They say kids are your greatest teachers. But it’s not about quadratic equations, it’s about finding out how your own issues and pain create problems for those closest to you. And then hopefully, stopping the vicious circle. I knew I’d be learning how to change a nappy, but a it turns out my kids have brought me lessons in the fundamentals of our humanity. This is what I’ve discovered (so far).
1. You are not entitled to any respect just because you’re their parent.
Most of us grew up under the auspices of ‘respect your elders’ for no good reason other than they were elders. You know – those people who make you do what you don’t want to do, those people who ignore your needs and those people who belittle your emotions. If you think that you ‘deserve’ respect from your children, then by definition, you are one of those people. That’s because feeling entitled to respect means you believe you are somehow innately superior and treat others as inferior. Just in case you didn’t get it , you are not superior.
Admiration is different; it is generated from free will and has nothing to do with any perceived superiority. It also fluctuates a lot for children. Today’s merited admiration maybe tomorrow’s dislike. That’s because children live in the present, which means they don’t hold grudges but neither do they recognize our manufactured concepts of ‘esteem and debt’. As for respect, you’re not entitled to it, now or ever. Try and force the issue and I’ve discovered that what you’ll get is brainwashed fear-ridden obedience, or anger and rebellion (or both).
2. Your children have every right to be angry and upset for reasons you consider bullshit.
Perfectly logical adult acts and consequences, for example brushing your child’s teeth so that they don’t get cavities, wearing a thick coat when it’s minus 5 outside, or trying to get them to wee in the toilet instead of their knickers will make them angry and upset. In their world they see that you have power to control even their most intimate decisions and they are angry about this. You would be too. In fact you probably were, but you don’t remember it.
If you then get angry about it, your problem is that you need to be right (you consider that your anger is apparently valid, theirs is not). Let it go. Their emotions are perfectly valid – they are operating according to their survival instincts (indeed there would be something wrong if they weren’t getting angry and afraid that they are being controlled). If you tell them ‘there’s no reason to be angry’ they hear ‘it’s not okay to feel what I feel, and my feelings are not important.’ This leads to a fear of conflict in adulthood because anger is ‘wrong’.
Yes it’s a tantrum because it IS their end of the world. I’ve learned that I must be the bigger person (I am after all). Which leads to…
3. Punishment through isolation, means you also have control issues.
Do you walk away when your child is angry? Do you punish them by saying ‘go to your room’ (like most parents did)? The reason parents walk away is most often because they can’t win (and that pisses them off). But they can ‘win’ by making their children sad. You can punish them and try to get your will through by isolating them. Not only are you showing that their anger is not valid, but you are trying to ‘control’ the situation by withdrawing your love.
Children perceive that you love them conditionally (because that’s what you’re showing). The person they depend on for survival is taking away their love and support. If you aren’t seething and seeing (literally) red from them wiping their raspberry dipped fingers on your new white sofa … let them know that you are angry at what they did, not at them. If you need to calm down, tell them that and that you love them. If you withdraw too often it leads to a fear of abandonment and fear of conflict (see point 2).
Also, never buy a white sofa if you have kids. It means you’re a perfectionist and control freak. I did. I won’t again.
4. Time is an artificial concept which is unimportant. Your child knows this, but you have forgotten.
If you haven’t yet realized the unimportance of time, you are probably hurrying your child to school, hurrying them home, hurrying them on the train operating according to an artificial schedule and trying to force your family into a rigidly controlled system. Ours. The one we built.
It’s not really your fault. It’s what you’ve been taught. Being late is obviously a sign of disorganization and disrespect which is something you – as an adult – are entitled to (see above). But perhaps your child likes to spend time looking at flowers on the way to her school (where it is the end of the world as we know it, if they are not there at 9 sharp). Minutes seem like hours when you have some place to be. And yet, if you let the natural curiosity of life unfold without an agenda, it can be joyful for both of you.
If you are bound by time you might remember that this is not of your child’s own making. She is not at fault. Make time to walk so that you can have those joyous world-exploring times (and try not to suddenly remember something terribly important you should be doing instead – this is driven by your own fear of doing something so completely alien as ignoring time).
5. The Journey is more Important than the Outcome
You think that sticking those scribbles with magnets onto your fridge shows your child how proud you are of their Picasso-like inclinations. It doesn’t.
They don’t care about it, because their pleasure was in the doing. As we cling or worse, frame our favourite documentation of our children’s achievements so we teach them that the outcome is more important than the journey. The result is more important than the effort expended, the pleasure experienced and the time sacrificed.
A whole generation of corporate executives are going through mid-life crisis right now because the next promotion doesn’t satisfy them (clue it was never for them, it is for you). Outcomes temporarily please. But they do little fill the void of insecurity created by our great parenting (and our parents great parenting). Which means you should…
6. Value People for who They Are not What they Do (for you)
Are your proud of your Violet Beauregarde? Do you express your love through encouragement and praise for her accomplishments? Would you love her even if she wasn’t the world record holder for gum chewing? Oh you would? Chances are, she doesn’t know that though…
If you show your child that you value her achievements without making it clear that you also value her as a person, she will understand that to earn your love she has to achieve. Worse still, you don’t even have to criticize her, for her to know that if she doesn’t achieve, the love might be withdrawn. That’s because our minds are responsible for conceptualizing danger before it actually happens. Most people don’t need to be squashed by a truck to realize that it would in fact, hurt.
We most often speak about what our kids do, not who they are. What did you do at school today? What a lovely painting! Well done for finishing your dinner. They will link their sense of self-worth to their achievements…and turn into workaholics not able to ever achieve enough to gain any sense of self worth, or drifters who don’t even start because the challenge is too impossible.