PARENT COUNSELING - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

Parent Counseling

lonelinessAre you worried that your child’s mood or behavior has changed? Do you feel you’ve tried everything?

Does everyone know you at your child’s school for the ‘wrong’ reasons? Or maybe your child is refusing to go to school. Do you have a hard time setting limits? Is your pre-teen moodier than was expected for her age? Or maybe the teen years are causing you more emotional upheaval than they seem to be causing to him? Are you struggling with slowly letting go?

Are you in the midst of any of these major changes?:

  • newborn to toddler
  • toddler to early school age
  • early school age to ‘tween
  • ‘tween to teen

If you are a parent who feels guilty every time you’re in a room with other moms and dads who seem to be thriving then parent counseling is for you. There is a way to navigate all of the information out there.

Getting Lots of “Expert” Advice

I remember when the parenting section of Barnes & Noble was a bookcase. Now there are aisles promising THE solution for every parenting issue you can think of. And then you go online to find tons of sites that teach strategies for bedtime, morning rituals, homework focus and time outs. Some are strong proponents of positive reinforcements while others fervently stress that you are ruining your children by rewarding them.

I agree and disagree with just about all of them.

What all these helpful books, articles and blog posts (including my own!) all fail to take into consideration is that they don’t know the specific child who has a specific family who lives in a specific household: yours. Those writers, when they are describing techniques and strategies that have worked before, can never be certain they will work for you and yours because they don’t know you. It’s not their fault!

Plus, you and your family keep changing. I’ve worked with children and families in some form for seven years now and even when a family returns after a few years they are always in a different place. A new transition requires new skills, yet it makes me smile when they recognize at this point that they know that change can happen.

Why Parent Counseling?

A strong focus of my work, and which may be different from other experiences parents may have had in counseling, is my philosophy that something has gotten you this far. You’ve overcome some obstacle because, let’s face it, if you were able to find time to schedule and make it to your session, you’ve done some problem solving that works. It’s also why I’m okay with the children not coming to sessions as often as you do. This makes the work I do a bit different from some others, but my position from when we start is that I want you to be “in charge” of your family. Most of the effective, lasting change in families is initiated and carried out by the parent.

Parents Are Liars

There are tons of ways that parents get in their own way. The doubts, the conflicting feelings, the guilt when we just want the kid to go away for a little bit, the jealousy of the attention they are getting. The little voice that reminds you that you wanted this. You may have even worked very hard to have this little-and-getting-not-so-little person in your life, yet you’re so angry, you’re so annoyed, and you’re totally exhausted. And, on top of that, you feel ashamed for feeling that way.

None of this is rare, by the way. If a parent says that their child only brings them joy they are lying to you. Lying.

And, okay, maybe you’ve lied a little bit too.

Well, parent counseling isn’t going to stop it from being hard or make you less tired (sorry). It’s to help you find hope. Hope that you can maneuver your way through your child’s childhood. Hope that you can ensure you’re doing your own parenting, not the parenting that the latest guru designed or that you’re slipping into the patterns your parents set up.

I know of no topic–not religion, not politics, not abortion, not race–that seems to generate more tempestuousness than people’s opinions about parenting. And why not? It’s the most important job in the world and it’s your lasting imprint on the future. When you’re in a new job and you screw up at least you get to go home. When a parent wants to go home…

Well, my job is not to judge how you’ve been parenting. It’s to support you in becoming the parent you want to be. Maybe that’s lowering expectations for yourself (you don’t have to make the gluten and peanut free cookies from scratch) or perhaps it’s raising the expectations for your child (maybe you can let him walk to school on his own, at least while you own a telescope.)

And if you haven’t figured this out yet, I think having a sense of humor is the important and often overlooked tool of getting through the Magic Years.

When the tired, overworked, overwhelmed, often angry, scared and ashamed parent sits in my office I want them to know that I hear their very specific story about their specific kid in their specific family and household. And when they feel heard my first job is to congratulate them for getting this far. I then want to mine for hope, because I see parents at the end of their rope. My job in that moment is to find some hope, together, so they leave feeling there is a way through this and we always find some reason to hope. (Let me amend that: there was one time when a parent called me later that night to tell me there was one thing that still gave her hope. We had spent a lot of time talking about all the struggles she has had and her child was now 14 and this mom was exhausted. She called me to say that she had forgotten to tell me about her daughter’s smile. So we dug in.)

Why Do I Need to Come? Can’t You Just Fix My Child?  

You might not have been told this yet, but ‘modeling’ for your child is where most of the parenting work is done. Not in teaching or providing boundaries. All of that is important, but your child will learn how to take care of him or herself by how she observed you taking care of yourself.

  • You teach them how to get angry by how you deal with you anger.
  • You teach them how to be sad by how you express your grief.
  • You teach them how to have relationships by how you act in your relationships–especially the relationship you have with their other parent.

We learn to parent by being parented and often we weren’t so happy about how that was done. It’s not an act of betrayal to take a good look at choices that were made for you–choices like How does a grownup deal with her sadness? How does an adult get angry? How do people treat their friends and the people they love? These choices are so much more effective teaching tools than the lecture or even the well-thought out punishment.

But This Should Come Naturally–Why Should I Go To Counseling?

There’s lots of reasons that counseling for parents can be helpful. Being a mother or father is one of the most exposing jobs in the world. Those of us who’ve managed to feel in control at work discover that the gloves are fully off at home. As I said, we learn how to be a parent by how we were parented and many of us weren’t happy with how that went down. We can still love our fathers and resolve to be a different kind of father. Counseling for new parents can uncover the mom or dad you desperately want to be and that you’re struggling with becoming.

Can I Afford Parent Counseling?

One of the reasons we get stuck is because we don’t always prioritize our needs–and the first thing everyone tells you when you have a kid is that your priorities need to shift. I don’t disagree, but I would bet I’ve told every parent who’s sat in my office, “If you don’t take care of your own needs then it’s going to be very hard to take care of theirs.” Part of counseling for parents is you beginning to do just that. It can be easy to make a long list of reasons to not spend 45 minutes a week focusing on you.

But let’s cut to the chase and make it more concrete–there’s more and more research every day about how stress, anger and other strong emotions affect our bodies and how we can easily end up in our primary care doctor’s office paying who knows how much for something that cannot be ignored any more. That’s money and time away from your child.

I Don’t Want Other People to Know

This is a good time to talk about confidentiality and privacy. Part of making the space safe for you to talk about yourself is by making sure that you know that I won’t share what we talk about with anyone. Not your partner, not your friends, not your kid. This is also the law. I can’t do it and I don’t want to. This is your time. The only exception is when someone is in danger: then my job is to ensure safety.

Also it’s important to say that my colleagues and I have not done the best job hacking away at the stigma of going to see a counselor. It’s less of an issue in New York City, but it’s there. The best consolation I can give you is that many of the people you think will judge you are secretly worried about being judged for getting their own parent counseling.

I Have More Questions…

Good. That makes sense. You’ve gone through and are going through a change and the change will be constantly changing.  I invite you to look around the site, check out some blog posts about counseling for parents. If you’re interested you can also download my e-book.

If you’d like to sit down for parent counseling in my Brooklyn office feel free to get in touch with me. I look forward to hearing from you.