Mum and dad never learned about therapeutic parenting. For them, parenting was a much simpler affair. It was simply a matter of being the parent, like their parents had been for them, only more funky and up-to-date. I have nothing to complain, they have clearly done a great job with me.

My brother doesn’t know much about therapeutic parenting either. The term means absolutely nothing to him, but (to my surprise) he’s familiar with some of the principles. He just thinks of it as a purely theoretical model, one he happily chooses to ignore all of the time.

I see him with his daughters, two lovely girls, and I can’t say I like what I see. I’m not saying he’s doing parenting wrong, the man has 10 years experience on me, I’d never dare. I don’t like what I see because his way of being a dad is the one I would naturally fit into, if it wasn’t for trying to be a therapeutic dad, that is. Having the same role model as the father could have something to do with it.

But I bet my brother feels much better about himself as a father. Stick with therapeutic parenting and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll feel like a failure within a week. I mean, we all know therapeutic parenting is hard, but for all the hard work we put into it, it better darn work.

Practice doesn’t always make perfect

There must be people out there who are really good at it, but I’ve never met one yet, or heard of one. Me? I’m like the kid at school who tries and tries, really applies himself, puts all the work in, but never quite gets there.

I’m so far away from perfection, that I gave up on it from day one. But I keep trying, get a beating (sometimes quite literally), get up and try again. That’s what you get from practising therapeutic parenting: a constant reminder of how easily, how often, and how spectacularly you can mess it up.

An old-fashion parent, on the other hand, is never wrong, or unreasonable, or deranged. Not openly at least. When he occasionally realises he made a mistake, all he has to do to make things right again is to promise himself he’ll do better next time. That’s all, no reason to lose face over it. I’m being kind and assume that is what happens; it’s equally likely for the old-fashion parent to dismiss the whole matter with a can’t-win-them-all kind of attitude, and happily move on with his life.

Not such luck for the therapeutic parent. Oh no, there’s not shying away from your blunders. When we’re wrong, as we often are given the impossibly high standards we set for ourselves, we must immediately admit defeat and openly apologise to our children.

Failing to apologise at the first chance available could in fact trigger an infinite chain of events caused by being wrong for having made a mistake, and being wrong for not having offered an apology, which itself is a mistake. To put things right at that point, you must work out what mistake you originally failed to apologise about, and then apologise for all the other times you didn’t apologise. You end up spending your life apologising to your children, which incidentally is exactly what happens to me all the time.

Feeling good

Then there are days in which you manage to pull it off. I’m not sure why the same felt safety approach may land you a punch in the face one day, and a big hug the next. That’s a mystery, but when that works it feels pretty good, doesn’t it? It’s a little like walking all day in a pair of shoes two sizes too small, just so you can feel glad when you finally yank them off at the end of the day, but sure it feels great.

Sometimes therapeutic parenting does work, but oddly, for my wife and I, never at the same time. When we’re all together as a family at some point one of the two will be about to lose it. That’s when the other steps in and defuses the situation in a perfectly therapeutic manner; and rubs it in for good measure too. All in all, it works, but it must look very strange when observed from our son’s point of view.

I really feel for every single therapeutic parent out there; you are all heroes in my book.

Mind you, having a partner is not always helpful. Having someone pointing out all the mistakes you’ve made in handling a situation, while you’re being outwitted by a 2 years old, is not necessarily what you need. Particularly so if you agree the other is right. That’s infuriating.

After a few fights, we started being “therapeutic” to each other, which is nice. We tell each other off for the way we parent, but not in an aggressive or in a negative way. For example, we avoid saying “don’t ask him open questions”, if that’s what the other just did. We just state it as a fact, as in “you are asking him open questions”, and we expect the other to understand. That works great for us, if only our son was as receptive…

Role models

We are not making our life easy with therapeutic parenting, I only hope it will all be worthwhile at the end. It would be the cruellest of jokes if it turns out it was all made up. That would mean all the energy invested in keeping calm, never raising our voice, and being understanding with our children, would all have been for nothing. If our children grow up to be as bad (with emotions) as we are, what’s the point?

Even more annoyingly, I would have missed the chance to play dad by the old rules, which every other dad seems to enjoy so much.

It might well be that therapeutic parenting is not the answer to our all prayers, but it is the kindest way of being a parent I know about, and that is enough for me. My hope is that our example will serve our children well, and that, when it will be their turn to be the parents, they’ll have us as point of reference.

Maybe to them it won’t seem so strange then, but I’m sure it will be just as hard.

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