Parent-child relationships tend to be flash points for conflict in families that often span several generations. Frequently, the precipitating circumstances that originated these conflicts are long forgotten by all of the participants, but the 'bad blood' remains.
To be sure, many of these disagreements are the result of real and tangible actions on the part of the parties involved in the conflict, but just as frequently they are a function of neuropsychological dynamics which we will attempt, in brief, to discuss here.
Based on research with 150 families over a period of fifteen years of follow up, the first and most well established rule of parent-child relationships is that the child who is most neuropsychologically similar to a given parent is the one with whom that parent will have repeated conflicts. This rule holds true until that child reaches the age of 30 years (the age at which the brain is fully mature) at which time that same conflict laden relationship may well transform itself into one of friendship between parent and child.
Before addressing the dynamics of this odd set of interpersonal transformations, one other research based factor requires a moment's consideration. The study of a large number of three generation families strongly suggests an interesting correlation between the neuropsychological configurations (measurements of the comparative strengths of the right and left frontal lobes, in front of the ears, and the the right and left hemispheres, behind the ears) and familial similarities that seem to 'skip generations.'
The core of these findings resides in the following:
1) One granddaughter in the family will have a neuropsychological configuration that is very similar to, or an exact duplicate of her maternal grandfather.
2) One grandson in the family will have a neuropsychological configuration that is very similar to, or an exact duplicate of his paternal grandmother.
We now have two research verified findings that can provide insight into the origins of longstanding conflicts in familial interpersonal dynamics. However, more concrete and experiential notes are required in order to make these findings understandable. I shall discuss these issues in the form of questions.
1. As a parent, why should I have a conflict with my son or daughter because he/she perceives the world, thinks and feels about it in the same way I do?
The answer to this question is deceptively simple. Conflicts with those whose neuropsychological configurations are similar to, or exact duplicates of our own are especially troublesome when they represent our own flesh and blood. In our children, we are more likely see our own failings, especially if we deny their presence in ourselves, as these shortcomings are clearly illustrated in the actions and attitudes of our offspring on a daily basis. If we have not been able to 'forgive' these failings in ourselves, we cannot offer absolution to our children. The worst case scenario is that we end up punishing those 'disowned' parts of ourselves in the next generation.
2. What happens when my child turns 30?
First and foremost, my offspring have at the age of thirty years a 'fully functional brain' to work with, and as a parent I am now thirty years older, hopefully 'wiser' and more willing to accept my own deficiencies. In addition, when my neuropsychological duplicate son or daughter comes into his or her full faculties, they are better able to see both their own strengths and liabilities, and perhaps willing to accept what they see in the mirror of their parent's attitudes and behavior as a joint heritage. As a result of these changes in both parent and child, the two may well become the best of friends as previously they were the worst of adversaries.
3. Why do my kids 'get on' with some of their grandparents better than with me?
Most parents recognize that their children often 'get on' better with grandparents than with their mothers and fathers. Some of the reasons for this difference are self-evident and include: 'They just visit here, you don't have to live with them!', 'They're better behaved here than at home.', "You don't have to set limits and do discipline.', 'You spoil them, that's why they're so nice here.'
All of these explanations have merit and yet, every parent has seen such a radical transformation in a child's behavior when in the presence of one or the other grandparent as to defy all reason. I think of this as the 30+30 transformation, that is, the grandparent is likely about 30 years older than the parent and roughly 60 or less years older than their grandchild. This beneficial interaction effect is most likely to be evident when a granddaughter interacts with a maternal grandfather and a grandson relates to a paternal grandmother.
Although the grandparent-grandchild effect is sometimes difficult to describe, the outcome of the relationship remains the same. With some granddaughters, maternal grandfathers will have a more convivial relationship, like old friends, than the child experiences with her parents and the same is true with some grandsons and paternal grandmothers.
The outcome of this 'friendship across generations' is the probable result of two factors. First, these two individuals (grandparent and grandchild) have similar if not exact neuropsychological configurations, which under the best of circumstances, would make them 'friends' as adults (after the age of 30 years). Second, the discrepancy in generations suggests that the grandparent has amassed a greater understanding of themselves and a greater tolerance for their own faults and those of others which allows them to 'see their grandchildren as growing into the world' with greater clarity than the child's parents can yet muster. Given these two dynamics, it is almost as if nature guarantees that, at least, one grandchild will relate at a 'deeper level' with a particular grandparent than with either parent. An old African saying suggests that: "It takes a whole village to raise a child." Little of substantive worth can be added to this ancient bit of wisdom as a village consists of a group of interrelated extended families.
Lest we forget those grandchildren left without grandparents to verify their identity in the 'third' generation , let us pause to examine the question of 'surrogate grandparents.'
Similarity in neuropsychological configurations is not confined to 'blood lines.' In this examiner's research over the past 30 years and encompassing individuals and families from almost every continent on the globe, it is clear that the proportion of the many neuropsychological configurations in the general population (sample n = >5000) remains the same regardless of the vanities of race, nationality or religious creed.
Is it than necessary, or indeed even possible to locate a surrogate grandparent for a child without same? The answer is a forthright - yes! Given a brief neuropsychological evaluation of both the child and the prospective grandparent (grandaughter to grandfather, or grandson to grandmother), the match can be made. For all our self-serving imagings as to our individual competence as nuclear family parents, without this tribal continuity of neurological similarity across generations, it is difficult to imagine that the wealth of experiential knowledge, encompassing both personal successes and failures (the most important commodity transferred across generations) can be passed from one generation to the next.
Disappearing into the mists of deep time, we are all parts of a long line of progenitors who have lifted us up and moved us, not always with grace, along the rock strewn path into a future which we know not, to a destiny of which we are not yet aware.