Though I have three degrees in psychology and counseling, I seem to lack the one credential parents require when seeking advice from an expert: kids.
Friends and even strangers have always come to me when struggling with a personal quandary. It seems I was born with the gift, and sometimes curse, of listening. Additionally, I’m innately analytical, and I love a challenge. It’s the perfect combination for an aspiring counselor.
So, over a decade ago, I decided to make that my field. Don’t bother doing the math. I was a late bloomer.
I studied child and adolescent psychology, interpersonal relations, substance abuse and addiction, and chose preteens and teenagers as my preferred client population. It was, quite honestly, a clientele that proved to be most challenging and, consequently, avoided by most of my classmates. But again, I love a challenge.
So I set my sights on becoming an adolescent counselor and spent years working with individuals and groups of youth. From preteens, to teenagers, to college students and university athletes, I ran the gamut of development. I co-facilitated process groups, taught life skills and guided personal growth activities.
Together with my supervisor, I served more than 300 students a year via an in-school prevention program, funded by the local university. Working with teachers and parents to give students at risk a chance to achieve their full potential, I became quite the trusted adolescent expert among colleagues.
But with parents? Not necessarily.
Given the astounding number of kids I’ve counseled, along with my accomplishments and degrees, you’d think I’d have the necessary components to impress upon parents struggling with the complications of parenting a teen. Yet parents who come to me in need, seeking help for themselves or their kid, seem less focused on my scholastic achievements and internship experience. They typically only have one question for me:
“Do you have kids?”
Of course, I don’t. Once they realize that fact, anything I have to say from that point forward is whitewashed. Apparently, putting theory into practice with other people’s kids is not satisfactory. The consensus seems to be that without kids of my own, I have no clue what I’m saying, regardless of education or field experience.
Ultimately, this makes me the expert to whom no one will listen.
I guess I understand. I likely wouldn’t trust Cesar Millan’s advice about my dogs if he didn’t have a few of his own. I’d likely even bypass Martha Stewart’s adorable line of pet products if I wasn’t fully aware of her obvious and highly publicized love of dogs. Even though I’m not naive enough to believe she sits and sews each dog toy by hand, I’m comforted by the knowledge that she, as a fellow mother of fur babies, likely cares about quality and safety.
Given the subject matter of this piece, it may seem like a macabre analogy, but even addicts in treatment ignore counselors who aren’t, themselves, in recovery. It isn’t enough that they’ve studied or stayed sober their whole lives. It’s preferred they have firsthand knowledge of the disease and know the lingo because they’ve been there—not because they listened, attentively, in class.
So it may simply be that I should’ve chosen to pursue the field of pet psychology.
Yes. It exists.
But hindsight is 20/20, and I’m all tapped out on the desire and money to chase down another degree. Additionally, at 43, I have no plans to pop out children in an effort to gain notoriety, among parents, in the field. I’ll simply cling to my writing and the use of my degrees as a way to share my knowledge, in the hope that someone who’s reading will realize that though I do not have kids, I was one. I survived that experience, and that says something.