A few years back, my husband and I had a recurrent problem. Every winter, ice would back up on our roof and leak in a particular spot in our kitchen ceiling. This seriously aggravating experience began each year with the same frustrating process. We would begin (and by we, I mean my husband) by calling three roofers to assess and diagnose our problem and propose a reasonable solution. Without fail, each time, all three professionals would assess the problem differently and suggest completely different solutions. What was even more maddening was the fact that they all seemed equally confident in their assessment and asserted their proposed solution not just with certainty, but with a warning that if we didn’t resolve “the” issue we would soon be facing a much more expensive problem. I remember the feeling of exasperation and helplessness which always led to my standard yearly response. I’d eventually yell, “should we climb up on the roof and try to figure this out ourselves!?! We’re smart people, why can’t we ever figure this out!”
I often times think about this experience when I am sitting with parents and I see that familiar look of exasperation and helplessness multiplied exponentially. A leaky roof is stressful but the high-stakes pale in comparison to those involved in raising a child, and the emotional tolerance required is hard to measure. Nothing could be more complex, and at times the experience ranges from overwhelming to outright terrifying. What I often hear from depleted parents is about how many books they’ve read, how much unsolicited advice they’ve been given, and sometimes, how many professionals they’ve already seen. It is in these moments, that I realize the similarities between therapists and roofers, certainly a parallel I never expected to draw.
All help is well meaning and usually holds an important piece of truth. When someone sets out to write a parenting book there is typically an important perspective shared, words of experience and wisdom, and some suggested strategies and interventions. These are all wonderful things. The problem is that there are so many perspectives, conflicting strategies, and nuances to wisdom. All of this truly helpful information can leave you feeling confused, overwhelmed, and not sure who to trust. It is a tiny bit like standing in the middle of the kitchen with a bucket for the third time wondering if anyone knows what they are talking about at all.
So here’s a bit of what I’ve learned over the years about roofs and children. They are all different and way more complicated than we may have once thought. No one size fits all solution ever works and sometimes seemingly contradictory information is just different pieces of a large multifaceted whole. It is my belief that we do best, when we work to openly balance and integrate all of these perspectives which involves filtering out the parts that you feel don’t apply to your individual situation. This means that one of the most important balancing acts involves an integration of your own intuition and the guidance of professionals. Both are important and both inherently contain a certain type of wisdom and expertise.
So if you find yourself standing in the kitchen with a bucket or agonizing about what approach might shape your child’s struggle in a positive direction, gather a wide range of information, filter, ask for help and guidance, and trust in your own intuition. When in doubt, find an educated experienced person whose willing to stand on the roof with you and discuss broad solutions while hearing your concerns.
Lauren Ehrenreich MSSA, LISW-S
Clinical Director of Psychotherapy Services