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Good Afternoon

How can mom tell if she's become the mother she didn't want to be?

HELLO, CAROLYN: I had tumultuous relationship with my mother growing up and have used the way she treated me as a model for how NOT to parent. My daughter, 12, is dealing with a lot of problems, anxiety, depression. I thought we had a good relationship, but she told her therapist she hates me and doesn't get along with me. So this leads me to examine myself and wonder, did I become my mom? In many ways the answer is an obvious no. I have never slapped my daughter and don't yell at her. I've never thrown anything at her. But I do wonder. How do you know if this is normal teen stuff, or if you're really failing and have become the person you didn't want to be? Do most people grow up hating their parents and blaming all their problems on them?


ANONYMOUS: I'm sorry you're going through this. It is agony to watch a child struggle, and mental-health issues can feel frighteningly beyond our ability to help.

That her troubles have forced you to summon your childhood experience of getting slapped, berated and thrown at — devastating — and to connect your having been abused to the possibility you're an unwitting abuser yourself, must feel heavy indeed.

So my suggestion is to shore yourself up first, before you take on these bigger questions in earnest. Get a therapist of your own to help you find the ground beneath your feet: what you're doing, what your parents did, what your daughter is doing, what's "normal," what's unhealthy, what trauma you do and don't still carry, what isn't about you at all because it's your daughter's "problems, anxiety, depression" talking. A child "hating" you can stem from illness, adolescence or mistreatment, depending.

As you probably know, you can also take away the yelling and the hitting and still leave a diner menu of unhealthy stuff. A parent can still (to name just a few) neglect, ridicule, negate, gaslight, hover, scare or excessively or capriciously criticize the joy and confidence right out of a child, while raising neither hand nor voice.

Parents can do these things with utter conviction they're doing right by a child — just being "flawed like anyone" or "the way I am" or because they themselves "turned out fine."

Your mom could have done these to you without your understanding they weren't typical or healthy, at least not as readily as you identified the violence as wrong.

Every generation of parents manages their power with their parents' model as primary source, supplemented by experience, observation and outside support. In this sense you're no different from any other parent.

But abuse can shape a mind the way propaganda does, and compromise your ability to discern what is and isn't real, which I suspect is confusing you now. You mean well, you're working hard, you're willing to look inward and take responsibility, you're providing treatment and support for your daughter — good for you, for all of it — but your daughter's accusations present a new obstacle, and getting past it requires a reality check on your parenting that your upbringing maybe didn't equip you to perform.

We all need help sometimes, especially when kids are sick. This is just one of your times. Find your reality-checker and get to it.

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