The Parent and the Child

There’s been some work done in our house looking at this dynamic. Parent and child. Yep, Jack’s therapist has got involved again. But this time she’s been dealing with the whole family.

Lulu came home last week with a scrawled up piece of paper. No surprise there. She has a tendency to scrawl up paper – shopping lists, receipts, consent forms, important documents – everything is treated equally in Lulu’s hands. But when I opened it up, I found something I wasn’t expecting to see.

It was a series of diagrams. There were a column of letters: P, A and C running down one side of the page. Another column in the middle marked by the same letters. A column at the end with the same thing. Then, connecting each column, was a series of arrows. The arrows pointed back and forth to each column.

‘What’s this diagram?’ I asked Lulu.

‘Oh,’ she said casually, ‘that’s just a series of interactions that I have with Dad.’

My ear piqued up. ‘Oh yeah?’

She nodded. ‘The therapist and I have been working it out. Parent to child. Child to parent. We worked out that Dad and I have a habit of changing roles being parent and child. So, when he’s messing around and gropes you for fun in front of us, I become the parent. I start telling him off. But since he doesn’t listen to me and I get really mad, he turns back from the child into the parent. This way he can reassert his authority. And when he does this, I get pissed off because it’s not fair and go back into child. So our roles end up being confused.’

‘Right,’ I breathed. How did I not see this interaction pattern before? Parent to child, child to parent. They do keep swapping these roles!

I looked down at the paper. ‘So what’s the middle ground?’

She came alongside me and pointed at the paper. ‘The A. See it?’

I stared at it. A was the middle of C and P. ‘Oh yeah,’ I said, ‘but it doesn’t have many arrows attaching to it.’ Most arrows covering the diagram are drawn between the letters P and C.’

‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘For us, this letter keeps getting missed out. Dad and I take on the roles of parent and child and keep swapping back and forth, but we forget that there is this middle ground. The letter A is for adult. At adult level in the diagram people are responsible but independent of each other. They support each other but they don’t owe each other anything. This is the neutral ground. Usually everyone wants to be at this adult level but apparently it can be hard to get there. Especially when it’s parents and children together.’ She shrugged. ‘That’s what the therapist says anyhow.’

I nodded. This is the most simple and wonderful thing I have heard. The parent, child and adult dynamic. Mental note to kiss our therapist. Can you imagine if she began to inhabit business meetings? Parliamentary committees? The House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Question Time? This diagram sitting in my hands could solve almost every conflict in the world.

Number one: let’s start at home.


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