“Teach your children well,” Crosby, Stills, & Nash sang. We spend so much time worrying about what if we don’t raise them right and what other people will think about us as parents and what if we raise them wrong and screw them up for life, that we miss the important piece. We miss the fact that we are shaping them in these years for their adult lives. We miss that how we speak to them is just as much an impact as the actions we take with them, and that we, as adults, feel emotionally, the way our surroundings and teachings from our parents or other figures of authority led us to feel, intentionally or not. We miss that we are not just imbuing them with life lessons, but building them up or inadvertently tearing them down. We are the foundation upon which their self-esteem is built. The words we say, the tone we use when we say it, the visual cues we use with our words, our physical presence and stature all determine how our message is interpreted by our children.
Look from another perspective now. Look at yourself. Please do not mistakenly think that I am placing all of our adult bad habits, actions, self issues, relationship problems, etc, solely on our parents’ heads. Quite the contrary, we take what we know and either keep rolling our snowball down the same hill, watching it grow and gain speed until it becomes an avalanche, destroying us and everyone around us, or we take that snowball, regardless of how large it’s grown, and toss, lob, or catapult it away. We also have the (dun dun DUUUUUN) adolescent and teenage years which take our self image from whatever place it was and either sends it soaring , sometimes too high, throws it off a cliff into the Pit of Despair, or keeps it on a steady course.
(* PLEASE NOTE: I am only using parents in these scenarios as they are our FIRST points of feedback about ourselves. There are many other sources that contribute to our self-image. )
The longer we let that snowball roll, though, the more self-repair we need to do later in life. Let’s take for example, as a child you were quite skilled with a pencil and some drawing paper. Time and again you drew phenomenal pictures, often portraits of famous people, only to be told by your parents to stop pursuing it and that you would never amount to anything and that you should toss the pencils and become interested in something that will make you a stable living as an adult. Or this example – whatever you did that brought you joy was looked down upon by your parents and you were told that you shouldn’t do whatever IT was or that it would only cause you to be a loser when you grew up. If you went out with your friends and were late for supper, it was taken as a personal affront rather than simply that you were having a really great time playing tag or cops and robbers and simply lost track of time, and holy cow, forget that you didn’t mind your manners and bother to call and say you’d be late. Heck, back in the day, we didn’t know we were late until Mrs. Brauer came out and told you and you turned and ran home as fast as your 9 year old legs could carry you.
As adults, we find ourselves often easily frustrated, angry about the smallest thing, struggling in our jobs or our relationships. We are filled with guilt because we went out without our significant other even though they told us it was perfectly fine We feel inadequate if we don’t have the right amount of zeroes before the decimal on our paycheck, the biggest screen TV, the most luxurious car, have the best therapist, call Mom every Sunday. As parents we feel that we should be doing a better job raising our children and making them adhere to the exact same standards and values with which we were brought up. And the cycle starts again,
Guess what. You have one mind. It’s is all yours and it’s up to you to finish what your parents (peers, bosses, significant others) started. Now, you can continue on the path that makes you feel bad, because the praise from mom was passive aggressive guilt or you can let it go and actually become you and who you truly are rather that what you’ve been told you are.
Tell a child to “leave that alone,” and I guarantee you that they are going to keep playing with whatever that undesirable thing is. Tell your child that they should put down those ballet shoes because they will never be good enough and that child will start believing they can’t do anything and will continually fail at hobbies, jobs, romance, the list goes on.
As parents, we should focus on praising our children and letting them know we love them Let them know that they can always count on you for support, even if they fail at something. Let them know that you love them and that they could never be a disappointment to you.
I was raised by the most amazing woman that I know and she always supported me. She never told me I wasn’t good enough or was wrong or should quit trying to make music because it wouldn’t make me a living . The scars I heal now are not due to anything she ever said, but from decisions I made on my own, mistakes though some were. The scars come from choices which, never ridiculed or diminished, were supported with love. I was allowed to make my mistakes so that I could grow from them and become better able to heal myself when the time came, every time the time came.
My mother stood beside me for so many detours off of my path, and held my hand as I found that the detour actually became an adventure. She is easily one of my biggest fans on my journey to find myself. She is there cheering me on as I embark on yoga instructor training, an expensive endeavor. She would never tell me that with my meager income it would be irresponsible to spend that much money, especially when I occasionally have to ask for help. No, my mother stands there next to me, now on the later end of my 40s, still believing in me, reminding me that it will all come together as it should and that I should never give up on something that is so important to me.
My three children are now older than I was when they were born and old enough that they could make me a grandmother. One lives across the country, one lives several hours away, and one will be spending an entire semester across the globe next year. Every night when I tucked them in bed, we had a routine, sort of call and response, we called them “Favorite Littles:”
ME: How much do I love you?
Child: More than any little (name) in the whole wide world.
And this went on through a series of lines and then kisses, hugs, and noseys. Sure, I made plenty of mistakes parenting, and I’m sure I’ve left my share of mental scars on them, but I always told them that I love them and support them above all else. Everything after that was secondary. They face the world every day confident in themselves and their abilities. They are going to be far better adults than I and, when I do finally become a grandmother, will be raising little people knowing that their parents love them. And guess what: we don’t talk every Sunday, but I know that they are doing well and are happy.
In the meantime, let go the negative energy that may be floating around in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, that you make bad choices, that you are never going to amount to anything if you don’t live up to “our” standards and values. Let it go and find your inner true self, the one who doesn’t judge, the one who allows you to let go of what you can’t control, who allows you to occasionally embrace your inner 12 year old, the one who is surrounded in positive energy, who loves you.
Start with the littlest ones and let them know they are loved above and beyond everything else, not unless they or except if they, or until they. No, above everything else Teach them that they are amazing and should dream as grandiose a dream as they want and that you will always be there, believing in them, helping them on their next adventure (even if it’s not the best adventure), supporting them and helping them back up when they stumble and fall. Every time. Above all else. Teach them to love themselves and believe in themselves. These are the most important words you can ever say to your child.
I love you. I believe in you. Above all else.