We’ve all heard that being a parent is the hardest job on earth. I agree. But are we really making the job easier by teaching our children to obey us to obtain our approval and love? If you answer, “YES” to that question, think about this: easier for whom?
Certainly not for your child. In fact, there is a lot of research that says raising our children to be obedient and to seek our approval is bad for them.
Too many parents award approval, and therefore love, on the basis of performance and achievement. This teaches children that they are loved for what they do to please their parents, not for who they are. As the amazing doctor Rachel Naomi Remen said, “The lives of their children can become a constant striving to earn love. The confusion between love and approval is so common in our culture that we have found it necessary to create a special rare sub-category of love, ‘Unconditional Love.”
Call me an idealist, but shouldn’t all love be unconditional? Especially a parent’s love for his child?
Once you teach your child to seek your approval, you are sentencing him to a life of endless approval seeking. You have placed her on that hamster wheel to seek approval from external sources when she should be learning to seek approval and validation from within. You are sentencing your children to the life of an emotional child even in adulthood. This will make it difficult to have adult relationships.
If you teach them to find value within, they are no longer dependent on getting the grades or the promotion or the boyfriend or whatever to feel that they are worthy of love. Some of you are thinking, “Is she crazy? Of course I want my child to feel that she has to get good grades!” I want my child to get good grades, too, and to strive to be the best she can be so that she has the greatest number of options with where to go in life. But I don’t want her to get good grades because that is my value and especially not as the route to winning my approval and love! I want her to feel that she is worthy simply because she is who she is. Because she is a divine being and that makes her inherently valuable.
I want her to do what she loves with passion and commitment to herself, not because she wants to earn my love. Most of all, I want her to be comfortable being herself and loving herself for who she is, quirks and all.
Here are a couple of examples of what happens when you raise your children to thrive on outside validation and approval.
A middle-aged woman lies to her devoutly Christian mother about her religious beliefs, rationalizing that she doesn’t want to make her mother sad by knowing that her daughter doesn’t believe in God. Really, she just wants her mom to think she believes in God to keep her approval. While I doubt that the mother would prefer that her child value her approval over honesty, clearly approval seeking won here! Also, this adult child places obtaining her mother’s approval over having an honest and authentic relationship. Is that the kind of relationship you want to have with your children? Not me!
If we can’t be ourselves with our parents and our kids, there is something seriously wrong with the relationship. First step—throw away the need for approval!
Here’s another example of a middle-aged man who was raised to be an approval seeker. He grew up believing that this was how to gain love and intimacy. He was not taught that approval must come from within. Even after he was happily married, he continued to seek approval from women outside of his marriage as a means of having self worth. Not because he needed to do that, as he had a loving wife who loved him unconditionally, but because he was conditioned by his parents to seek approval from external sources.
This is terrible conditioning for our children! It raises people who do not have the tools to be emotional adults! It takes a lot of work to undo, if the individual ever sees clearly enough through his approval-seeking eyes to realize this is a problem. A problem that could cost him his marriage. A problem that results in less satisfying relationships. A problem that results in less happiness.
I suggest that you consider not teaching your children to do things to make you feel good, but instead to instill in them the courage to find out who they are, express who they are, and be loved for this no matter what. We are whole beings, and should be taught that we are worthy of love, no matter whether we keep our rooms clean, get straight As, or hold the same religious beliefs as our parents.
So I’ll close with a little more wisdom from Dr. Remen. “Of course love, like grace, is never earned. All love is unconditional. Anything we need to earn is only approval.”