Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Mom, A Shrink, Is Retiring

Good Evening.

There have been a lot of heartfelt and beautiful sentiments expressed here tonight, about my mom and her long career as a clinical psychologist.  So I feel sort of bad – for you all -- that I’m speaking last.  Because I am not going to speak from the heart.  At all.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Connie’s second child.  Or to put it in psychological terms you would understand: the one who dethroned my older brother.

That, of course, was a paraphrasing of Alfred Adler’s theory of individual psychology.  I have absolutely no idea what it means.  However, I feel competent to pretend that I know what it means -- in front of a large audience of people.  That is because I have a healthy and intact ego.  Also, I was raised by a therapist. 

Some people will tell you that being raised by a therapist can lead to psychological deficiencies.  They may cite to you the old adage: that the Tailor’s kid has always holes in his shirt.  Except in the case of a Freudian’s kid, I think the shirt would actually be the kids’ personality structure.  The holes in his shirt would be things things like Projection.  Or Dissociation.   It might even be Repression -- although in that case, the proverbial shirt probably looks more like swiss cheese, has no buttons whatsoever, and an entire sleeve has been ripped off, in a fit of self destructive rage.

But there are some really positive things about being raised by a shrink.  Like, we learned a lot about ourselves.  Or at least, the pathologies we were likely to suffer from.  One thing I really appreciated about being raised by a psychologist was being told exactly what development stage I was going through.  While I was going through it.  

And that was great because really -- what teenager doesn’t like to be told that they’re only making bad choices because they have an immature prefrontal cortex?  Or that you feel embarrassed by your parents – not because they say weird things about your prefrontal cortex – but because you are undergoing a normal process of individuation.

To be serious – for just one moment – my mom is a superb parent and professional.  We know that because everyone else has already said it tonight.  But now that I’m an adult -- and have my own kids -- I can really appreciate my mom’s therapeutic insights even more.  I was especially grateful for her help when our second daughter was potty training.  Because despite my mom’s best efforts, I’m a control freak.  And as you all well know, getting into a power struggle with your four year old, about when and where to go poop, can have severe and lasting consequences.  

My mom’s expertise especially comes in handy when we need her to babysit.  Because she’s very easy to manipulate.  All we have to say is that we’re worried about one of the kids.  And she will throw a dollhouse in the back of her car, grab a bag of handmade, felt-covered wooden figurines, and toss in a miniature potty chair.  Just in case anyone wants to get down on the floor and do a little role play.

Given what a true therapist she is to her core, I know that my mom will do fine out in the real world.  The only concern I really have is that she know – while she’s going through it-- that retirement might turn out to be a big transition for her.   That is why I have put together a short list of developmental insights of my own – to help you, mom -- so that you can be prepared for what you might face. And again, everyone, please keep in mind -- as I run through this list -- that I know absolutely nothing about actual psychology.

First, mom, retiring can involve fears of the unknown.  To some people, it can feel very scary.  Like they are falling off a cliff.   Mom, it’s going to be important in the next few years that you practice object permanence.  Even when you’re sitting in your bathrobe at 11 am -- cutting out clippings from the New York Times, or making biscotti along with a cooking show --  try to remember that people – real people -- are out there for you.  Also, if you have any problems with reaction formation, now would be a good time to let us know.  Because going out and actually falling off a cliff -- just to dispel or counter your fears – is probably not going to be a good choice. 

Second, mom, retiring can give some people anxiety.   And sometimes, even depression.  That is obviously different for everyone. But as you know, anxiety and depression are just anger turned inwards.  So mom, if you’re feeling anxiety, try to figure out what’s actually making you angry.  Most of the time, it will probably be dad.  So dad, you need to get ready for that too.

Third, retirees can sometimes feel adrift without a lot of structure.  Another way to say that is, after a lifetime of working, they can have trouble self-regulating.  Mom, I don’t have a lot of original advice here.  Except to say that Carrie and I are here for you -- ready for you to come over and do some “play therapy.”  Also, remember that you have a completely mature prefrontal cortex.  Use it. 

And fourth, people who retire sometimes forget to take advantage of the freedom they finally have -- to pursue their other dreams. Mom, I know you’ll have a lot of fun and exciting things to do once you settle into your new phase in life. 

But just remember something you never failed to tell us: Life is about balancing intimacy and autonomy.  You don’t need these people anymore.  They were just here to raise you.  Until you were ready to fire them.  Now, you are about to go through a normal process of separation.  And my advice to you, based on my own experience as a teenager, is this:  If you ever find any of them embarrassing, don't bother telling them.  Just tell them to duck down in the car, when your other friends are walking by, and pretend they aren't even there.

Thank you, and good night.

1 comment:

Alyssa said...

Probably one of my favorites Erin. What a fantastic tribute that I'm sure was very well received. Congrats to your mom!