"Into the Woods" of Parenting - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

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I got to see Into the Woods this weekend at the Pavilion movie theater in Park Slope. I love the old timey feel of that place. This was highlighted by the old timeyness of there being no heat. Still, I’ve been a fan of the show since it was the first musical I saw on Broadway when I was a kid so I kept my jacket on and endured. Into the Woods was the show that made me want to be an actor and that first got me interested in psychology.

While I don’t think it’s a “kid’s movie” it’s definitely a “parent’s movie.” You’re probably familiar with a lot of the stories, but re-tellings mixed with humor and the music can really mine the emotional well of parenthood.

One fairy tale that I see in my office again and again is Rapunzel.

How many parents can relate to wanting to lock their child up in a tower? Ok, put your hands down, I think that was everyone. Mom–you too.

Watching Meryl Streep’s Witch highlights how that action is serving the parent’s fear (and ego?) to the detriment of the child. In fact it inhibits allowing the child to grow and learn.

If you have a two-year-old you’re probably used to them walking away from you, turning around to see if you’re still there, and then running back to you after a few minutes to “recharge.” In fancy therapy circles we call that “secure base behavior.” It’s good stuff. Go you; go toddler.

That behavior continues in an emotional way in adolescence. Teens creep away by not telling you everything, maybe even lying to you, but then need you to be there when things get too difficult for them to figure it out alone.

A teenager has a chance to practice this when the helicopter parent allows them to wander a bit, but it’s going to be much more difficult for them to admit they still need you if they are shamed for doing so.

Letting go isn’t probably the best phrase, it’s more of a loosening of the reins, but still managing to hold them. The holding them is the respect and love you both have for each other. Does your kid know that you’ll pick them up when they need it or are they so worried about upsetting you that they would rather not let you know when they’re in a jam? If you’re not sure, start this conversation with them now before the situation comes up. If you need some tips or help just starting off the conversation, let’s find some time to talk.


Do you have a favorite folk tale, fairy tale, or story from your childhood? Why do you think it’s endured for you? Feel free to leave a comment and start the conversation.

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be. He works with all men but has a particular focus on providing counseling for fathers (and guys hoping to become dads!)