul when they say good bye. It's not a question or a reproach but the expression of something she's been holding in. She'll say to him, "I just wish that you could've been ... better!"
No doubt a better father!
These are expectations that Paul isn't able to meet. And not be cause he's a bad person. Rather, it's that he's been called upon to fulfill a role he hasn't chosen and for which he's not at all prepared. The circumstances suddenly throw him into the ring and say, "Come on, be a father." In real life, no one in their right mind would expect anything other than a resounding failure.
Here we arrive at our first conclusion: The fact that children share genetic information with their parents — or, to put it an other way, are of the same bloodline — is without a doubt important when it comes to paternity and maternity (tests that determine the percentage of DNA two people have in common are used to prove this fact legally). But we need to be careful, because important doesn't mean indispensable or sufficient. That is, biological ties don't make a person a mother or father and, we can now add, the absence of biological ties doesn't pre vent them from being one.
If it's not in our chromosomes, wherein lies the essence of being a parent? Let's return to the film and ask ourselves the following question, if only as an intellectual exercise: Who is the children's father?
The first answer — that Paul is the children's father because he provided half of their genetic information — has already been discarded since we've established that sharing DNA isn't a determining factor for parenthood.
A second answer would simply be that the children don't have a father. However, anyone who's seen the movie, or watches it after reading this book, will easily recognize the kids' 'father' in day-to-day life — a decidedly traditional and archetypal father, it's true, but a father nonetheless: it's Nic, one of their mothers. She's the one who goes to work every day, provides for the family economically, is more strict with the children, sits at the head of the table ... In short, she's the one who takes on the traditional role of the father and carries it out vehemently and lovingly. Thus, the movie's hypothesis doesn't seem to be that it's possible to 'be all right' without having a father. Instead, it questions whether being a man is essential to that role. Nic fulfills the paternal role, and as such we can say that she's the kids' father, even though she's a woman. Of course, the same would be true for a mother: Being a woman isn't essential to motherhood, regardless of how often it occurs this way. In certain circumstances, a man can do a very good job of being a mother to a child.
Parents are Made
We believe that approaching parenthood in this way reveals that the art of being a father or mother has more to do with adequately fulfilling a role than anything else. We can only be come parents if we act, think, and feel like parents. Conceiving and giving birth to a child is thus not sufficient to consider one self a parent, which is why it's not sufficient for a child to consider a biological father or mother one either.
Personally, I've always said that there are at least three sides to being a father or mother: one defined by social aspects, another by emotional ones, and a third by behavior. In other words, parental status, a parent's love, and a parent's role. These three things aren't eternal (as we tend to believe), and what's more, they generally don't begin and end at the same time.
I'm reminded now of the stories of Tarzan, Mowgli, and those of many other similar literary characters who were left orphaned by the death of their parents. These children were adopted by an animal mother or a pack of animals that looked after them, fed and protected them, and raised them. The animals weren't wild nannies, but real father and mother substitutes for the defenseless boy or girl in question.
Now, I don't know anyone who's been raised by monkeys or wolves, but it's not that uncommon to hear of a person who was brought up by a mother or father who had no connection to their family, or even by an institution. I once worked with a man whose biological mother wasn't able to look after him and left him under the care of an aunt who was already responsible for several children. This woman wasn't able to take him in as a son either. According to what the man told me in personal therapy, from a very young age, he spent most of his time at a soccer clubhouse a few blocks from where he lived. He got into the habit of eating with the employees and would chat for hours with the regulars. I have no doubt that the adult he became felt a sense of loyalty and gratitude to the clubhouse that's very similar to what others might feel for their mother. In fact, the man was in therapy because, among other things, he spent a large part of his day arguing with his wife, who was jealous of all the attention and time he gave to his favorite institution. (Listening to his story about his wife's disapproval, one couldn't help being reminded of the complaints many women have about their mothers-in-law.)
We can summarize what we've discussed thus far with the simple statement that your parents are the people who have raised you. But that wouldn't be entirely accurate — or at least it would still be incomplete. What's missing is the conscious and voluntary decision to take responsibility for one's children.
Just to make sure that's clear, we believe that your father and mother are not only those who have fed you, clothed you, protected you, sheltered you, and raised you, but also and above all, those who have decided to do so; those who have said, "This is my son, this is my daughter, and I'm going to take responsibility for them, with everything that implies." And it's worth noting here that this undertaking, this deliberate and voluntary act of adoption, is necessary — in the case of a biological child too.
If you intend to be an authentic father or a genuine MOTHER, IT'S ESSENTIAL THAT YOU ADOPT YOUR OWN CHILDREN.
Though it's a disagreeable thing to say and though it goes against what most people have learned and been taught, we strongly believe that we're all adopted children. We argue here that there is necessarily a moment in our shared history with our mothers and fathers when they decided — individually and probably not at the same time — to adopt us, that is, to accept us as their children, as an extension of themselves, as part of themselves, as their 'flesh and blood'. What's even more difficult to swallow is the fact that this decision isn't natural, it doesn't happen on its own, nor does it occur automatically as the result of having conceived us, given birth to us, or being named as our parents on our birth certificate.
Adoption may take place during pregnancy — be it in our own body, our partner's, a surrogate's, or a gestational carrier's. Often, we've had the time and wisdom to connect to the baby while it was still developing in the womb. In this case, the newborn is in fact already our child when it is first placed in our arms. Sometimes, though, the process is not as straightforward and adoption may take a little longer, up to several months after the baby's birth — and that's fine, too. When one of the parents is the primary initial caregiver (such as a mother who breastfeeds or the parent who happens to be spending the most time with the baby for any number of reasons), the other parent can feel left out or excluded. It's crucial, however, that the latter, too, seek to be actively involved at this early stage to facilitate the adoption process. But it's not his or her sole responsibility. The primary caregiver must also contribute — by taking a back seat whenever possible and making space for the other parent, thus allowing the bond between the latter and the child to strengthen.
When my first son was born, he was immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit because he'd arrived three weeks early (my wife had had a hypertensive crisis) and his lungs needed extra oxygen to begin working properly. The nurse told me to follow her and ordered me to stay put and "hold the little one's hand until he's doing fine."
I did as I was told — more so because I had no idea what else to do than because I thought it was the right thing to do. So there I was, alone with this baby, his tiny little hand holding on to just one of my fingers, and I looked at him and said to myself, "Damn, this is my son," and looked again and was surprised to find that I didn't recognize him. "Who is this guy?" I thought. I didn't feel the wave of love I'd imagined would rush over me. I admit that what I really wanted to do was check on my wife as she'd just had an emergency caesarean section. So much so that I dared ask one of the nurses, "Can I go see my wife for a second?"
"No, she's fine," the nurse said severely. "You stay here."
"But ...," I objected, before the look of reproach on her face made it clear that my request was neither possible nor morally acceptable.
After I was there for an hour, which seemed like ten, holding on to the hand of the infant who felt more and more like my son, the neonatologist came in and examined him. He smiled and told me that my son's breathing had normalized and that I could return to my wife. I left the infant in the nurse's arms, and as I was about to exit the room, I was suddenly overcome by a profound feeling and the unequivocal certainty — now I definitely felt it — that he was my son (with all that implied).
More than a few men have reproached themselves — and heaped on the guilt — for not feeling a rush of love for their newborn child; love they're apparently supposed to feel, love that everyone else tells them they should feel, love their own parents said they felt the day they were born.
I'd like to change the scene and topic with an old story that comes to mind — one I'm told is true. And though it doesn't have anything to do with parents and children, I think a bit of humor might help us understand how things sometimes happen.
A man entered a doctor's office leaning on a walking stick.
"Doctor," he said as he sat down in front of the physician, "I'm hoping you can help me, I think I have a serious problem."
"Take it easy," the doctor said. "Why don't you go ahead and tell me what's the problem."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Of Parents and Children"
Copyright © 2015 Jorge & Demian Bucay.
Excerpted by permission of Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 What Does It Mean to Be a Parent? 15
Essential vs. Non-Essential 15
Parents are Made 19
A Question of Decisions 25
2 Unconditional Love 29
The Best and the Worst 29
Why Have Children? 31
A Love like no Other 38
Asymmetrical Responsibility 43
3 Ambivalent Love 49
Idealization and Deception 49
The Marks They Leave on Us 53
Disobedience and Risk-Taking 61
The Best They Could Do 66
4 Inheritance 69
The 'Cone of Light' 69
Being the Child of 72
Being a Child 77
To Be or not to Be (like Them) 84
5 Upbringing 87
Parents Are not Sufficient 87
The Task of Raising Children 89
What to Communicate: Content vs. Values 92
The Five Kinds of Parents 94
The Two Lists 106
How Good Parents Communicate 111
And what about Young Adults 115
6 Setting an Example (Parents as Role Models) 119
The Three Methods for Raising Children 119
Being a Role Model 120
The Effect of Our Beliefs 124
Nature vs. Nurture 126
Children's Image of Their Parents 129
Leading by Example 133
7 Educating (Parents as Teachers) 135
Parents are Teaching Constantly 135
It's Possible a Child Will Disagree 137
It's Impossible to Force a Child 138
The RAP Strategy 143
8 Motivating (Parents as Guides) 151
Why Don't They Listen? 151
Genuine Motivation 155
A Few Detours 159
The Consequences of Their Actions 163
The Problem of Allowing a Child to Make Mistakes 167
Reinforcing the Benefits 173
The Issue of Risk 176
Disciples of What's Good 178
9 Wants and Expectations 179
What Parents and Children Want 179
Not Making Sacrifices 181
The Frustration-Times-Two Syndrome 183
Expectations and Ideals 189
10 When a Parent's Job is Done 193
A Parent's Job Comes to an End 193
A New Context 196
Adult Children 198
Elderly Parents 206
The Relationship Changes 209
Works Cited 221