New Directions for Women would like to thank Jason Ross of Alternatives in Treatment for filming this video interview: “Parenting for Success” with us.
“Hi. My name is Jason Ross, and I just wanted to thank New Directions for Women for inviting me to speak and be at this conference. I work at a treatment center – a treatment center called Alternatives in Treatment in Boca Raton, Florida. When we discussed what I was going to speak about today – they said one area of expertise – and I thought, “What’s more near and dear to my heart than parenting?” because it’s one area that we all focus on as practitioners. Really ironically, particularly for me, is I actually don’t have children, and I consider myself to really know this subject up and down.
I’m the son of not one but two formally trained psychoanalysts. And you can make whatever jokes you might from that fact. But seemingly, at this point in my life, I’m pretty healthy and functioning.
I coauthored a book entitled You Can Say No and Your Child Will Still Love You, which is a parenting book. The ironic part about it is I coauthored it with my own mother, and we didn’t manage to kill each other during the making of the book. What’s interesting is what we wrote almost ten years ago is not only still standing and true, we think it’s stronger than ever. And what we’ve seen is that the rules have changed in parenting. The game is completely changed.
In 1995 I was a school psych intern. I turned to my mother at that time and I said, “You’re never going to be out of work.” I hadn’t the slightest clue of what I was about to find out over the next ten plus years as our world has changed completely. The world’s changed. All the rules have changed. And largely, parenting has become an absolutely and completely lost art. It doesn’t even seem to be happening anymore.
If you go into the malls around the country, you see parents fighting with their children constantly. While we have a disease model that we all know about for addiction, there’s one piece that we don’t discuss enough: the social and emotional components of growing up in a family and family dynamics, and how much that drives how someone reacts when they’re in treatment and afterwards. All practitioners know the toughest part of the job usually is handling the families, not, per se, handling the client.
Right now, as my colleagues are back in South Florida throwing darts at a photo of me because I got to come here, I wanted to talk about a couple of the dynamics that got me to this point. In 1973, my mother went to a lecture known as the “Role of the Father”, and it was done by a man named Dr. Hyman Spotnitz. He’s largely considered the father of modern psychoanalysis. He basically said that the role of the father is to support the mother emotionally.
Now, today obviously more than ever, we have split families, single-parent homes, but someone can always be supporting the primary parent emotionally, no matter who it is, and that’s the piece that we need to know because they need that strength in order to do the following things for the children.
One, to model behaviors. That’s what parents do and can do best, and the less that they do it, the more problems that we’re seeing across the board. Communication, which is the expression of whatever dialogue that needs to happen in a family. And we talk about feelings. We stopped dealing with feelings, and we have become a shutdown nation in terms of feelings.
And what do we do? We self-medicate. It’s not by accident that we’ve had a rise in all the areas between obesity, addiction of all kind, alcoholism. Everybody is self-medicating their feelings at this point. And while the disease model states that we have genetics to concern ourselves with, we know we can’t change our genetics, but we can definitely deal with how we effect a family dynamic, and all practitioners know how difficult that is to do. But if we can start imparting this information out, we can really make a change in terms of how people decide they’re going to handle their families.
We were raised with these principles in mind, and the reality is it has a positive effect. We can’t account for everything, but if parents start taking a different approach, things are going to change. If I ask parents when I meet them in different settings, particularly our family program, I ask them what is your role as a parent in one sentence – can you give me one sentence? One in a hundred people can do it, which is kind of scary.
The first phrase I usually get is, well, I want my child to be happy. At this point, their child is in treatment and happiness is pretty elusive. They might actually have a better chance of getting them to be a NASA scientist first rather than happiness. So we try to get them to focus on that because they’ve lost sight of themselves, and their child suddenly has lost sight of themselves. So it’s kind of problematic that way.
In most families, modeling is not happening. We model behaviors like taking care of ourselves. It could be exercise. It could be taking vitamins, treating people well, being kind to others, those are all forms of modeling behaviors. When we don’t do that for our children, they’re going to pick up our bad habits very quick, especially in this day and age where everything is digital, everything is based on the internet. People don’t communicate the way they used to anymore. BlackBerrys: I’m not better than a lot when it comes to that, but I try to put it away because we don’t express our feelings in between ourselves anymore.
In this world where parents have basically tried to befriend their children, they want to be their best friend, and it’s a dangerous place to be because the role of a parent is to help raise a healthy, independent individual, bottom line. There’s nothing else after that. If you can’t accomplish that goal, there’s no other goal left to be set. But in today’s day and age, it has really changed. Parents are always afraid of angering their child. They’re afraid their child is going to be upset with them. That’s part of the job. It’s kind of like wearing a uniform if you work in a restaurant. You’re expected to do certain things, and that’s going to be part of it.
So we’ve gotten really, really far away from it. And the question is, what are we going to do to get back to it? How are we going to get this back? Because over the years we’ve given our children everything, and they’re more miserable than ever. None of them seem to be happy. More children are using drugs at an early age. There’s an earlier onset. We have a society where many parents are using drugs with their children, and there’s this co-conspirating and condoning of behaviors that years ago we didn’t have.
So the problem’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. So we can’t change the genetics. We can change one thing. Model appropriate behaviors for children to follow. Communication can also be expressing setting limits. We don’t set limits anymore, and we need to. That’s how a lot of us got by. It was the one factor because the reality is if you throw a temper tantrum every time you get angry, you can probably bank that you’re not going to hold any job for too long. This is how life really is.
And the expression of feelings, and that – which is also a form of modeling. If we express our feelings, we teach our children how to express theirs and deal with them. They’re less likely to go abuse themselves, abuse others, self-medicate and hurt themselves in any fashion that we don’t want. Eventually they will end up being happy, content, independent and healthy individuals. I hope that’s a little food for thought for everybody that they can take forward in every dealing on behalf of the family system. Thank you.”