It started with a small idea. A client sat down in my office, sharing her concerns for how she could impart her valuable life experiences to her child; and better, how could she do it in a way that would preserve her voice, in the chance that she didn’t live long enough to share it day by day and year after year. While she happened to be an older mother, she did, for all intents and purposes, have plenty of time to educate her daughter and share her wealth of knowledge. It did however, bring up an interesting point. If children grow up and favor the personal fable (better known as “magical thinking” or the “It won’t happen to me” syndrome), how could a parent really help guide their children through the trials and tribulations of childhood, adolescence and adulthood if their words in the moment fell on deaf ears? Would those precious pearls of wisdom evaporate into the ether? My client was plagued by this concern and soon, I became preoccupied with the same thought.
Daily, I see clients suffer at the hands of parental abandonment and disinterest. Growing up, we become products of these experiences. As a result, we can’t help but stumble through life without the necessary guidance and tools that loving, patient and worldly parents can provide, in those crucial years of early development. Conversely, what if we did have parents that cared, attended every soccer game, Girl Scout meeting and sat down for dinner with their family every night? Would that be enough? Any therapist will tell you that yes, in our youth, having positive, consistent interactions with our parents will set the groundwork for healthy choices in adulthood. But again, how do we hold onto the lessons in a real way?
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Social Learning Theory tells us that we learn by watching others. Its wonderful news and excellent support in the argument that our parents are our models, and from there, we internalize their actions, thoughts and behaviors. Because we observe and take these things in without conscious awareness, we may not be holding onto these examples as much as we could be. It IS possible to get even more of a pay off if we have some way of concretizing these messages. And further, what about the things our parents know that they simply don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate for us? How do those teachings get passed on?