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parenting expectations - apples fall far from tree

Can the Apple Fall Far from the Tree?

Or as a client asked me today – “Could the apple fall any farther from the tree??!!”

I guess the short answer is yes – resoundingly. Indeed some apples fall so far from the tree that they might be mistaken for pears, oranges or a well done steak! Sometimes that’s a good thing. I mean, not everyone finds apples palatable right?

parenting expectations - apple fall far from tree

If I hear “The apple never falls far from the tree” once more this week I just might scream. I don’t know about Stateside but over here in Ireland it’s a phrase often said with a knowing, slightly resigned look and always accompanied by a defiant nod of certainty.

Thinking Critically vs Critical Thinking

One of our human foibles is that we love to observe people behaving badly from a distance. Take our love of drama for example – I myself having an addiction to Netflix bordering on the pathological!! But when we observe it in real life we tend to think critically rather than engage in “critical thinking”. We shake our heads and mutter about blaming the parents (even if we are the parents)

“The apple never falls from from the tree”. Hmm…

Isn't he lovely?

Isn’t he lovely?
As our president recently said at a conference on Restorative Justice, “There is no greater friend to ignorance than certainty”. By the way, we love him and not just because he’s a great poet!

Do the Apples REALLY NOT Fall very far?

parenting question - apples fall from tree

We like to believe that apples fall near the tree. In other words, kids turn out like their parents, because it helps us explain the otherwise “difficult-to-explain.” It might mean making assumptions, or worse, casting aspersions by making wildly judgmental pronouncements on our fellow human beings and their offspring.

Here’s what we often forget – the apples in question here have free will. If the apples are over 18 years old, they can make their own choices about whether or not to take root, sprout new leaves or risk rotting. They are not slaves to the genetic makeup of their parent tree.

We are not slaves to our genetics.

Sometimes in my work as a therapist it feels like themes emerge in batches. This week I seem to be in the midst of an ‘apple theme’ of sorts. I know that I needn’t go into detail here because I’m sure every parent reading this will understand when I simply say this: Parents often (and some parents always) feel guilt over their children’s poor behaviour.

Does that resonate with you?

I’m aware of course, that parents, all adults in fact, have a responsibility to teach children about wrong and right, set boundaries, teach respect, teach love, empathy and compassion.

Sometimes, despite best efforts, it doesn’t work. There are reasons for this of course, but they may be hard to identify. There may be a trauma external to you as a parent, unknown even to you. There may be chronic emotional strains of which, despite your best efforts at talking, you are unaware.

There may be physiological or psychological pathology which has thus far gone unnoticed and so untreated. There may also be an organic psychopathology, which remains untreatable. There are so many variables that we cannot hope to control them all.

mom and daughter having coffee

Having hopes for our children is normal

One woman recently mentioned her hopes of her kid growing into someone she would like to have coffee with some day. That’s a GORGEOUS thought. That we raise nice human beings that we like as well as love.

And I am painfully aware that not every parent gets to enjoy coffee with their child. I know of parents who don’t like their child, and feel shame around that. Guilt even. They observe their children behaving badly, hurting others, lying, cheating, stealing… And that’s a terrible thing to experience. It’s healthy to take responsibility for mistakes made when raising children, but it’s also healthy, and crucial,  to know that no parent is perfect.

You cannot be perfect, and you are not your child’s only influence.

kids are different from parents

If you are one of these parents what I want you to know is this: sometimes the apple falls so far from the tree that it is unrecognisable as an apple.

Perhaps a key word here is ‘fall’. The tree didn’t throw it, or place it, or even misshape it. Sometimes things just happen, they fall out of place.

What we do next is what matters. We can throw our hands up and shake our heads and keep muttering guiltily or judgementally (not that there’s a difference really!) about ours and each others’ apples, or we can gather them up, maybe try a replant, and accept that they might grow into something other than what we planned or hoped for.

Your kids will make choices for which you are not responsible. They will probably do things you don’t like. They may fall far from your tree and they may not. If we insist on having them be just like us or do only what we like, we do them a disservice.

Please forgive me if  I’m preaching to the converted!

We do ourselves as well as them a disservice if we assume responsibility for their every choice, especially the bad ones. That’s an angle I feel a lot of parents have trouble with.

I’m talking here about the ‘where did I go wrong?!’ piece. It’s a great and brave question to ask yourself, but be careful with it!

One of our most precious qualities is our individuality. We can celebrate and encourage that in ourselves and our children, or we can stifle it. The latter will be at the peril of our humanity.

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin


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