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"Nobody appreciates what I do:" overprotection as a family problem.

Over protection as a Family Problem

"We are here because of an argument that Judy and I got into last week." Mr. Lyons, a short, pudgy man in his mid-fifties spoke quickly. "I had just come back from a visit to my son's guidance counselor and my 15-year-old son Rick, and my wife were waiting for me at the door. I knew they were angry the minute I stepped inside.

"Rick was born with some physical problems. It has affected his coordination and he drags his right foot a little. He also slurs his speech sometimes. He has done better in school than our pediatrician predicted when he was little. He is in the lower half of the kids his age. In elementary school the school kept him in his age grade because I insisted. With special tutoring at school and at home, he has kept progressing at a reasonable rate.

"Rick is in his freshman year at the high school. He is in the process of planning what his courses will be next year. He did poorly in the fall, but with tutoring his grades have improved and his teachers were encouraging last time I talked to them.

"Two weeks ago, we got a note from Mr. McCarthy, the guidance counselor, describing the program he was suggesting for Rick in the fall. Rick said that he had discussed the program with Mr. McCarthy and that Mr. McCarthy and he thought he should reduce the level of math that he was taking. I called Mr. McCarthy and went to see him. I told him that Rick has always been reluctant to challenge himself. If he was given a choice of taking harder courses or easier courses, he would take the easier and I thought we shouldn't let him take the easy way out.

"When I got home, Judy really let me have it. She said I should have discussed my visit to Mr. McCarthy with her and Rick before I went. She felt that Rick was now 15, and he was ready to make some of his own decisions. She said that I was never ready to listen, that I was very disappointed in Rick and that I obviously was disappointed in her. And nothing either she or Rick would or could do was very satisfactory.

"This is not exactly the first time this has come up. Judy has hinted at this before. But this is the first time I'd ever heard it that directly

"Then Rick pitched in. He said he was working as hard as he could. No matter how hard he worked, no matter how hard he tried, it never seemed to be enough for me. Then he began to cry. I told them both that I realized how hard Rick was working, but I thought that it was very important to make sure that he had the opportunities that the school had available. That I didn't care what his grades were like as long as he was doing his best. And I thought he was doing his best.

"She said that she was tired of trying to please me. I'd never understood that Judy spent so much time trying to please me. I think it's usually the other way around. I spend a lot of time thinking about what is going on in the family and I try to anticipate problems that come up and take care of things. And I've never felt appreciated. I'm disappointed not so much in what Judy's done for Rick or what Rick has tried to do; I'm disappointed in how little thanks or recognition I get."

"You have just heard an instant replay of something that has gone on for a long time." Judy Lyons spoke very quietly. "Rick and I, and Mary, our oldest daughter, fully appreciate what Tom does. But at some point he does too much. He's so anxious to do what he thinks is right, he doesn't ask any of us what we want. Mary always feels that Tom doesn't trust her. And I tell her it's just his way. I finally decided maybe his way should stop. I know how dedicated he is to his kids. Just the way he's not sure of my appreciation of him, I'm not sure of his appreciation of how hard I work. Mary saw that clearly last year when he was arguing with her about her curriculum. She said to him, `Let me make mistakes on my own.'

"Making mistakes on your own is an important way to learn. I don't think Tom appreciates that. He's so used to solving problems, and to being effective and to thinking ahead, he forgets that not everybody is as good as him. If you do things for people, how are they ever going to learn for themselves? If I say that, he accuses me of not being a faithful wife and not appreciating him and he says to me, `No matter how hard I try, you're disappointed in me.'

"We are different kinds of people. We both felt unloved by our parents. Tom has a difficult, angry father who still criticizes him no matter what he does. His father loves Tom's older brother and does little for Tom. As a result, Tom had to learn to speak up for himself. That's what attracted me to Tom. I could never speak for myself. If I said anything, my mother would say something nasty. I learned to hold my tongue. It made me a good observer. I learned to wait my turn and make my points indirectly.

"I don't think he sometimes appreciates how hard I work at the same things he does. That I'm here all the time and I do a lot of the things. When I come home from a school visit and tell him what they say, it's never good enough. It's always `Why didn't I ask this question?' or `Why didn't I ask that question?' It's not so much that I disagree with what he wants, but somehow doing them together always seems to be distasteful, even if we agree with what we find out. I don't know how we should go at this point, how to change."


The Lyons came in after a disagreement about a change in their son Rick's high school program. With the support of his guidance counselor, Rick wanted to reduce the challenges of the coming year's program so he would have more chances to feel successful. When Mr. Lyons began to question Rick's judgement, both Rick and Mrs. Lyons turned on him. They said that he was disappointed in both of them, and that no matter what either of them did, it would not satisfy him. Mr. Lyons denied that he was disappointed. Rather, he said he felt that all of the work that he had done for Rick and the family was unappreciated and that they were disappointed in him. Essentially, Mr. and Mrs. Lyons both felt unappreciated; they felt that they needed help to understand what had happened to their marriage.

All people have images of what they would like to be and achieve. Throughout life, everyone must accommodate these images to the reality of their abilities, opportunities and actual performance. These images are also shaped by our own experiences in growing up. At times, everyone feels a sense of disappointment children can have their own "failure" intensified if they also feel they are disappointing their parents.

Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Lyons felt they could please their parents. Mr. Lyons believed his father preferred his brother. Mrs. Lyons found her mother critical of her no matter what she did. Each developed a different style of handling the same problem. Mr. Lyons became very assertive because he thought he would be ignored as he had been by a father who was indifferent. Mrs. Lyons decided any demand was too much and was not about to please and not disappoint other people. These styles helped Mr. and Mrs. Lyons complement each other's activities. It also gave them trouble when faced with the difficulties of their son Rick's school problems.

Before the birth of a child, parents have images of what they think this child is likely to become. Ultimately, parents' dreams and aspirations are shaped by a youngster's capabilities and sense of himself. At the same time, parents experience some disappointments in reference to their own expectations of themselves as parents. These common disappointments are usually not important unless they interfere with appreciating a child for who he or she is and providing the needed parental support.

When a child is born with disabilities that are likely to impose limitations in the future, a greater accommodation and giving up of dreams is required of parents. We all feel disappointed when dreams cannot be realized. When Rick was born, the Lyons made great efforts to make sure that every opportunity for growth and development was going to be provided. Mr. and Mrs. Lyons both devoted great time and energy and love to Rick's care. Each approached parenting differently Mr. Lyons, a very active man accustomed to challenging assumptions about what he himself could do, enabled Rick to have opportunities to participate in programs when others were skeptical. Both his wife and his son were appreciative of his activities and his energies. Mrs. Lyons accommodated her husband's style. She was much more reluctant to challenge systems directly. Her style was to work with people to try to understand them and then over time to help them understand her point of view. She considered both her son's as well as her husband's wishes and attitudes before her own.

Mr. Lyons was constantly reminded of his own relationship with his father. Although Mr. Lyons worked hard and was quite successful, he was not as successful as his older brother. At critical points in his development, he experienced his father's feelings of disappointment. As a result, when he was criticized because Mrs. Lyons and Rick felt he was disappointed with them, he felt he was being accused of being like his father.

Mr. and Mrs. Lyons understood the tremendous commitment they both had made to their son as well as their older daughter. They both felt ashamed of the negative feelings they had expressed. However, they had not been able to share them directly with each other. Earlier, they understood that by not tall another about what they were doing, and by not listening to another, they could both wind up feeling unappreciated. In a meeting which included Rick, they were able listen to his own sense of disappointment and help him begin to separate out his disappointment with himself as well as his relationship to his parents.

For the first time, each could tell other family members how much they cared for each other. Mr. Lyons was told that by continuing to "protect" them all the time, they were left uncertain as to their own abilities. They were also told that their personal styles of problem-solving worked for them but were not the best for others. Mrs. Lyons and Rick were encouraged to thank Mr. Lyons for his efforts on their behalf. They agreed to let Rick try to do more things by himself and ask for help if he wanted it. They felt they should meet regularly during the course of the next school year to help them work together.

This case has been selected from private practice and consultation files. The names and circumstances have been changed to preserve confidentiality.
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Title Annotation:caring for a handicapped child
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Health America.
Next Article:A Reader's Guide: For Parents of Children with Mental, Physical, or Emotional Disabilities, 3d. ed.

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