“When you parent, it’s critical you realize you aren’t raising a “mini me,” but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depth of our soul, we tailor our raising of them to their needs, rather than molding them to fit our needs.” -Dr. Shefali Tsabary (The Conscious Parent Book)
As a counselor I spent many years working with children. Not long into my career I switched my focus from children’s therapy to parenting counseling. The reason for this? The parents were the ones that needed to be taught how to intervene in their child’s life rather than me doing it for them. The reality is, as a therapist, I was only in the child’s life for a short period of time in the grand scheme of things. Parents are there forever, and I quickly realized that they needed the skills to positively affect their children long term. Sometimes I don’t think we realize the effect we have on our children and the power of our parenting.
PARENTING IS HARD
There is no doubt about it that parenting is, by far, the hardest job there is. It is not a role well served by the faint of heart. It requires us to do things that we probably never even realized we were capable of. It’s a beautiful and hard adventure all at the same time. Our children aren’t born with a rule book on how to raise them or who they will turn out to be. If you have multiple children, they could all be extremely different from one another. I say all this to say that I get that it is no walk in the park. I think we all do our best as parents. And, we can always continue to learn how to grow and expand ourselves in this area.
CHILDREN DO NOT FIT INTO A BOX
As adults, we tend to like to put things into boxes. We want to know what to expect. To predict the future. One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make is trying to fit their children into a box that they desire them to be in. Whether we want to admit it or not, when our children are born we already have an expectation of who and what they will become. When things don’t go that way, chaos breaks lose and things get hard.
Let’s take my child for example. My husband would love for our son to play sports. He refuses. He would rather learn piano and be a Cub Scout. That’s more his jam. Now, my husband could MAKE him play sports. He could threaten him and bribe him to be someone different than he is. That’s what we often do as parents, rather than embracing who they are.
I can guarantee you that the result of making our son be what my husband envisions him to be in this area would bring a whole load of behavioral problems. Why? Because we would be forcing him to be someone different than what he knows within himself to be a good fit for him. We would be teaching him at a very young age to deny himself just to please others. That he cannot trust himself and his own instincts of what fits best for him. This is a theme of parenting that needs desperately to be broken.
Parents do this all the time and can’t figure out why they are butting heads so much with their child. Here’s the hard, cold reality. Your child is not a reflection of you.
They are their own person. With their own thoughts, feelings, desires, interests, and fears. The more we try to fit them into our mold, the more damage we do on our relationship with them, as well as their relationship with their self. And not only that, we totally miss out on the beauty of their unique self.
GETTING YOUR OWN NEEDS MET OUTSIDE OF YOUR CHILDREN
Why do parents do this? Because they are trying to meet a need within themselves through their children. Always wanted to be a cheerleader and didn’t make the team? Why not make your child a cheerleader? Want to be a mom that has it all together with perfection? Present your child to the world as the perfect child. This happens ALL the time. We’ve got to build a new awareness that children are not an extension of us. They are their own individual human being with their own set of needs. When we prioritize our needs over theirs, who they are gets stifled. Our children will stop listening to their own voice. They raise their behaviors to get their needs met. They take on a different persona.
When we look to our children to meet our own needs, this is called codependency. We should be looking within ourselves to get our needs met and to our adult relationships. I see so often mothers who are so embarrassed by their children’s behavior, when the child is just being a normal 2 year old. That embarrassment comes from the thought that the child is a reflection of what kind of mother you are. Yes, your behaviors as a parent effect your child, but when they are doing normal, developmental things and we see it as a problem, that’s when the problem begins for us.
They can make us uncomfortable. Tantrums aren’t fun. And, they are a normal part of the individuation process. Just like teenagers who want to dye their hair and listen to music you hate. Let me say this again. These things are not a reflection of you. Rather than stifling, find ways to connect. Keep a light and guiding hand instead of a firm (death grip) grasp.
THIS DOESN’T MEAN YOU LET THEM DO WHATEVER THEY WANT
Any relationship requires boundaries in order to be experienced in a healthy way. The relationship with our children is no exception. Valuing who they are as their own individual and nurturing that does not mean you don’t have rules and consequences. It’s really important that structure, rules, and rewards and consequences are still a regular thing. Many times, parents think that by letting their child be who they are means they don’t parent. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You are a guide. One that keeps them safe. It’s good to have parameters for exploring, just not parameters that are suffocating.
ALLOW THEM TO MAKE THEIR OWN BOX. HERE ARE A FEW WAYS TO START EMBRACING WHO YOUR CHILD IS:
- Ask them questions about who they are, what they like, what they think about a particular situation and actually listen. Don’t put in your two cents. Just listen to what they are saying to you about who they are.
- Don’t pressure them to do something they don’t want to do. Now I’m not talking about things like cleaning their room, I’m talking about things like making them love soccer. Or requiring they take a dance class if they hate it. Trust that they know what they like from the start and lean into that rather than trying to change them.
- Don’t over schedule them. There needs to be space to explore who they are and what they want. So many children have ridiculously crazy schedules these days. No down time, no time to just be. It’s okay if your kid isn’t in something every day of the week. When you really think about it, is it because they WANT to be or because you’re playing super mom?
- Allow them to pick out the things they like themselves. We have so many preconceived notions about what boys and girls should like. If a boy goes for a pink cookie, we automatically steer them in the direction of the blue one. Try to keep your opinion out of the decisions that aren’t going to hurt them. Give them power over developing a strong sense of self.
- Allow them to have a different opinion than you. And when they do, listen to their opinion. Sometimes they have very valid points and we need to be flexible with our thinking. We can really learn a lot from them if we allow ourselves to. It’s also important to know that you can validate their opinion without agreeing with them.
- Evaluate what your expectations are for your child. You may say you don’t have them, but when you really dig in, you do. For me, I expect my children to go to college. If my son doesn’t end up going, that’s going to be a hard one for me to swallow. It’s good that I know that about myself so I can intervene within myself when we get to that place. Write out your expectations, even if it’s hard to admit and challenge yourself in these areas.
- Ask for help when you need it. Struggling in a particular area with your child? Having a hard time letting go of wanting your soccer hating child to be a soccer star? That’s okay! Just don’t take it out on them. Reach out for help and support from someone who can be neutral in the situation. We need support as mamas in so many ways!
The more we can learn as mothers to find our worth and value outside of our children, the better it is for all of us. Building the foundation of who you are, allows your child to better build their own foundation on solid ground. Remember, when you’re doing your work, you’re modeling to them that growth is important. They need you to show up for them in a way you can encourage who they truly are, rather than molding them into someone else to fit your comfort. Our children are amazing individuals. Sometimes we just have to stop and change our perspective to see that clearly.