Some say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a therapist.
Shhh, I know, people don't always so readily admit they are seeing a "shrink," even though 42 percent of Americans have done so at some point in their lives, says the Barna Research Group.
To my way of thinking, modern life is complicated, and there's no shame in talking it through with somebody who has a Ph.D in doing just that.
Unlike a lot of Americans whose insurance hasn't caught up with the need for good mental-health services, I'm lucky my co-pay is $15 and my annual allotment of visits unlimited, so that three children and 30 years of parenting later, I can say I've had professional help raising my children.
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I'd go so far as to say I owe my children's well-being to these studied purveyors of Freud, Jung and Levine, who I started seeing when I was 26, years before the first dipstick turned pink.
I knew I didn't want to visit on my children the sins my late mother, God rest her soul, unwittingly visited on me, to include most especially a lack of healthy boundaries between mother and child.
Like some women who take vitamins to get their bodies in physical shape pre-pregnancy, I found a psychologist even before I was married, to help me begin untangling the learned responses in a brain that I knew would one day be responsible for other people.
Like some moms who go to the pediatrician to talk about such physical-body specifics as teething, I went to a therapist throughout the child-rearing years to equip myself with better emotional tools, to understand how to tend without smothering; how to discipline without shaming; and that it probably isn't a good idea to spy on your sixth-grade son while he's on the phone with his first girlfriend. Nor is it the end of the world, as it turns out.
I went to my therapist sometimes for "normal" checks (Are they normal? Am I?), when my 11-year-old son started growling at me instead of saying hello; when my middle child suggested I was giving her younger brother preferential treatment because I always brought his forgotten lunch to school; and when the aforementioned youngest would hide under the dinner table with his Harry Potter book to see if anybody would notice he was missing.
Monthly visits, weekly visits, whatever it took, until one day, surprise, the little people in my charge morphed into big people, and we were all still alive.
What's more, by holding on to someone else's hand while I tried and erred and tried again, I learned to trust my own instincts.
Which is the goal, by the way. Benjamin Spock's opening words to his legendary "Baby and Child Care," one of the best-selling books in history, are "Trust yourself." To which I would add "Get a good therapist to teach you how."
Motherhood is not a science, alas. This can be a daunting reality in the early days when you're so tired and overwhelmed and there are ninjas everywhere.
You wish there were absolute rules to this art. But not even the therapist has the definitive answers, only the skills to help you all survive as you make your way through a mix of concepts until somehow the mix begins to congeal into a consistent motherhood style and consistent little beings.
If you're lucky, you graduate. Which is what it felt like last week when I told my therapist I was done. Not complete, not fully formed, as this is a lifelong process. But ready to stand before God and the parenting Oscar committee to publicly thank the people over the years who have been psychologically more astute than I, without whom my grown children likely would be riddled with measurably more guilt, longing and shame than is currently the case.
Bolstered by all I'd learned about such things as how to tell my child I'm sorry when I screw up, which may be the most useful lesson of all, I am ready to seek my own talking points now instead of someone else's.
Like: "There are all kinds of ways to be a good mother. Pick one."
And: "The goal is not perfection. Everybody is scarred. The goal is love and respect."
Like: "It's normal to miss my adult children now that they're grown."
And "It's OK they're my favorite people on Earth. I (and my therapist) did raise them, after all."
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)