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Scapegoats and the identified client

The journey of moving from a parenting paradigm based on fear to one based on relationship and love leads to much soul searching and thoughtful introspection.  For many of us, the hardest part is the “looking in the mirror” part that is required.  It was a heck of a lot more comfortable back in the day when I could look at my child and his behavior as totally his responsibility.  Shifting to a perspective that looks at my own stuff and issues and how I am involved in the fray is challenging.

A good number of us want to believe that for the most part, we are in the right and that others are in the wrong.  Our way is best and we have it all worked out and justified.  It is so much easier to look at all of life from our own perspective.  Self reflection and questioning are tough.  Sure, we will make the occasional apology to our child when our behavior crosses into obvious hurtful and out of line behavior.  But to truly examine ourselves to see what role we have in our family dynamic and the difficult interactions with those we live with takes some guts.  It is a slow process and can’t be done all on one day – in fact, if we go down this path, it is a lifelong journey.

One temptation when there is a child in our midst who displays extreme behaviors is to make that child the scapegoat.  The origin of the word scapegoat comes from the Hebrew word azazel.  Around the Jewish Day of Atonement, this goat was sent out into the wilderness bearing the sins of God’s people.  A dictionary definition for scapegoat is “a person made to bear the blame for others”.

The reality is that in a family, we are all intimately tangled up together.  The way that we respond to and approach the world affects our children, their felt safety and the way that they respond and behave in the world.  If we adhere to an a+b=c formulaic parenting method and one of our kids isn’t jiving with this formula, we often want to cast the blame onto them.  How can we ask a child to own responsibility for their own behavior if we aren’t willing to do so ourselves?  We are the adults – the burden is on us.

I’ve heard several mental health professionals refer to the “identified client” – code word for “the kid whose behavior is wreaking havoc in the family and got them in my door”.  This kid might be identified, but we parents in the mix need to take a long hard look at ourselves and figure out how we need to change and flex in order to lead our families down a healing path.  We may not be identified, but we are nonetheless a part of a system in need of change.  Some of us need to get ourselves into a therapeutic relationship where we are indeed the identified client.  The quicker we are willing to admit our own need for help and embrace the process of change, the better for the whole.

Caution:  If we choose to walk this path of self examination and owning our own family dynamic role, a tempting place to sink into is one of guilt, defeat and a feeling of helplessness.  The good news is that God puts us together in families for incredibly redemptive purposes.  It is never too late to work on relationship.  If we will begin to loosen up, look closer at our selves and work to change where needed, it can lead to healing words and actions with our children.  Each family member, those identified and those not, has more space to “own our part”.  We can begin to accept the grace that comes as we travel this parenting road, the need for a scapegoat will disappear and new life can flourish.