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I Can't Believe That You're A Therapist
by Tammie Byram Fowles, LISW, Ph.D

"I can't believe that you're a therapist, you need one!"

I'm going to make a confession here. I'm a trained psychotherapist, have been deemed an expert on parenting after working as a clinical supervisor for a team of very gifted parent educators when my child was a toddler, and yesterday after I was finished raging like a lunatic, my thirteen year old daughter emphatically informed me that I need therapy.

The night that she was born, I held her in my arms -- this tiny little baby girl with incredibly soft skin and perfect eyebrows, and prayed as I never had before or since that I would be the kind of mother that she needed. I vowed that I would patiently answer each and every question that she asked, treat her always with the utmost love and respect, and never, ever yell. By the time she was 12 (okay, so maybe she was younger) I had broken each and every one of those vows.

I've been accused more than once of being too serious and sensitive; charges I have learned to plead no contest to. And unfortunately for her perhaps, there's never been anything in my life that I've taken more seriously or been more sensitive about than mothering her. I wanted to be a perfect mother, I knew I couldn't be, that there's no such thing as a perfect mother, and yet it can still devastate me to be confronted with the evidence of just how imperfect I am. Every time I raise my voice, allow her to disrespect me, am unfair to her, expect too much or not enough, I'm painfully reminded of how I've failed to do what I know intellectually is impossible. Somehow that knowledge is little comfort, because beneath it is a very painful question, "what if I'm not only less than perfect -- I'm less than adequate?"

I promised her my best, and would like to think I've succeeded more often than not in keeping this particular promise, but what became chillingly clear in the heat of one moment on a Tuesday afternoon, is that I have given her my worst too. There is no one that I love more than this child, and yet, there has never been another living soul who has faced my wrath as Kristen has.

This morning she came into my room, gave me a hug, and told me that she'd decided that I didn't need therapy after all. In spite of the fact that she's only a teen, has never taken a psychology course, and doesn't have the foggiest notion of what a mental status exam is, I can't tell you how relieved I was to receive this proclamation. If she thinks I need therapy now, I can just imagine her making her way to her own therapist someday, and telling the stranger sitting before her that I'm the reason that she needs to be there.

We're charged to teach our children, and most of us take this duty very seriously, yet what seldom occurs to us I think, is just how much they teach us, particularly about ourselves. Linda Burton in, What's a Smart Woman Like You Doing at Home? observed, "I do not believe that anyone can teach us more about who we really are than our children. They expose our pretensions and our limits with glaring clarity, because they so relentlessly push us right up against them. And at the same time, our children challenge and expand our strengths by expecting (indeed, demanding) that we are better, stronger, kinder, smarter, more patient than we are." Kristen not only shows me on a regular basis the person that I truly am, but pushes me harder than I've ever been before to become the person that I want to be.

Burton also shares, "When we chose to become mothers, we chose to feel incompetent much of the time. For motherhood is a journey without a roadmap, a work that cannot be measured by normal standards of success. Rather, it is a work based on mutual love and a strong desire to keep trying -where the process of picking yourself up every time you falter is necessary."

For years I was a workaholic, driven by ambition and addicted to the highs of achievement. The transition to full time mothering has not been an easy one for me, there are no measurable standards of success built into this position - no promotions, fancy titles, no raises, not even a gold embossed plaque on my door. And Kristen, the one who is unofficially in charge of doing my performance evaluations, hasn't learned about the value of praise or positive reinforcement. Someone asked me when I resigned from a position that I loved after making the commitment to home school Kristen if I was concerned that my life might lack the challenges that I seemed to require. I don't remember what my response was then, but I know what it would be now. This is my greatest challenge. I've handled it with less grace than I imagined, feel less competent than I ever have before, work on a daily basis with my harshest critic, and have been stretched all too often beyond my limits. I think I'm confronting all the challenges I need or can manage for now. Have I ever wanted to quit? You bet. Still, this isn't a job I plan on being finished with any time soon, and hopefully when my daughter grows up and turns me loose, neither one of us will be require therapy.

�Tammie Byram Fowles, LISW, Ph.D. of SagePlace