Nurturing a Lifelong Relationship

(October 2, 2019)

Available as an eBook at Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, and other fine eBook retailers.

ISBN 978-1-935830-61-0 (print)
ISBN 978-1-935830-64-1 (ebook)

What happens when a father and a son, who both happen to be renowned psychiatrists (and a YouTube sensation) and who also both happen to be parents and children, discuss parenthood?

Emotionally packed, entertaining, profound and insightful, Of Parents and Children: Tools for Nurturing a Lifelong Relationship gets to the bottom of
• what it takes to be a good and responsible parent
• how to become an independent adult while maintaining a loving relationship with your parents
• and how to preserve this fundamental and lifelong bond as a source of strength and mutual renewal throughout your life.




ISBN 978-1-935830-61-0 (print)
ISBN 978-1-935830-64-1 (ebook)
Publication Date: October 2, 2019

Published by arrangement with UnderCover Literary Agents


JORGE BUCAY, M.D. is a psychiatrist, Gestalt therapist, TV host, storyteller, and bestselling author of more than 20 books on personal development, family, love, relationships, and self-realization, among other topics, which have been translated into over thirty languages. For several years he has also presided of the Human Development for All Project at Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango in Mexico. He lives in Buenos Aires.

DEMIÁN BUCAY, M.D. is a psychiatrist, Gestalt and family therapist. He is a frequent contributor to the magazine Mente Sana and author of several books on personal development, identity, and family relationships – Mirar de Nuevo (Look Again), El Secreto de la flor que volaba (The Secret of the Flower that Flew), and Manual para estar en pareja (Handbook for the Real-Life Couple), among others. He lives in Buenos Aires with his wife and two sons.


“A person can only become a parent if they act, think, and feel like one. Having given birth to a child is thus not sufficient to consider oneself a parent, which is why it’s not sufficient for a child to consider a biological father or mother one either.”

“... we believe that your father and mother are not only those who have fed you, clothed you, protected you, sheltered you, and raised you, but also and above all, those who have decided to do so; those who have said, “This is my son, this is my daughter, and I’m going to take responsibility for them, with everything that implies.” And it’s worth noting here that this undertaking, this deliberate and voluntary act of adoption, is necessary, especially in the case of a biological child.”

“The idea is to stop spreading the lie told by many a parent that a bond with a child is formed instantaneously because they share your genes. If we understand that it’s normal and healthy for the process of accepting a child as our own to take time, we’ll feel a sense of relief that will allow us to form a bond with them in the best way possible.”

“... essentially, we want children so we can channel our need to love through them.”

“... unconditional love is exclusive to parents.”

“We’re not in any way saying that it’s reprehensible or bad or unhealthy for children to be grateful to their parents—on the contrary. But this should be a destination that’s worth reaching for children, one they should arrive at on their own, without pressure, and independently of their parents’ expectations.”

“To form a family, it’s necessary to leave behind the one we were raised in and move to another … The world over, this is called betrayal. And when it comes to a family, it’s no different. The solution isn’t to change the word so it doesn’t sound quite as bad; instead, it’s to get over our fear of the idea of switching sides because sometimes it’s the only healthy thing to do.”

“... only a mother or father could get away with suppressing someone’s will and still be loved by them. If anyone else treated a person this way, they’d flee in fear.”

“We will then be able to comprehend that our parents undoubtedly did the best they could. And this is always the honest truth—for the best and most exemplary parents, as well as for the worst and most horrible ones.”

“I don’t think that being a good person is necessary or fundamental to being a good parent.”

“We openly disagree with the opinion that seems to suggest that children should be angry with their parents because that’s a sign the latter have done a good job. The idea follows from the belief that raising a child consists in breaking their will, something that will obviously lead to resentment. But as we’ve been discussing, a genuine upbringing is far removed from this. It’s like saying, 'My children absolutely despise me, I must be a great father!’”

“Staying out of our children’s life might be less a question of respect than a reflection of neglect, negligence, or fear of what they’ll say.”

OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN — Jorge & Demián Bucay in Conversation

UWSP: “Children are the best and worst thing that can happen to you.” How do you mean this, and why do we want children?

J&D: We believe that the desire to have children arises from the desire to love. At a certain point in life, some of us realize that we have untapped reservoirs of love to give. But why channel this love into having children, why not pour into other kinds of relationship instead? Because the love we have for our children is immeasurable in two interconnected respects: First, it is ‘greater’, more visceral than any other love we can possibly experience or are capable of, and, thus, more than any other love satisfies our desire to love; second, it is absolutely unique in that it is unconditional. No other love (not even the one that goes the other way around, from children to their parents) is unconditional.

Is feeling this kind of love the main reason that having children is such an intense experience?

We get to experience the joy of raising them, the wonder of seeing them grow and blossom. You might say that whatever happens to them happens to us. Their happiness is ours. But so is their suffering, of course. And that’s the worst thing. Moreover, as parents we are also frequently overwhelmed by fear when we think about the possibility of losing our children, when we think about the possibility that something could take away all the joy they embody for us. The responsibility of parenthood is so huge, the experience so intense, it cannot but be the best and the worst thing at the same time.

UWSP: What is the essence of parenthood?

J&D: We are certain that the essence of parenthood lies in a specific decision: The decision to adopt our children. Which means truly ‘owning’ our children, taking them under our wing, accepting the challenge of raising them and being there for them no matter what. Being a parent is much more about what we do than what we are. This is why genetics doesn’t make a father or a mother, nor does a piece of paper, or a shared last name.

UWSP: What are the three essential aspects of parenthood, and how do they differ from each other?

J&D: First, parenthood hinges on the decision to become a parent. This deliberate act, once completed, brooks no turning back. You are a parent for life. Second, being a parent means that you love your child unconditionally. This love is unique to the parent-child relationship and is also for life. And third, parenthood is a task or job involving the hard work of raising one’s children, educating them, and providing for their needs (physical and emotional).

Unlike the first two aspects, the job of being a parent has a beginning and an end. When does it end? When the children become adults. There is a certain paradox in the fact that it is the parents’ job to ensure that their children won’t need them to do this job forever … Children need to be raised so as to be able to eventually abandon their parents.

UWSP: Every child must be adopted. How do you mean this?

J&D: Every child must be adopted, for otherwise it will be just that: a child – rather than a true son or daughter. To become a parent you must make the decision to take on a child as your own, which means you must adopt your child. While this is true for the natural-born, biological as much as for non-biological child, it is especially crucial in the former case ...

Legally adopted children know that at some point in their shared history, their parents made the conscious decision and took concrete action to become their parents, and that, consequently, they are not their parent’s children by accident or chance. Natural-born, biological children, conversely, don’t necessarily have this certainty. They might be ‘there’ just because ‘it happened’, which is why it is even more important for their parents to consciously and fully choose to assume being their parents, in addition to having conceived and given birth to them.

UWSP: The need to love our children has nothing to do with the need to be loved. Is this true?

J&D: Yes, absolutely. In fact, this is true for all human relationships: Loving and being loved are two completely different things. In certain kinds of relationship both are present: Think of a couple, for instance, where each partner loves and is loved by the other in return.

Unlike the couple’s relationship, the parent-child bond is characterized by an essential imbalance or asymmetry between the love given and the love received: Parental love is a necessity and fundamental to the a healthy parent-child relationship as well as to the child’s flourishing, not, however, the other way around.

UWSP: Why is there no “unconditional love” except for the love of parents?

J&D: Because there is no other human bond or relationships in which you experience the other as an extension of yourself.

You love your children simply because they exist. They don’t need to earn your love and there’s nothing they can do that can make you stop loving them … You can get angry at them, you can become frustrated or disappointed with them, but you cannot make yourself stop loving them.

In any other relationship, unconditional love would be toxic because it would mean that you’d probably put up with things you shouldn’t put up with. It’s unhealthy to love a partner if your love is hurtful or damaging to you … Some people take pride in thinking that they love their partner unconditionally because they take it to mean that they love them ‘a lot’. But if you really loved your partner unconditionally, you would soon find yourself in a relationship very similar to that of parent and child … Not surprisingly, many of those who presumably love their partner unconditionally often end up complaining that the latter “is like a baby” and that they “have to take care of things all the time.”

UWSP: Does “unconditional love” mean that you shouldn’t criticize your children and not put any pressure on them to live according to your values and vision?

J&D: No, it does not. Loving unconditionally doesn’t mean that you should just let your children wander through life without guidance. You don’t need to, nor should you, agree with everything they do. You can and should say something when you think it’s called for, and do many other things to try and steer their life in the direction you think is best for them ...

But we don’t like the idea of pressure. We prefer the notion and practice of motivating. I certainly hope that I won’t put pressure on my children to live a certain way. But this has nothing to do with my unconditional love for them. If my children decide to conduct their lives in ways that go against my beliefs, I might criticize them, or, better yet, I might try to show and explain to them why I believe what I believe (rather than just criticizing them). I might (and, at times, probably will) be disappointed, but I’ll still love them. In no way does loving unconditionally mean simply accepting everything our children do. Far from it. But it does mean that no matter how angry or disappointed we might be with them, we will always want their best and, most importantly, will always be there for them.

UWSP: “Even if the parents decide to stop seeing their child, they cannot stop loving it.” Is this true? Do they really still love the child as well as the adult it has become, or do they only love their own memories of the child when it was still part of their lives and loved them the way they expected to be loved?

J&D: We believe that once we’ve adopted our children our bond with as well as our love for our children lasts for as long as we live. We may not like the adults they have become but we still love them. Sometimes there are other forces at play, other feelings besides love, that may compel a parent to distance him or herself from their child; but we believe that parental love will persist, which is why, in such situations, parents will suffer. No parent can be comfortable with the decision to disown or banish a son or a daughter from their life. They might do it, driven by other emotions, of which pride is one of the most frequent, but they will certainly suffer for it.

UWSP: Most parents expect gratitude from their children. Why are you convinced that this kind of attitude puts into question the very things that constitute parenthood?

J&D: Because expecting gratitude is a way of expecting a kind of payment for what you have given them. Which means that you haven’t been truly giving in the first place … you are in a way exchanging, or worse, selling what you provide (goods, advice, presence) for the price of their gratitude. Since it was you who decided and desired to have children in order to love and raise them, how can you possibly ask for something in return from them? They owe you nothing.

Gratitude is a good place for a child to arrive at, and if you do a good job as a parent, your children will surely be thankful to you. But that is very different from expecting or – worse – demanding gratitude.

UWSP: “I don’t want anything to happen to you.” Could this actually be more about us, parents, rather than our children? Could it be that our fears concerning our children often get expressed in our constraining them under the guise of “having their best interest in mind”? How to strike a balance between justified worry and constraint based on misplaced fear?

J&D: Certainly, our fears constrain our children, but not all fears are misplaced. We have to be very vigilant about ourselves as to whether we are acting in their best interest or our own. If we cannot tolerate any suffering our children might experience, then we will undoubtedly constrain them. It’s possibly one the most difficult tasks of parenthood: letting our children suffer to a certain extent, allowing them to bear the consequences of their own choices.

UWSP: Why is it important to expose children to sorrow and defeat rather than trying to protect them from either?

J&D: Because failure is an excellent way to learn. If we endeavor to shelter them from pain or disappointment, save them every time they’re in trouble, we deny them the opportunity to learn important life lessons from the given situation. That doesn’t mean that we should actively facilitate such painful or frustrating ‘learning moments’ for our children even when there’s no need for them, simply to ‘humble’ them, to teach them about defeat and ‘what it takes’ ... There’s no need to double down on what life itself is already more than generous in dispensing. So, it’s not about endeavoring to actively make our children stumble or fail so much as about not shielding from life’s often painful vagaries as a matter of course.

UWSP: What exactly are the different categories of parenthood about?

J&D: As parents we want our children’s best. But what is ‘best’ when it comes to our children? Does it mean affording or enabling them to have a good time, or does it mean pushing them to achieve certain goals by doing things right?

Depending on how you answer this question, you will fall into one of five categories of parents: indifferent parents, authoritarian parents, laissez-faire parents, politically-correct parents, or good parents. If you don’t care one way or another, you’ll find yourself in the worst category: indifferent parents. If, on the other hand, you emphasize doing things right over enjoyment, or vice versa, you’ll move into the authoritarian or laissez-faire camp, respectively. And should you attempt to strike a balance or find a middle ground between the two options, then you will certainly be a politically-correct parent, but we think that you’ll also wind up acting in a way that’s neither here nor there and confusing to your child. What truly good parents do, we believe, is trying to facilitate optimal performance and maximum enjoyment in their children. Good parents make an effort to debunk the notion that success and having a good time are mutually exclusive; they motivate their children to always give their best and have the best time doing it.

UWSP: How is it possible for siblings to be so different even though they’ve had the same parents? Or, put differently: How is it possible that siblings often feel that they haven’t had the same parents?

J&D: Because, in fact, they haven’t had the same parents. Not only do parents treat each sibling differently and expect different things from each of them, but each sibling perceives his or her parents differently as well, which means that parents are not really the same people to each of their children. Moreover, since parents – like all humans – never stop evolving, the ways in which they bond and interact with their children, too, continuously change.

UWSP: Threatening children with disciplinary measures is a form of “terrorism.” How do you mean this? How does the “motivational model” of parenting differ from the “terrorist” approach?

J&D: We call it the “terrorist” approach because it has the same basic structure as terrorism: If you do X, I will do Z to you, and I can do Z to you because I have more power than you ...

The motivational model operates on an entirely different premise: If you do X, most likely Z will happen to you. In this case, Z is one of the natural or possible consequences of X. By helping our children to understand and gauge the possible or probable outcomes of their actions, we encourage and motivate them to act in certain ways – not, however, out of fear of what we will do to them, but with a view to achieving what they want and avoiding what they don’t want. This way, rather than being cowed into obeying, they are being motivated to truly learn and recognize what’s best for them.

UWSP: “We can’t make our children happy.” How do you mean this?

J&D: We can make no one happy, because happiness does not depend on other people or circumstances. Happiness is a state of mind. It comes from within, and we shouldn’t make it depend on outside events. Moreover, there are plenty of things our children may want that we cannot provide them with as their parents, such as love, acceptance and recognition from their peers. We cannot give them everything they want, and so we cannot make them happy.

UWSP: What’s the best way to deal and interact with adult children?

J&D: The best way to interact with adult children is to continue giving them all our love and embodying our parental role, while recognizing that our job as parents, the actual job of parenting has ended. Thus, we can offer them help, but we cannot impose on them to accept it. We need to assume that our children are different from us, that they have different beliefs and ways of life, and we must respect this even if you don’t like it. We should not interfere with their choices and relationships, and accept that they don’t need us the way they used to. Leaving aside the fact that we love and will continue to love them unconditionally for as long as we live, we should treat them very much the same way we would treat any other adult.