Dear Dr. Norquist:
I don’t know if you have any advice in a case like this, but I think a lot of parents have this concern. My son doesn’t apply himself in school, and I’m afraid he will limit his future by his lack of effort to do well in school now. He is entering high school next year, and has the ability to be in several advanced honors classes, but because he doesn’t apply himself, he doesn’t have the grades to get in. This doesn’t seem to bother him. He’d rather have easier classes than have a challenging class that requires more effort from him. This disappoints me. His test scores show that he could do much better then he’s done. I try to encourage him. I voice my concerns, but it all seems to fall on deaf ears. It’s not that he does poorly, it’s just that he gets A’s and B’s, when he could be getting mostly A’s. Should I keep pushing, or just accept the current situation as who he is, and not expect more from him?
Dr. Norquist responds:
As parents, it always behooves us to stop and check out our own motives when our children’s behavior is upsetting to us. Ask yourself how much of your reaction has to do with your own ego – your own needs for him to be a certain way, and how much your reaction has to do with what is best for your child. Usually, our reactions contain some degree of both. As we mature in our parenting abilities, we are more and more able to see and react to our children’s genuine needs, with less distortion created by our own self-interests.
There is a delicate balance we walk as parents, trying to discern at each age level what the proper balance is between guiding our children toward certain behaviors or attitudes, requiring these behaviors, and letting go so that they can learn to navigate their own ship. Each stop along their maturational process requires that we let go of more and more control over their behavior. Innately, children do want to please their parents. I’m sure your son is aware of what you want from him. However, he has to want this for himself.
I think it is important that we hold high, but attainable standards for our children, and then celebrate their successes. Make it clear to him, however, that your love for him is unconditional and is not dependent on his academic performance.
Dear Dr. Norquist:
How are you? I am 28 years old and have been married six years. My husband is 40. Here is my problem: I am truly not happy in this marriage, and have not been for some time. My problem is (and has been since I was a kid) that I always try to make everyone happy – sacrificing myself. I am scared to leave him because it would hurt him. I am also scared to leave because my parents would be devastated. They are very old-fashioned Italians and do not believe in divorce unless, of course, there is violence, which there is none. I met him when I was 18, married him two weeks after my 22nd birthday. My feelings have always been to hide my TRUE feelings always, and I don’t know why. I always feel I need to sacrifice my own happiness to keep peace – to keep everyone else happy. I really would like to know how to go about standing my ground when people (my parents) tell me I am crazy, and to think of myself – to make myself happy – but I also don’t want to be selfish in this. How do I go about doing this? And while I’m at it, how do I get self-esteem? I have none. This has been plaguing me for years and I don’t know how to overcome it. Please help me if you can.
Dr. Norquist responds:
This is a difficult question to answer in a few paragraphs. I’m glad you want to do something to better this situation, because the desire to feel worthy is the inner drive that is necessarily to propel you into making the necessarily changes. It is the fuel that will get you there. The changes you need to make are internal ones – although they will probably eventually lead to external changes. You have bought the belief that others are more important and more powerful than you are. This is just a mental construct – a notion you habitually live your life around. It has no power if you stop giving it power. You give your power to others by seeing them as more important than you are. The truth is, you have been given this life – and what you create with it is up to you. I believe you are responsible to yourself and to God to do the best you can to develop and grow this light you carry, this inner spark of life that is your gift. To grow this light you have to start taking responsibility for your own feelings and needs. In your efforts to please others (a goal that is never successful for long), you have neglected to steer your own ship – or to even recognize that you have your own ship to steer.
Take time to get to know your own ship, your own self, and discover what path you would like to traverse. This entails finding your own center. You have been living life off-balance – leaning way over to please others. This way of living will not bring you love in any permanent way. Start to notice the inner tugging you sense when you are ignoring your own feelings in order to please another. Recognize and listen to these inner stirrings. These feelings and needs are heard in the heart, not the head. Give them voice. Empower yourself by choosing to act in accordance with your inner feelings and needs. In this way, you can start to reclaim your own life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding and treating physical symptoms and health-related concerns. Practitioners of the following techniques are available to answer your questions: psychology, acupuncture, therapeutic and neuromuscular massage, yoga, meditation, spiritual & transpersonal psychology, Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Alexander Technique Ó 2001 Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center