The unscientific invalidity of blaming parents
Gabor Maté

What was true for you was also true for your parents. So we’re talking about multi-generational, transpersonal, and culturally imposed stress and trauma and there’s no individual to blame.

I get a lot of emails and a lot of people, parents who are just so thankful for even giving that perspective. But if they work on their attachment relationship with their child, if they’re attuned to their children, if they pay attention to their children, aware of the child’s needs, the child’s symptoms can abate and their children can undergo tremendous growth. So people are actually open to it.  Some people are not.  Some people are just not ready to look at themselves so they just want the child medicated.  As a parent how would most people rather see their kids, as being genetically flawed and doomed to this condition all their lives or would they rather understand that the child’s brain condition is a response to early stress that the parents unwittingly passed on to their children?  But which can be mitigated and new development can still overcome it or in many ways alleviate it if we provide the right conditions as a parent.  Which message would you rather hear? That there’s something you can do or your kid is genetically doomed, here’s a pill? Which would you rather hear? And actually many people would rather hear the message that yeah, our stress is contributed to this.  We couldn’t help it. We did our best. But now that we understand it we can actually do something differently.  And I find that both teachers of parents are very open to the message when they hear it.  It’s only that they don’t hear it from too many people.  In the ADD world, of all the books out there, mine is the only one that ever goes to the model of brain development and stress.

any parent who has a child with any problems already feels a tremendous responsibility and self-blame. So for some people then to hear that actually you know what, yes, it was your stresses that did play a huge role on the development of your child’s problems is devastating. So they’d rather hear that it’s genetic. So the genetic theory is very comforting for a lot of people because they don’t understand, they don’t hear the part that it wasn’t their fault because they actually did their best. And what they were acting out themselves as parents is the stuff that happened to them as kids. Nor was blaming their parents because what was true for them is also true for their parents. So we’re talking about multi-generational, transpersonal, and culturally imposed stress and trauma and there’s no individual to blame. So, there’s those studies where you can look at the child’s strain situation where at one year of age you submit a child to the presence of a stranger in the absence of the parent and the parent comes back in and whether the child can be sued by the parent or whether the child remains the actual suer, disconnected from the parent, and how the child responds tells us everything about the ability of that parent to have connected with the child emotionally, attuned to the child in the child’s first year of life. And that strange situation, how the child responds at one year to the same situation will predict very often how well they do in school or in life a decade later or decades later. And then, you can do the adult attachment into you that tells us about a parents or adults relationship to the attachment figures in their lives when they were children and you have this amazing correlation where you can do an adult attachment into you and somebody who is not even a parent yet and how they respond on the adult attachment into you will predict how they’re un-conceived child will years later respond in the strange situation at one year of age. Then we can see how in-personal these factors are, non-personal they are. They affect persons but they’re not personal, they’re trans-generational, transpersonal, transmitted patterns. And when you understand that, there’s nobody left to blame.

But again, in a society that always looks to blame people, that when there’s something wrong we’re always looking for somebody to blame, rather than looking at causes we’re looking at who’s the enemy, who’s at fault, which is our approach to foreign policy and everything in this life. Then when you point out the early environment of people, people right away perceive that the parents are being blamed. So I’ve literally had reviewers who supposedly have read my book, where I talk about very deliberately and as articulately as I can generate, about the inappropriateness of blaming parents, about the unscientific invalidity of blaming parents and they will flat out say, he’s blaming parents. That’s all they can perceive because they haven’t dealt with their own shame and responsibilities. They think that I’m pointing a finger at them. They’re just pointing a finger at themselves. And they don’t realize that their attachment to genetic theory is just their way of fending off their self-blame. On the contrary I’m saying to them look, you’re not at fault. You did you best. It’s not your fault. It’s not personal to you. Now that takes a bit of sophistication, In that sense the genetic theories are very simple and therefore they are a relief to a lot of people. They’re a relief and they also leave us at a dead end.