08/13/2007 02:30 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dr. Mona Answers : When Parents Reparent

Thank You... All of your comments were thought provoking. In some cases, strong personas emerged from the computer screen and I was thrilled to meet them and to hear how each person uniquely interpreted the question or idea that was presented. In some cases, I wanted to cheer on an individual's triumph or how they worked through their own conflict and distress. In some cases, specific questions were asked and I will in the future answer them individually. And in some cases, I made notes for future blogs because something that was said stirred in me a new topic that can be presented for all to discuss.

So I thank you immensely for such stimulating responses and together we will work through the mechanics of how to make this all work.

I'd like to respond to a comment that caught my eye:

Hi Dr. Mona,

I tend to measure MY happiness on my childrens' happiness. Perhaps this is because throughout my childhood, "ain't NOBODY happy if MOM ain't happy" was the modus operandi. We ALL walked on egg shells around my Bipolar Disordered mother, who bent over backwards to make our (mine, my siblings', and my dad's) lives as MISERABLE as her own.

As a result, both my brothers couldn't stomach "marriage". My youngest brother took the plunge in his early 20's, and shortly thereafter BAILED OUT. He came close several times since, but admitted to my sister & I that he FEARED "serving a life sentence" like my dad, with a woman like my mom. And THAT'S a tragedy in itself, since he would have made a GREAT DAD! My boys, and my sister's kids, JUST ADORE their "Uncle Ben".

My sister & I fell in love, had children, and went the other extreme. We vowed NEVER to give our husbands a reason to utter "You're just like your mother". We vowed to make our childrens' & husband's lives as SOOTHING as humanly possible. We BOTH worry INCESSANTLY and IRRATIONALLY about our kids (my sister's boy & girl, and my three sons).

My two oldest are on their own now, and my youngest is at college. EVERYTIME the phone rings, I quickly, silently repeat "please no bad news, please no bad news, please no bad news", before I answer the call. By "bad news" I mean ANYTHING that would cause them STRESS, and/or make them UNHAPPY. ALL I WANT IN LIFE, IS FOR MY CHILDREN TO BE HAPPY. AND I WOULD GIVE UP ANYTHING, INCLUDING MY LIFE, TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN FOR THEM!!!

My oldest son just called me, from one of those little 50-seater planes, bound for a day-long business trip. So I'm FREAKING OUT right now. He instantly realized his BIG MISTAKE of calling me BEFORE his safe landing. What I don't know won't hurt me, until I know it!

Stay safe, healthy and happy,
Love, Mom

In my interpretation of it, others may see something that resonates for themselves.

Lorettasingbiel defines her happiness as based almost entirely on the happiness of her children. Boy do I remember that!!!! I used to say that my happiness could only be as great as that of the least happy child. My mood was based on their ups and downs -- for instance, a call from college to report a painful event. The next morning, after you haven't slept all night, you call to find out how he or she is doing, but they don't even remember their distress. My theory is that by telling you, they are free to move happily on -- while you hold on to the pain for them. Just another example of the dependence of your happiness on your child's mood.

Loretta goes on to describe her interpretation of her balance for happiness. Because of a narcissistic borderline mother, she and her siblings walked on eggshells. Consequently, she did not want to be like her mother and she used HER sense of her mother's parenting to construct her own form of parenting that's exactly the opposite -- unselfish, consistent, stable and loving.

Let me present another way to look at this. When we have insufficient or unhappy parenting, we may instinctively help soothe ourselves by rewriting our dismal history. We parent our children in ways that we would have liked to have been parented and in so doing we reparent ourselves. Think about it. Your children are not just other people. They are extensions of yourself. The sense of identification with them so strong that all the cliches are true: they are you and you are them. Do right by them and you have done right by yourself.

If by loving your children, Loretta, you have been able to reparent yourself in a loving, stable way, it can release you to separate fully from your own unhappy childhood and to effectively continue your adult path happily. Enjoy! And congratulations!!!!