A handful of years ago, I went through an emotionally difficult time with my oldest son. His personal struggle caused me to think about the kind of mother I had been to him over the previous two decades before his spiral.
Although the nature of his challenge isn’t important to my story, what’s relevant is it made me realize the million different ways I influenced him (directly or indirectly) over the years. How MY perception of myself and my life was passed on to him without either of us really knowing it.
Here’s an example of what I mean…
When my son was about three, he and I were taking a walk around the block on a summer evening. We came upon a family out in their yard playing t-ball…a mother, father, and three young children. My son looked up at me and asked if we could stop and play with the kids. I told him no, took his hand firmly, and quickly walked past their yard, crossing the street as soon as I could do so. My eyes avoiding the family entirely.
Now, why did I do that?
In looking back, I think they probably would have welcomed the two of us, we’d seen them before around the neighborhood, likely they would have let my son join in without any problem. MY FEAR and INSECURITY about being such a young mother, who felt she really had nothing to offer these people (and who’s shame for becoming a mom at eighteen was carried for a long time) caused me to make sure (from what I remember pretty abruptly) my son didn’t make me feel any more uncomfortable by putting me in a position to ask if we could be a part of what they were doing.
What he may have picked up from that 30 second interaction was he (and I) weren’t worthy of playing ball with that family. And maybe, for just a second, he thought there was something wrong with him that he wasn’t good enough to join in.
How often does our perception of ourselves or of our life circumstances get in the way of, or projected onto our children? I bet it’s more often than you think. In this case, I was feeling unworthy because of my circumstances (young, unwed mother) mainly because my dad projected his frustration/shame/disappointment onto me when my actions resulted in a teen pregnancy.
I would venture further back, but I am sure you get my point.
Parents (often inadvertently) project our fears and anxiety on to our kids. Without even really thinking about it or realizing we’ve done so.
The frustration you feel from losing a big account comes across as the verbal vomit you spew on your ten-year-old who didn’t pick up his dirty socks last night before bed.
The traffic jam you sat in for forty-five minutes on the way home from a stressful day was cast onto your daughter while you coached her with intensity through a tennis match with the hidden agenda of a win and what it might do to quell your fear you aren’t there for her enough, but even so, you want to believe you really are a “good” parent.
And your daughter doesn’t even like tennis, but she’ll play the game because it means some time and attention from you.
During this time of questioning the way I had raised my oldest, and consequently still in the process of raising his four siblings, I began to do a lot of reading on different parenting philosophies. One of the ways in which I knew I had fallen short with him, and the others, was by not being present, which is what they most needed from me.
It’s really what all of us need most.
I began to search for a path to better connect with, what I believe, is my greatest job…guiding the five kids God brought into my life. Helping them discover who they want to become, not who I want them to be.
Last spring I saw an interview, which prompted me to buy a book, which has truly enriched and changed my life, not only as a parent, but as a person. The book is called The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. I have since completed Levels 1 & 2 of her parenting teleclass. Both of which reaffirmed for me this way of parenting is the model we should be using to raise our children.
Here is a quick video that captures the movement I believe can, and will, make the difference in future generations of family life.
Moment 2:00 and 3:54 are my favorite.
If you are finding challenges in the relationship with your child(ren) I would encourage you to take a look at Dr. Shefali’s website and the book. Her work has confirmed some things I already knew, but often failed to practice as a mother, and it opened my eyes to the impact of generations of hierarchical child rearing.
As always, I welcome your thoughts here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.