Hedvig Montgomery is a clinical psychologist from Norway. She has over 20 years of experience and specializes in family therapy with a grounding in systemic theory.
Hedvig is the author of the book Parental Magic (2018) and has also written articles and columns on the topic.
Her motto, both professionally and privately, is to keep it simple.
Would you please tell us a bit about your background and how you were introduced to the work of Jesper Juul?
I guess this started during my training as a psychologist in Oslo, Norway. I immediately discovered I had an interest in systemic therapy, which is therapy for the whole family. Or at least, the therapist has the whole family in mind when treating an individual. This made sense to me because no client is just an individual person. They are part of a family and other social groups that influence them.
At the time, the theory of behaviourism was a significant aspect of the education of psychologists. I thought parenting was all about disciplining children and teaching them not to misbehave. I had the impression that dealing with children is more about their behaviour and what you teach them than it is about seeing them as real people with valid personal experiences and perspectives.
Then I had my first child in 1993, and I realized everything I had believed about bringing up a child was completely wrong. When they put him on my chest, my child looked at me and I looked back at him. And it was just, wow! He is a person!
So I started searching for a better understanding of children. That brought me to Jesper Juul’s book, Your Competent Child. That book really resonated with me — with that experience of meeting my son for the first time. It resonated with how I was thinking about seeing and raising my children. It was just right somehow.
How did you go from discovering Jesper’s book to working with Familylab?
Jesper Juul dares to say things that no one else in our field says, while also presenting a moral perspective that points to the responsibility of adults. Traditionally, adults hold all the cards, including owning morality. They can easily shame children for being wrong or bad, but they don’t accept criticism from children.
Jesper turns this around. He says that adults are responsible for the quality of the relationship and for what children learn from us, simply through the way we relate to them. This is especially true when we perceive a child as a problem. Jesper accurately describes this.
His thoughts are so radically different and straight to the point, a reader can’t help being provoked by them. And that continues to fascinate me to this day.
So I signed up for the Familylab training. Initially I just wanted to meet Jesper Juul and try to figure out how he could be so brave. That really was my motivation! I wasn’t planning to spend so much of my time working with Familylab. But here I am. Clearly, I was hooked!
I really admire Jesper for describing things as they are, for telling the truth, for having a moral perspective, for talking about adult responsibility, and for not hiding behind systems and theories. He really just wants to help.
So that’s why I wanted to be a part of Familylab and make a contribution myself.
In your opinion, is there anything that is central to being a good parent that parents often forget?
Definitely. There are three main things that I think are extremely important for parents to remember.
First of all, raising a child is a longterm project! It’s not something you can do perfectly for the first few years and then call it a day. You’ve got to be there for your child for all 20 years!
If you’re not there for your child all the way, the relationship could fall to pieces by the time your child is an adult. And then you will lose them.
Putting in the time and effort pays off, but it is a lot of time and effort. Bear that in mind!
Parents often focus on solving practical problems in the here and now, forgetting that parenting is not only about those immediate problems. It’s about the child’s emotional, social, and moral development. The first 20 years form the foundation for the rest of their lives.
Another major aspect of being a parent is being aware of your own patterns. All of us have parenting patterns we picked up during our own childhood. How did my parents comfort me? Was I bullied in school? How did the grownups around me handle that? All of these experiences, big and small, cause you react instantly, based on your patterns, to situations with your child.
To avoid this, you have to know something about yourself. To have a good relationship with your child, this knowledge of yourself is important. Otherwise, you will automatically react to situations using the old patterns you learned when you were a child instead of the new and more mature ones you want to establish with your own child.
The third important element of raising a child is actually the child. Having three boys myself, I can assure you that children are all so different. They each have their own set of problems, their own set of challenges, their own sense of humour, their own ways of playing, their own interests, and their own perspectives on small and large issues. Children are not the same.
Thus, a child brings something to their own upbringing as well. And you have to see and relate to the perspective of each of your children to help each child deal with their specific challenges. You can’t treat all children the same. That’s not how it works.
Just thinking through these three points makes you stop and think about how difficult it is to be a parent! It’s not enough to know everything about being a parent, it’s not enough to know everything about yourself, and it’s not enough to know the problems your child has. You have to understand all three; keep them all in mind, all the time. And that’s difficult.
If you could give parents one piece of advice, what would you tell them?
I think that it’s really important to keep conversations alive with your children. This is the most important and the most difficult work we do in our roles as parents.
Being a parent is like being a leader. In a company or organization, if you are only a leader you won’t generate much profit from your employees. That’s not how it works. Being a good leader means being in touch with the people we lead.
Parenting is the same. We have to open the lines of communication with our children so we can find better ways to be leaders.
Remember that the relationship between a parent and a child is a two-way relationship. You’re both giving and you’re both taking. But there is only one person who is truly responsible for that contact and that is the parent. The child is not responsible for his or her own upbringing — the parent is responsible for that.
Your Competent Child is really clear about this. You have to take this leadership role and really remember that you’re the one who is responsible, not the child. When the child is misbehaving, you are the one who is responsible for doing the right thing, not the child.
When you’re talking with your child about something that happened, you’re responsible for giving the child this opportunity to learn from what happened. Children cannot be responsible for that on their own.