The Ambivalent Parent

Some days I wake up with the same reflective thought…”How did I get here”? “Goodness! I am the parent of two children!” (You think I would be over these moments considering my oldest is nine and my youngest will be five in just a few months). I have to admit these thoughts are often the bi-product of either an episode of parental difficulty, or constant awakening in the middle of the night by my four year old just to tell me…”mom I am no longer tucked in my bed.” So when this happens, I want to shout..”Really… you would still be tucked in if you didn’t get out of your bed just to tell me that.”

So instead, I become the mother who is led back to the same question…”How did I get here?” (Well, I know this is not a serious question because I do know how my children got here…but you know what I mean!)Parenting is difficult, and what I experience is not an unique phenomenon but rather an acknowledgement that parenting is hard work and it often conflicts with their internal needs or sense of self.  According to Dr. Barbara Almond, in her article the Ambivalent Mother, “ambivalence is when there is conflict between the needs of the parent with those of this of the child”. While some parents such as my self get this process just by acknowledging this difficulty, there are many parents who sacrifice the ambivalenceneeds of their children my solely focusing on their needs.

In my individual work with parents, I often facilitate these internal conversations. While some people assumption and quit frankly judgment that selflessness is a natural process, my work provides evidence that it is more of a natural process for people to seek self-preservation.Therefore it is important for parents and even non-parents to understand conflicts that exist between their needs and the needs of their children. This acknowledgment provides the first step for determining how to prioritize the needs of their children without neglecting their sense of self. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy task but rather an opportunity to build their parenting capacity.  to access when they may need added support or even respite. Too often parents internalize these feelings and end up imploding on the inside and exploding on the outside. Denying your self is hard especially when it is challenged with hunger, lack of familial or community support and sleep deprivation. Ambivalence in itself is not a bad thing, however it becomes detrimental when a parent gets stuck


Author: daringtoparent

A true California girl, living in Michigan by way of Philadelphia. I am married and parenting two children.I balance this role with that of a licensed social worker, specializing in trauma-informed parenting, child development and parenting coaching and counseling. I hold a dual Master's in Social Work and in Law and Social Policy from Bryn Mawr College. When I am not doing this I enjoy reading, dancing and being goofy with my hubby and children.

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