Peggy Drexler, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College, author of two books about modern families. Contributor to WSJ, Time, Forbes, CNN, HuffPo, Psychology Today, and the Daily Beast.
A life-long interest in how children are affected and shaped by their relationships with the men and women in their families: what did you find in this long journey?
Through my many years of work I’ve explored how early associations with family members—moms, dads, but other important figures as well—impact how people grow to live, work, and love; how content they become as adults and how they find that contentment. I’ve learned a lot, along the way, about the role my parents played in my own development, and applied much of what I learned through my research to my own life as I became a parent myself. I know first hand how easy it can be to compare yourself as a parent to everyone else, and your children to everyone else’s. I know how hard it can be to trust your gut, and yet how very essential.
For a long time it is argued that the family is in a transition phase.
Do you believe that this transition will never have an end, or the concept of family is destined to remain fluid and magmatic?
I do think that the concept of family will necessarily change with the time. Right now, men are spending more time parenting than any generation before them. More mothers work outside the home. It seems that parental equality, in which each parent contributes equally to the domestic and familial duties—which is what we’re heading towards; we’re not quite there yet—is the most ideal arrangement but it’s impossible to know exactly what families will need in the future or what the next “modern family” will look like. In recent years, there has been a huge shift in women’s and men’s social roles and the elasticity of gender roles and innovative ways to have children and create families and I imagine that will continue, and continue to impact parenting. Parenting evolves just as all other aspects of society and humanity evolve.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been a remarkable revolution in the theory and practice of psychology. Why, in your opinion, in the common way of thinking, the Freudian ideas are still so prevalent?
Freud's ideas about examining the impact the unconscious mind has on our emotions and actions, and of connecting the past to the present, are still relevant. Many people can find tools they need to approach their life after they’ve thoroughly examined their personal history. This is relevant in clinical research work I do when I look at how a person’s childhood impacted how they live their life, how they view things and people, as adults. Much of how people behave is driven by the unconscious—and that’s something Freud talked about—but these days we do tend to focus on how to manage the behavior.
You speak of psychology in an understandable way, through some of the most important media in the world.
What it is more important, for you, to communicate to people?
I like to write about issues that impact modern parents in a relatable way, by sharing stories of other parents who have faced some of the same issues they’re facing, offering some explanation of why an issue happens or why it matters, and laying out some useful points of advice. I like to emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting—and so my advice won’t work for every single situation—but that the most important thing about parenting is empathy for your child, learning to trust your instincts and know your children on an individual level.
Arianna Huffington wrote about your latest book: "Our Fathers, Ourselves will give you a whole new understanding of the man you call Dad - or the man your children call Dad.” Many people in America have read and loved this book, what did you want to send through it?
I set out to write Our Fathers, Ourselves” after finding very little research on the subject of daughters and fathers. I found that despite the evolution of women’s and men’s social roles, the father-daughter bond—whether strong and nurturing or broken or nonexistent—still holds an enormous sway over women, no matter their age. No matter how much their fathers may have disappointed or even hurt them, all the women I met while researching the book felt a measure of loyalty and gratitude to their fathers, and expressed their eagerness to stay connected to the men who were among the first loves in their lives. Fathers matter a great deal not only in childhood but well into a woman’s adult life. And yet few women are truly aware of the ways in which their fathers impact them.