One of my biggest fears in parenting is our son, Avery will feel unseen, unheard, and doesn't get a sense of being accepted and understood. The result, a life yearning and craving for validation, approval, and working through an understanding of unworthiness.
Sounds dire right?! However, this is common and rampant amongst the condition of humanity.
Every parent is doing the best they can with what they know - and when we know better, we can do better.
In "The 5 Love Languages for Children", Dr Gary Chapman asks the question; "You know you love your child. But how can you make sure your child knows it?". For a moment, pause and think. You know you love them - however, do they feel loved? Do they feel seen and accepted for their spirit and soul or do they feel conditionally loved? We can empathise and have compassion for this feeling in reflecting with our circumstance - and bringing consciousness to the relationship with our parents.
There is the parent that you want to be (from an unconscious state - it is the parent that we desperately wanted and never had OR wanting to replicate our parent's model of parenting OR some magic make-believe version based on the influence of the media we consume). There is being the parent that your child needs you to be - to be attuned, to meet them where they are at — two very different forms of parenting.
"My own father could not have been kinder or more unconditionally loving. He always told me how beautiful and wonderful I was and gave me an abundance of kisses and hugs. However, for reasons of his own that I eventually came to understand (I’m certain he did the best he could), he never seemed to actually see me. I had the vague sense growing up that he didn’t really know me at all, and that he might even have difficulty distinguishing me from my three sisters. Objectively, I knew this couldn’t be the case, but I was left with the feeling that I was not really anyone to him – that we were adoring, affectionate strangers to each other. This may be why later in life I got caught up in seeking endless validation."
- Excerpt from The Most Powerful Way to Love a Child
This extract articulates the experience beautifully - and many adults can relate.
Growing up, I learnt that being obedient, succeeding, being "good", coming first, being a good student, being well thought of in the eyes of others earnt my parents love.
When I failed, when I made mistakes, when I was sad, when I felt struggle, when I was stuck, when I felt disappointment, and when I was disobedient - times when I needed to know that I was loved the most; was when I lost the experience of being loved by my parents.
I don't doubt that my parents loved me and did the best that they could. I also believe if they knew how unloved I felt - it would pain them. As it would most parents - if not all.
In our western society, we become more aware of the need to embrace failures and accept mistakes - we are waking up to the power of vulnerability - where we are failing is in the execution in the moments it is needed.
Our capacity to be empathetic to our children in the moments that they struggle emotionally reflects the way we manage our own emotions, and the willingness we have to pay attention to our vulnerabilities - and grow through them.
It isn't about protecting our children from strong emotions. It is about having them understand and create space for these emotions.
...and waking up to be invested in the muscle of empathy, vulnerability, and connection can start at any time - whether it be in utero, when your child is a newborn, to when they are 3 years old or even 9!. It's never too late to start making "learning how to be attuned to my child" a priority.
As parents, we are not here to protect our children from hard emotions. We are here to stand beside them, to remind them that they are loved - AND we and we can be with their hard emotions.
It starts by creating space to be with the emotions we find challenging. To be committed to our healing and childhood wounds. To bring compassion and kindness to all the times we have failed, face disappointment, made mistakes - and when we have been our worst.
Allowing our children to learn, feel, and navigate their emotions is one of the biggest gifts we can give them - They will get their heart broken. They will be disappointed. They will miss out. They will come last. They will try and fail. They will be judged. They won't be liked by all.
They can be empowered in knowing that "this too shall pass", these moments do not define me.... and I am never at the mercy of my emotions - and I am lovable, worthy, and whole.
Here are some practices we do in our family of creating such a space:
- We don't use the words; "good", "bad", "naughty" - Instead we focus on helping him pay attention to his emotions, and we focus on our reactions and emotions.
- We don't "reward" - e.g. "If you listen or are a good boy for us, we will buy you a present" - We focus instead on workability. "How can we work as a family? - what is it that you need us to help you with?"
- Checking in with our own emotions and frustrations - and owning them. Avery isn't responsible for our emotions.
- We apologise. We forgive. We practice understanding Love.
We don't always get it right - we fail, many times. And we try again. We make it safe to make mistakes.
This parenting thing has a lot to do with waking up to our understanding of Love - more than focusing and obsessing over our child.
So - what does it mean to be loved?
Have a beautiful rest of the week - may it be overflowing with Love ;)