By Michael Arnold

At an exclusive online meeting about parenthood for members of the Business Executive Network, Dr. Astrid Matarrita-Chinchilla (of Saigon Psychology) and Dr. Miguel de Seixas (formerly Head of Psychiatry at Family Medical Practice) spoke about the challenges of being both CEOs and parents.

Nurturing a successful enterprise can feel like being a parent, with business leaders pouring their hearts and souls into their companies, treating them like their own children. They invest countless hours, make tough decisions and strive for the best in the boardroom – but amidst the demanding responsibilities of executive life, many also worry about their effectiveness as actual parents at home. This challenge can be even more pronounced for those with international families in Vietnam, where they’re sometimes having to navigate the complexities of raising kids in an unfamiliar environment whilst pressures from work leave them little space for family time.

Dr. Astrid emphasized the importance of seeing the parent-child relationship as a two-way connection that evolves over time. She acknowledged that limited time and busy schedules can make parenting challenging for executives, with temptations to swing between authoritarianism and being overly permissive. She suggested finding a middle ground that balances respectfulness with acknowledging the needs of both the child and the parent.

“If you can imagine a long-term relationship between two romantic partners, it sounds pretty ridiculous that if you’re not happy with the behavior of your partner you would apply some kind of star chart or punishment,” said Dr. Miguel. “You would focus on the relationship, try to communicate better and try to understand what’s going on from the other person’s perspective.

“It’s important to appreciate that [the child/parent] relationship is quite uneven,” he added. “The child needs the parent much more than the parent needs the child, and that imbalance will keep modifying as the child grows through adolescence and adulthood. In protecting that long-term relationship, there must be a recognition that the child is another person and not an extension of ourselves or a compensation for some kind of lost dreams we once had.”

“Business leadership is very challenging,” observed Dr. Astrid. “At the end of the day, parents can feel as if they have very little left to give to the family. So you want to make sure that you have your child’s needs present – and you’re mindful of that in the same way that you are mindful of your own needs, developing a bond with your child in ways in which both of you ideally want to spend time together and be with each other, and care for each other as the child grows older.”

Participants of the session were encouraged to pose particular questions of their own, with many members sharing experiences of the issues they faced as parents in Vietnam. Many stories touched on the anxiety kids can feel when relocating to a new country, whether that be as newcomers to Vietnam or leaving for higher education after having grown up here.

“It’s a difficult transition, having to establish their own connections with an ocean in between,” noted Dr. Miguel. “It’s important that kids know they can call you and talk about their difficulties. You want them to feel the security of the family as they have their first try at establishing themselves elsewhere, so that they come to the family for guidance and maybe even rescue if they need help. It can be much better for them to seek out their own family than go into other attachments.”

“We always need our parents, it doesn’t matter how old we are,” added Dr. Astrid. “There is no such thing as perfection, and anyone who tries to be perfect will suffer from anxiety. Imperfection is at the core of what makes us human. So it’s important that your children have a bridge to speak to you about what their experience is like, and that hopefully you, as someone older and wiser, can set aside your own anxieties about not having done everything perfectly to help them as they suffer theirs.

“If your child tells you at 21 that she has anxiety, you’re going to feel like you did something wrong. I think that if you can put that aside and understand that there is no such a thing as a perfect parent, you can be there for your child and validate whatever experience she has, being a source of comfort and welcoming her to be part of your life without making it something that reflects on you.” [C]

During the Business Executive Network discussion, Dr. Miguel emphasized the importance of thinking of parenting as a long- term relationship, recognizing the individuality of the child and maintaining a healthy connection over time. He cautioned against treating parenting as a behavior correction exercise, where parents may see unfavorable elements of their own behaviors reflected in those of their children. Instead, he focused on the need to be positive role models rather than lion tamers.

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