The Power of the Parent


As I watch my children attempt to deal with their own teenage children, it reminds me once again of the strong hold parental influence has on all of us, and how much we need to break free of it when the time is ripe. But it seems that can only be done when we wake up to that unconscious pressure on how we do what we do.

I wrote about my own confrontation with it in the second chapter of TAMING YOUR INNER TYRANT. Its title, Two Adams and an Eve, sums up what I’m trying to formulate here. Our parents are gods when we are little, mythic figures who hold us in thrall. While their faiths and foibles may weigh on us as adults, and we can always fall back on blaming them for whatever went wrong, much more is in play on a deeper level. Every mother carries the archetype of the Great Mother and every father wields divine authority over us. Until we enter into a more conscious relationship with our parents and understand the profound influence of those archetypes, we will confuse the two levels again and again.

 So here comes the new generation, and we are here to accompany them into adulthood as best we can, often foiled in our efforts by the child within us, as well as the disgruntled, unsatisfied ego that never quite got what it wanted. Yet I think it’s important to let our children and grandchildren know that we are not gods, in spite of the terrific power we hold over their lives.


I wish I’d apologized more often to my own kids for my bad temper or some narrow-minded act when they were growing up. But we tend to fall back on parental authority rather than letting our children know we are not perfect parents. And in spite of the fact that though raising children sometimes seems interminable, it all happens so fast! It seems as though our wisdom-to-educate always becomes clearer when the young are already off and running, and not listening to their elders. Nevertheless, they’re still unconsciously deeply in thrall.

So according to psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the best thing parents can do for their children is free themselves from their own gods and ghosts. That way, the younger generation can move on.

And Jungian analyst James Hollis writes that, “Strange as it may seem, we have to invent a “second childhood” as a necessary fiction, even as the hackneyed ‘inner child’ was invented to acknowledge the power of history. What was too large for that child is now the agenda for the adult. The adult has greater ego strength, capacity for reflection and objectivity, and alternative possibilities unavailable to the child. What restrains us is fear, for sure, and the constraints of the imagination. None of us can escape psycho-pathology, the ubiquitous wounds to the soul, and the distortions of our natural paths which result. The invitation is to summon courage to take on the world anew, to relinquish outmoded identities and defenses, and risk a radical re-imagining of the larger possibilities of the world and of self.

“There are lame gods in this world, … and there are wounded gods at the heart of every soul, as Jung tells us. But the mystery of psyche pulsates and permutates—every time we look in the mirror we are different, and the mirror is different, and wheresoever dying is done, birth is born.”


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