Blog - My reply to relationship question from Myreplyis.com

(I was asked the following question by a website called Myreplyis.com which asks professionals around the world to answer questions within their field.  Here is the link: Relationship with daughter question. )

Question:  WHY IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A FATHER AND A DAUGHTER A CHALLENGE FOR ALL?

What a question, it implies a lot.


Yes, of course a relationship between a father and a daughter can be difficult. Excruciatingly difficult! But any familial relationship can be challenging. I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) living in Denmark, I’ve never had kids, but I have a step-daughter and step-son via my Danish wife, so yes, I’ve seen and experienced how challenging these relationships can be for everyone. I have also seen this in abundance with counseling clients I have seen.

I would like to mention though that there is one unexpected factor which has a big impact in family relations, that I’ve noticed is universal from having lived in many other countries - the shocking realization that most kids do not realize that their parents are actually human beings! This is even the case when the “kids” grow up and then later start having their own children.


But then there is also the flip side of this, as what the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran referred to in his book “The Prophet” - that many adults don’t realize that they don’t own their kids, that they come through them and are gifts from existence, Nature, God.


So it’s easy to see why familial miscommunications are so common.


Understanding these dynamics can help a parent see things from a different perspective. A parent may say to oneself - “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I’ve tried so hard to help my kids, but they’re actually more like mules. It’s been a ‘Sisyphean Task’ almost the whole way. Of course I’ll keep trying, even though it can be exhausting, but is there something positive to this, some lesson for me to learn from all this? A silver lining around a dark cloud?” The answer is: YES, there’s a huge lesson to learn from these trials.


(Note: This expression of a “Sisyphean Task” comes from Greek mythology about the character Sisyphus, whose punishment for his wrongdoing was to push a boulder up a hill and then watch it roll back down, again and again, for eternity.)


My professional training is in the western mental health model, but I also have the benefit of being a meditation and yoga teacher, which I learned in India over 18 years ago and have practiced quite consistently and deeply since then. The approach in these ancient practices is holistic and organic. In yoga it is said that whatever postures you don’t like, that those are the postures you need to focus on and from which you will benefit the most. With a consistent practice you can eventually become relaxed in even the most pretzel-like postures.


So, in other words, the challenges you may be experiencing with your daughter/son/parent/family-member may actually be very beneficial for you if you change your attitude toward them and become less knee-jerk reactive towards them. This challenging family member may be your teacher in disguise. I know this may be hard to stomach for some parents, but remember that it is far easier to see the faults in others than to see our own faults, so this person you are struggling with can most definitely be a mirror for you, very clearly showing you your faults that are probably affecting other aspects of your life. Of course there can be some high risk situations where decisive action needs to be taken, but that’s a more extreme situation.


So, how to apply this to real life? Two words – Reactivity Desensitization. By becoming aware of how easily this other person throws you off balance, you realize they have a lot of power over you. But the good thing is that once you realize this you can do something about it. By developing the ability to become less and less reactive with this difficult family member, your relationship can improve because at least you are not the one adding fuel to the fire, and you also notice the added benefit that this that this calmness spreads to other stressful and negative situations outside of the family setting. This can be a new beginning, and not just in the relationship with your child.


There is a famous story in the Zen tradition about a samurai who went to see a Zen master named Hakuin. The samurai, who after experiencing so much in his life had become interested in the deeper issues of existence, asked Hakuin if heaven and hell really exist, and if so, where are their gates. Hakuin asked the samurai who he was, to which the samurai proudly responded that he was a leader of samurais and that even the emperor greatly respected him. Hakuin laughed loudly and said “You are a samurai???? You look more like a beggar to me!” Suddenly the samurai’s face started to turn red, his pride had been hurt, he forgot why he had come to this Zen master, and he put his hand on his sword to pull it out to cut off Hakuin’s head. Hakuin laughed and said “That is hell’s gate!” In an instant the samurai got it. He then started to put his sword back in its scabbard, to which Hakuin said “And that is heaven’s gate!”


Does this sound interesting? Can you see how this would improve all your relationships, especially the one with yourself? If so, then the way to start is with baby steps, or to jump into the deep end, towards the practice of any type of meditation that appeals to your temperament, or to do yoga with a meditative aspect to it. I’ve got a whole bunch of free guided meditations of various lengths and difficulty at this link: http://marcelloreal.com/podcasts


It has helped me greatly, and keeping it simple and being consistent with it can help you as well. It’s all about becoming more conscious and less reactive as all the great ancient mystics have said in one way or another. You will find that gradually over time, it will be as if you are covered in a slippery material that prevents negative things from sticking to you, helping you stay balanced in all situations, even in your relationship with your daughter, or son, or mother, father, etc.


Please feel free to ask me any questions about this response or these techniques, there is no such thing as a “dumb” question in such matters.

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