Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“love” of unhappiness

I’m enjoying a synopsis of good parenting by a couple of child development specialists, and my experience tells me that they’re very enlightened. Let me share a little from a Webpage by them (linked at the bottom here) that I find especially important, before focusing briefly on my subject title, inspired by their page.

Infants bring into the world the feeling that “they are causing their parents, whom they adore more than life itself, to pay loving attention to their developmental needs.”
Infants are absolutely certain that whatever happens to them is for the best, because their beloved parents have caused or intended whatever happens. Your brand-new baby believes both that he is engaging your love, and also that the care he receives is ideal. When these inborn convictions are confirmed day after day, your child grows up to possess a lasting inner happiness.
Attention breeds independence. Lots of loving attention will make your child independent, not dependent or “spoiled.” A wholly child-centered approach to parenting with “loving regulation” (no “tough love”) that facilitates their confidence in their own power to cause being loved and in their own potential to gain competence
can provide your child with a reliable, enduring core happiness that is unwavering even in the face of life's unavoidable disappointments and misfortunes. Your child's inner well-being rests on her certain knowledge that she has caused you to love caring for her. Of all the gifts you can give your child, this is the most important, because it is the foundation of all happiness and goodness and the shield against self-caused unhappiness.
The authors indicate that, since a child wholly seeks a parent’s attention, the child will seek whatever the parent has to give. Obvious. But here’s the rub: If the parent is unhappy, the child will want the parent’s unhappiness. The child will grow up seeking unhappiness because that’s what love is. Also, if gaining attention means getting the attention of unhappiness, then becoming unhappy is the way to be loved. But if the parent is unhappy, then they aren’t going to respond sufficiently to the child’s unhappiness, which the child cultivates in order to be loved. Getting insufficient response to one’s own unhappiness by the unhappy parent increases the child’s unhappiness, all the more securing unhappiness as who one is as truly one’s parent’s child, like a bond of unhappiness. “We” belong together in our mirrorplay of unhappiness.

Surely, though, no one seeks unhappiness! But clearly, a child idealizes the parent, so a parent’s unhappiness would be idealized.
As we have said, all babies meet their parents as optimists with regard to relationships. Each infant believes that his parents are perfect caregivers who are perfectly devoted to him. He has an inborn conviction that everything that happens to him is for the best because it is intended and approved by his parents. As a result, we believe, when for some reason parents are consistently unable to satisfy a child's developmental needs [e.g., the career-stressed mother], the infant reacts by believing that his unhappy or alienated feelings are intended and approved of by his parents. Out of love for their parents, and in an attempt to care for themselves exactly as their beloved parents care for them, such children unknowingly develop the desire to cause themselves exactly the same discomfort they believe their parents want for them. These children believe that they are seeking happiness when they strive to recreate the feelings they experienced in their parents' presence.
If this is unhappy, thus maladaptive for motivation in school, etc., then more and more through childhood, there is a lack of inner motivation. Needing to succeed and be admired has to come from desire formed from external rewards, and inner unhappiness has to be suppressed through willful attention away from that by desperate desire for things unrelated to inner happiness. “Happy” desire for others and for things becomes a way to preserve suppression of inner unhappiness and get a life of one’s own.

When faced with situations calling for an inner fullness of feeling, such as empathy, feeling has to be strictly bounded and controlled, if not withheld, because a depth of feeling gives way to inner unhappiness. Another’s great loss has to be regarded casually, because the loss to the child, in reconciling to inner unhappiness as essential to their being, is unfathomable and must remain displaced.

A boy’s love for an unhappy mother or girl’s for an unhappy father becomes, in adolescent love and adulthood, a sense of caring for unhappiness. For example, a high-achieving mother might be married to a man made unhappy by his wife’s success. But he is more available to his daughter than a father usually is, because the mother is less available than a mother usually is. So, the unhappy daughter feels especially bonded to the unhappy father. One can grow to depend on a loved one’s unhappiness in order to “truly” love. One even may “love” the other’s unhappiness.

Yet, one doesn’t want to cause unhappiness, so conflict in feeling becomes natural, and causing unhappiness may seem to be one’s fate, because it’s the firefly’s flame. It’s thus best to avoid close friendships, because they too easily become conflicted. A full social life keeps the reality forgotten. Loving a few others in one’s unhappiness takes all the feeling one can afford. But there’s plenty of energy (especially a lot) for things that can be easily forgotten or discarded. Novelty saves.

I occasionally read about parenting, such as I’m doing today, because I like to periodically test my sense of child development, since I’ve been so occupied with child development for so many years that I’m sometimes wary of my own presumptuousness, especially since I’m beyond actual parenting. I’m happy to feel that I do indeed understand child development and parenting very well. I thought today that a notion of “smart love” might be neat to consider, so I read the long Webpage that I’m quoting from above. In my opinion, it’s an excellent cheat sheet on how to be an excellent parent. The page may seem trite at the beginning, but keep reading. It becomes profoundly useful in its details. Especially useful, I think, is the distinction between primary and secondary happiness.