Thursday, August 12, 2010

Divorce and Going to the Movies IV


Seeing Eddie Murphy on the screen can’t but leave you with a smile. He’s bigger than life. He generates charisma, and he has a self-knowing warmth that extends from his days on SNL right through until Imagine That, his latest small masterpiece.

This is a movie about an everyday man. He’s that father who’s preoccupied with his job, the man who worked so hard to rise in the company, but he’s also the man who had a wife who couldn’t deal with it anymore so she left him. The problem is that he has a special young daughter named Olivia. She needs him, but Eddie Murphy will soon discover that he needs her more.

In this movie, Eddie Murphy is overly involved in his career. He’s a financial advisor who discovers that his daughter has predictive powers about stocks.

Does this draw him closer? Yes, of course. Is it for right reasons? No. He gets closer to Olivia because he wants to win at the game of money. This movie is a set up for the great drama that working parents have during a divorce. “I’m working for you,” but a child knows that he’s working for himself.

Imagine That deliciously documents how Eddie Murphy negotiates with his daughter, plays with his daughter, and finds the answers to the future. In doing this, Eddie Murphy realizes that the goal he really is searching for is in Olivia’s heart. This is a movie that every father and daughter should see together. I saw Imagine That with my 7 year old daughter to our mutual delight.

Imagine That.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Divorce - Respecting The Intergenerational Boundary

There is a boundary between generations which is called the Intergenerational Boundary. This is a fundamental truism that I operate on when I see a family. Parents need to know what to share with their children and what they should keep to themselves.

Oftentimes after a divorce, or even after a big marital fight you're depressed, sad, or angry. And who's around? Your children - they're soft, pliable, loving, they'll listen and they'll be there, but sometimes they just shouldn't hear what you have to say.

It's very easy to break the boundary and count on your son or daughter. You may count on them as a substitute spouse, friend, or even worse, a therapist.

Another way that this boundary can be broken is if you're so angry at your ex that you want everyone around you, including your children to know what a jerk he has been. Do they need to know this? It may give you pleasure and you may even feel at ease after getting it all off your chest, but to poison a child's thoughts of their father or mother may have major affects down the road. Just because he wasn't the best husband doesn't mean he can't be a good father.

Children need to figure out for themselves what their relationship with their parents is. After 10, 20, or 30 years, they'll get it straight. If you deceive them and put your feelings onto them, not only will they lose out, but they may blame you as well. Hearing words like "how dare you deprive me of this?" is probably not an experience that you want to have.

The Intergenerational Boundary is a line in the sand. Respect it, so by and large your kids will do better, and so will you.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Child Psychiatrist's Philosophy on Medication

Many people come into my office with some uneasy hostility to the process.

Their child is in trouble - she may have ADHD or depression, an eating disorder, or an anger problem. He may be oppositional or have a substance abuse problem; he may have separation anxiety, or struggle with Aspergers. They've been sent to me because somebody told them that this child may need medication. And the road leads through my office.

Truth be told, I would prefer not to medicate anybody. I'm a big believer in psychotherapy, family dynamics and in severe cases, placing the child in a better social environment to help them grow. You want to put as little foreign material in the brain as possible because the mind has its own way of healing.

Yet, I medicate all the time. The parents will come in and they may be upset. “I knew you were going to recommend medicine” (as if they were here for another purpose). “Can't we do it any other way?” The answer to that is usually no – not if they want it to be as effective as possible. Many of these parents have tried alternatives to medication, with unsatisfactory results. The problem here is that the child is really dysfunctional and medication may be the best way to help that dysfunction to the fullest extent.

I review the risks and the potential benefits of various medicines. But there is a risk that is intangible; yet a critical risk that parents need to know. It is the risk of not treating their child with a medicine that can help.

You see, children are a moving target. What you see at age 7 is different than at age 12. If a child has ADHD and hasn’t been treated within those 5 years, it can be extremely damaging. How many times has he been yelled at by his parents, how many times has he caused disruptions in school, how many times has he frustrated just about anyone? This is hard to deal with. These are precious years for the development of self esteem. So I tell parents that medicine may give your child a sense of competence during these years and sometimes it’s no longer needed when they’re older.

I want this child to feel good about growing up, good about school, good about experiences with family and good about his connections to friends. If medicine can help this along the way, so be it. You have to remember that not treating somebody is also a treatment decision, and not giving medicine that can help is a decision to deprive the child of something that can make things a lot better for them.

If you don’t have a good alternative, then you may be giving a child a bad experience for years that he may not be able to overcome. When parents leave my office, they’re sober in their choices and often decide to medicate their child. Years later they are usually grateful for the decision. It’s a heavy decision to use medicine with your child - but it’s a decision that can sometimes lead to a better life.