Tell Me About Your Childhood

jennie-blog-mainAt least once a week, I am asked what it was like to grow up with two clinical psychologists as parents. Usually, I treat this as an invitation to try to be funny:

“Well, it was hard as a teen because I never got to feel ‘misunderstood.’”

Or, “Our family meetings were just like yours, only everyone got to lie down on leather couches.”

Or, “Honestly, it was expensive. Eighteen years, even at a ‘family’ rate… It adds up.”

And so on.

To all those to whom I have offered such glib responses, I apologize. Here’s the truth: I’ve always appreciated my parents’ empathic skill, there were no reclining couches in our home, and though I have no idea what my parents charge per hour, I doubt I could afford it, even as an adult.

My childhood probably wasn’t all that different from yours. Above all, we were encouraged to think about who we were and who we wanted to be, to set goals and be patient with failure, and to be kind to one another.

But, of course, we frequently screwed up. For instance, I often struggled with that THOU SHALT BE KIND mandate as it related to my little brother.

Thus I spent approximately 38% of my childhood in “time out.”

Time out— five minutes, seated on the floor, facing a wall, no talking or face-making allowed—was the sentence handed down when my parents wanted to simultaneously discipline us, encourage us to be introspective, and get us to shut up.

If the offense were relatively minor—talking back, for instance—we would be allowed to carry on with our lives once the time out had concluded, provided that we answered two critical questions in a satisfactory manner: “Have you had time to think about your actions?” and “Are you ready to address those actions?” The latter question was, of course, a cached but unambiguous imperative to apologize.

If, however, the offense were not so minor—say, for instance, intentionally and with great force throwing a soccer ball directly at my little brother’s face—the second question would be slightly but significantly altered: “What do you think a suitable consequence would be for your actions?” (Do not misinterpret this as an opportunity to lighten one’s own sentence; suggesting too minor of a “consequence” was sure to earn a counteroffer that would take the wind out of you.)

Anyway, as you’ll note, a time out was always an invitation to reflect. And, while I am proud to say that I haven’t had a time out in almost two decades, the impulse to reflect has never left me. Perhaps this is owed to the sheer quantity of time I spent staring at a wall during my childhood. Or, maybe that’s my real answer to “What was it like to be raised by psychologists?”.

Through this website, my mother has issued yet another invitation to reflect. In fact, since I’m now reflecting not only on myself as a daughter but also on my parents as parents, I like to think of this site as an invitation to finally “talk back!” I hope you enjoy what I have to say.

To humor in reflection,

Jennie Williams

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