“Matty, what would you like for dinner honey? I don’t know mommy, I’m kind of ambivalent.”
This is the type of conversation you have with your mother if she is a therapist.
Though she wouldn’t open up her private practice for another dozen years or so, these types of interactions between us were routine. Her clinical social work skills, schooling and psychological seeds were passed onto me as a child, preparing me for constant lessons in the ‘classroom of life’ about how to handle people and to best navigate everyday imbroglios with poise and integrity. Whether it was an issue at her office, in our temple or among my own family, she handled delicate and often highly emotional situations skillfully, keeping in mind everyone’s stake and take in it, while getting her point across in a sweet and caring manner.
These life lessons sometimes were profound but ultimately not known as such until later on in life, when I had time to reflect upon them. For instance, one overcast weekend when I was about seven years old, we bumped into a former coworker of hers at the grocery store, who had just gotten out of jail for drug abuse. After a short and peripheral conversation we went our separate ways. Puzzled, I asked my mom why she took the time to speak with this woman because she was a criminal. My mom then explained to me that while yes she had done not such a good thing, she had paid her debt to society and that drugs are highly addictive and she probably did not grow up in a home and community as loving and supportive as mine. Therefore instead of judgment, I should have empathy for this woman and ultimately that empathy could help her get back on her feet and toward the right path in life.
This notion of empathy is something I carry with me everyday as an adult, now in the working world, whether with personal or professional relationships. I find it helps create a safe space and mutual understanding between myself and the other person/persons, which is both productive and positive. My mom finally opened up her own private practice in 2003; it is really thriving—she is helping others and making a significant difference in their lives. This is not a surprise to me because I know she has made such a difference in mine with her words and wisdom. Her influence has shaped much of how I interact with people on a daily basis.
Growing up with a mother who’s a therapist means you know that people think in terms of black and white, when in reality, the sizeable steps toward progress externally and internally—with yourself, your friends/coworkers, or your spouse/special someone—come in gray. The ability to empathize and see the other side of things is a skill; one that operates in the gray, with the very legitimate realization that no one is perfect, no one situation is better than the other, and no one answer offers the “best” solution. Seeing the bigger picture and all of the colors in it, provides you with perspective. Although, that perspective is often only revealed after a misstep, mistake or failure. Rather than be upset with and admonish me, my mom was always the most concerned with what I learned rather than what I had done. This is because she knew that the most valuable and oftentimes painful life lessons led to a broader and wiser perspective on life and how to live it.
And so perhaps the greatest gift of having a mother who’s also a therapist is this simple notion: never get caught up in the here and now. Try not to exclusively see what’s inside the car you’re driving on the road of life, but to keep in mind where you were, where you are and ultimately where you’re going. With that type of GPS leading your life’s journey, you are hard pressed to make any wrong turns, because a cool head and a calm mind will always help you steer out of the most cumbersome obstacles you may encounter along the way.