I have a column called “Au Contraire: The Occasional Note by Peter Loffredo,” on the “Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn” blog, run by Louise “Smartmom” Crawford (of Brooklyn Paper fame). I frequently rail on about the epidemic of parental over-involvement that runs rampant among so many enclaves of educated Baby Boomers these days. My over-involvement in this issue stems from my awareness as a therapist of the damage being done to so many children by these otherwise well-intentioned parents. I have said more than once to said parents that they are creating a generation of “cranky narcissists,” and I have, of course, gotten a lot of angry responses back. (I have also dared to suggest that parents should focus a little more on their sex-romance lives, and boy did that really go down like a lead balloon!)
Yet, this is no small matter from which I intend to back away, and here’s why: narcissism, which can be initiated in almost any stage of early childhood, and can be part of any character structure, is an insidious, crippling disorder.
The characteristics of narcissism include: an intense investment in a false self, with extreme efforts to live up to a grandiose, perfect, “special” self-image; an intense desire to be attached to an idealized other, who is objectified, seen as perfect and special and can be merged with in fantasy and used to bolster one’s own unrealistic, idealized self-image (“the special person of a special person”); others are related to as either sources of supply for emotional gratification and self-aggrandizement, or as extensions of the self, not as real, separate beings with their own needs and identities, so there is very little capacity for real empathy with others as a result; a self-righteous sense of entitlement with little ability to tolerate frustration; an intense underlying rejection of the real self, which is seen as weak, vulnerable, inadequate and imperfect and irreversibly flawed; anger, contempt and irritability felt towards others who display what has been rejected in the real self; an extraordinary dependence on external validation by others for one’s sense of worth, with the double-bind that those who do give such support are devalued, while criticism or negative feedback is reacted to with rage and deep feelings of woundedness; and finally, there is a deep abandonment depression underlying all narcissistic disorders.
Narcissistic injury can take an infinite number of specific forms, but essentially it originates when the parents need the child to be something substantially different from what he or she really is, and that includes a parent wanting a child to think of her or him as their “friend.” Children do not naturally think of their parents as friends. In fact, they need not to see their parents that way.
Which brings me back to the OTBKB blog, and the parents of Park Slope, where the latest controversy being bandied back and forth on the blog is over the fact that a bar in town decided to institute a ban on strollers recently. No, I’m not kidding! A bar. As in... a bar! Now, I like to have a drink as much as anybody, and certainly there are times when a few hours with my kids can increase that craving, but I haven’t yet had an impulse to go to a bar with my 6 year-old to knock down a few. I mean, why would I? I AM A GROWN-UP! (And yes, I am also a stay-at-home Dad, ladies, so don’t even try that one!) The local moms here in Stepford, Brooklyn, however, have tried to make this into a “Mommies rights” issue, whining about how they need places to hang out with other moms with strollers somewhere, especially since they were booted out of Barnes and Nobles a short time ago because their kids were wrecking the place and disrupting other patrons, and because recently someone dared to put a sculpture in Prospect Park that takes up about 50 square feet. That’s right – several parents have complained that in all the vastness of Prospect Park, this piece of art for ADULTS to contemplate takes up space where parents and tots might want to have a picnic! So, if bookstores and public parks are fair game for these parents who rely so heavily on the company of their children for self-esteem and value, why not a bar? Why not a fine restaurant? Why not a health club?
Listen, I love children, and children love me. This is not primarily a convenience issue for me. It is first and foremost an issue of mental health. Children are suffering at the hands of these parents who think that their enmeshment with their children is going to make up for the lack of gratification in their adult sex or work lives, or for the slings and arrows of their own childhoods, or for their own generalized anomie.
I’d like to end with this amazing prose by Kahlil Gibran:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that
His arrows may go swift and far Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”