Sometimes being a parent can be so overwhelming. We want to be the best possible parent, but we make that a higher priority than being the best possible person. We give our kids lots of love and attention. Of course that is important. When we don’t pay attention to our own needs, however, we inadvertently set a bad example for our children.
The fact is that we can only be as good as parents as we are as people. As Brené Brown taught me, “Who we are and how we engage in the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.” She called parenting “by far my boldest and most daring adventure.” It is a bold and daring adventure that can be more successfully accomplished if we don’t hide from ourselves or hide who we are from our children.
I think parents do both themselves and their children a disservice when they hide themselves from their children, whether they are young or adults. Sincerity is a form of power. It is very powerful for our kids to hear the stories of our own experiences. Yet so many parents don’t want their kids to know that they, too, got too drunk at times, or made stupid mistakes or struggled with depression or anxiety. Our kids can relate to us so much better when they see us as humans rather than stern, boring bosses. Parents do not lose the respect of their children merely by letting them know who they really are, that they have feelings and an emotional life of their own. They GAIN their children’s respect, and model the wonderful traits of open-heartedness and vulnerability.
When we hide our feelings from our children, they don’t learn how to recognize and deal with their own feelings. Children who understand their feelings are much more likely to talk about what is happening in their lives with their parents. They have better skills for working out problems with others. They will have better relationships and more successful marriages.
When your children see you and your spouse having disagreements and working them out, they learn two important things: (1) that conflict is a normal part of life and we shouldn’t hide or run from it; and (2) that when you approach conflict with an open heart and open mind, the results make everything better in the long run. We work things out. Hiding conflict always means that at least one person is unhappy and dissatisfied.
Both of my parents were from Brooklyn, and sometimes, it felt like I was living in a Woody Allen movie. Although it may have been difficult at times, it caused me to be self-reflective and in touch with my feelings. Those skills have served me well in life. In contrast, living in New England, I know many people who grew up in reserved New England families where no one talked about their feelings. Some of these people have few if any tools when faced with a crisis in their relationships with lovers, children, friends or family. For them, learning to be in touch with their feelings reminds me of teaching babies how to talk. You have to start from square one.
When we try to protect ourselves by turning away from a struggle, and our partner does the same, we build a big wall between us. Our kids may think there is no conflict, but they also don’t see real love because that wall is a barrier to it.
It is hard to teach your kids to be something you are not. You can’t teach honesty if you cheat and lie. If you think you are unworthy, you will act like you are unworthy. How can you teach your children worthiness from that place? You can’t.
We can’t be perfect parents, but we can teach our children what they need to know by modeling humanity and wholeness for them. We model accountability when they watch us make mistakes, admit to our errors and make amends for them. We can teach them self-care and self-respect when we ask for what we need and talk about how we feel.
If you aren’t the kind of person you would like your child to be, then make it a priority to care for yourself and work on your own personal growth and development. Because you can be whoever you want to be, but you can’t teach your kids something you know nothing about.
Posted on June 16, 2015