On Monday morning, the DadWagon Idea Generation Complex (funded by DARPA) sent around an article written by a New York psychiatrist, Richard Friedman, about how many of his “intelligent and articulate” patients were quite inexplicably burdened with children who were simply bad people.
For Christopher, who blogged about the article that afternoon, the piece unearthed some deep-seated fears that despite his best efforts, the cosmic forces may deliver him a child who is incurably a brat or worse. This is, I think, a completely rational fear. Christopher, Friedman, and I would all agree that nature trumps nurture. My wife is a doctor; one of her half-brothers is sitting in prison, as he has for most of his adult life.
What I disagree with, somewhat vehemently, is the entire tone of Friedman’s piece. He is continually complicit in his patients’ astonishment that despite, as in one case he described, the fact that the patient sent her children to a raft of child psychiatrists, and that the child “tested in the intellectually superior range,” this child was still a little shit.
His sympathies with another patient were even more extreme:
Another patient told me about his son, now 35, who despite his many advantages was short-tempered and rude to his parents — refusing to return their phone calls and e-mail, even when his mother was gravely ill.
“We have racked our brains trying to figure why our son treats us this way,” he told me. “We don’t know what we did to deserve this.”
Apparently very little, as far as I could tell.
I’m no shrink-hating Scientologist, but methinks this psychiatrist may have his head up his ass. Bad kids must be hardwired, he argues, because otherwise these fine, intelligent, wealthy people who pay each week to lie on an analyst’s couch would produce wonderful children. I would suggest something else: perhaps the navel-gazing, entitlement, and self-pity evident in his patients does not make for great parenting. They could still have good kids or bad kids (again, I believe those things are somewhat beyond our control). But in no way should they feel any more entitled to great kids because they themselves are posh and psychoanalyzed.
I don’t have any answers, but I do believe that acceptance of my children for who they are will be a big part of maintaining successful relationships with them. That notion–that everything is the way it is, and our only choice is whether to accept it or struggle vainly against it–is one of the more attractive elements I saw in the Landmark Forum, a personal-transformation course I’m researching for an article. It is a large part of their mantra, and would be a valuable lesson for Friedman to impart to his kvetchy, whingeing patients. Except that Friedman doesn’t even understand that lesson himself.