We’ve all heard the saying that “LOVE cures all” and though it is the driving motivator for a real bond in all human relationships, our need to love can quickly get messy by our OWN need to BE loved back.
Never is this more true than with the parent and child relationship. Our love is so strong for our children that we are willing to sacrifice anything for them. So why do we as parents act in ways that look nothing like love? Why in the name of love do we yell at our kids, control them, and bend them to our will?
LIVING IN FEAR OF DISAPPOINTMENT
I joke with my friends that “I think I’m doing OK as a parent but I’m sure I won’t really know until they as adults, tell me their therapists said I ruined their lives”.
Often our children experience us as constantly complaining about them, correcting them, and being angry with them. Take a moment and think, do the second our kids walk in the door from school are we riding them? Do we say “Hang up your backpack? Where’s your homework? How come you didn’t make your bed before you left for school?” Then after they do all these things do we finally give them a hug and say we missed them and asked how their day went?
I had to catch myself from falling into this trap! The consequence to this constant complaining, correcting and controlling is that our kids start to live in fear of disappointing us.
I was with my son and his friend and they were talking about their moms getting mad at them and my son said, “Mad I can take but that look in her eye when I know she’s disappointed in me, I can’t handle that one, it’s the worst!” That caught my attention. Was my son often feeling like he was a disappointment to me? One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. She says,
“People won’t remember what you say or what you do, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.”
This is so important to remember with our kids. It’s imperative that our kids are always greeted with a feeling of “I’m so happy you are here, you were so missed and you have all my attention right now because just being you is enough.”
Love is seen as a giving and selfless gift you give to someone. But, love can get corrupted or complicated really quickly because of our own needs. Love can come with strings attached if we’re not careful. It can turn into neediness, which can then cause fear if we’re not receiving that love back in the way we feel we should be. This back and forth with love needs to be checked. When we truly love someone we love them on their terms, not ours.
Learning this was a HUGE EYE OPENER for me. As parents we all sacrifice for our kids and we do it from a place of love. We take them to their practices, we buy them the things they need, and we make their favorite meals.
For me, I was doing these things from a place of love but if it wasn’t met with appreciation I didn’t feel loved back. This love attachment corrupts love because we aren’t loving our children based on who they truly are, and based on their needs, we are now loving them based on how they make us feel.
Be aware of our feelings and fears. Our feelings are real because they are ours. The events and experiences of our lives have created them. Our feelings have created new beliefs because of these events. This is totally valid. But, where we as parents fail is when we give those feelings/fears to our children. They didn’t have the same experiences as we did.
When my daughter was about 11 years old she was sharing a story about her friends with me. She went on to tell me a funny thing that happened at a party a group of her friends went to. As she told me the story, I finally realized and said, “You weren’t at the party, how do you know about all of this?” She said, “No, I wasn’t invited but they all told me about it at school the next day”. I instantly blurted out, “Oh no, are you OK?” and she said, “What do you mean, why wouldn’t I be OK?” I instantly realized what I had done and tried to back peddle. I thought, “crap I’m putting “into her head”, that she should feel bad that she wasn’t invited to this party.”
Sensing my stress, my daughter caught on and said, “Come on mom, I’m not going to get invited to every party. I know that my friends are sometimes only allowed to invite a few people.” I was floored! I thought “WOW! If I only had a drop of her emotional intelligence it would have saved me from so much heartache as a young, social girl.” In fact, I still feel pain as an adult when I’ve been left out.
Our children have plenty of fears on their own. Watch carefully. Where do their fears come from? Are they taking on our anxiety? They don’t need ours too! When we show our kids through our anxieties that they should be afraid of things, we’re not only scaring them but we’re “telling” them they are too fragile and too weak to handle life. Projecting our fears does not empower our kids.
Instead, we should be teaching them how to be resilient, that undesirable things happen in life but you have all the skills and resources within you to cope. That’s how you parent better.
In one of my favorite parenting books “The Awakened Family”, Shefali Tsabary Ph.D. writes,
“With our children especially, our feelings about ourselves entwine with our feelings about themselves. It’s because we feel afraid for them that we then seek to control them. However, what we are really trying to do is control our own fear.”
We project our own fears onto our children. Whether that’s our “not good enough” feeling we still feel from our own parents or that feeling of “what we wish we would have become”, we are essentially telling our children that they are not good enough just being themselves.
We are so fearful of their future; will they become the athlete I always wanted to be, become the doctor I never was, or be as popular as I always wanted to be? When you worry about these things you live in fear of the future instead of in happiness in the now. Your children will become all that they “should” be when they are praised for being them, not what you wish YOU were.
INTENTIONS ARE OVERRATED
Because we as parents love our children so much we will often act in ways that aren’t perceived as love by our children. We might think that our intentions are good. We know how much we love our children so they should know our intentions and should feel the love we have for them.
Intentions mean NOTHING!
Like Maya Angelou said before, how we make them FEEL means EVERYTHING. Shefali Tsabary also writes,
“It’s at the feeling level that dysfunction occurs” The key is to meet our children at their feeling level, not ours!
This happens when we don’t look at OUR needs but we step away and love selflessly without needing a ROI. Our return on our investment will come back to us a million fold when we see our children thrive in their world and not live in a place of fear, especially with us.
They will be one of the few adults to not have a “mommy or daddy complex” because they knew they didn’t have to address OUR fears. They could be themselves and not have to take -on our crap. And as far as sharing their love and reciprocating our love, that will all come. It will come organically, freely, and sincerely because they FEEL LOVE instead of fear.
So this all sounds great, but how do I do better now, how can I change this innate need I, as a parent, have to be loved if I’m not always getting it in the way I want through my relationships?
It starts with separating ourselves from neediness. We think we “fall in love” based on our love for someone else but really what we love is how they make us feel about ourselves. We are searching for feeling needed, wanted, love-able, adorned, liked, and worthy.
This is the trap of love. What we think is love for another is actually love of ourselves. Shelfali Tsasbary writes the following,
“ Until we love ourselves, every relationship, even those with our children, will feel conditional, forced, and ultimately unfulfilling because it’s based on what we need from the other instead of simply sharing ourselves with them in the way they deserve. The way we express love needs to speak not only to how our children make us feel, but how we act toward them in ways that honor who they are as individuals in their own right-yes, even when this makes us feel anything but good. In this way, love for our children goes beyond telling them we love them and how much they mean to us. It gets absorbed by them on a cellular level through our daily presence in their lives and the way we RESPOND to them, especially when they perhaps least appear to deserve it.”
This is exactly how we “show” our kids that our love is unconditional. I love you for you because I don’t disapprove of who you are on any level. Even your mistakes, although I don’t like your mistakes they don’t define you or my love for you. Mistakes are just part of the process of life. I love you independent of your mistakes.
“Children come to us full of what is, not what isn’t. When we see our own reality for all it isn’t, we teach our children to operate from lack. When we see our children for all they are yet to become, barely recognizing all they already are, we teach them they are incomplete. For our children to see a look of disappointment in our eyes sows in them seeds of anxiety, self-doubt, hesitation, and inauthenticity. They then begin to believe they should be more beautiful, competent, smart, or talented. In this way, we strip them of their enthusiasm for expressing themselves as they are right now.”Shelfali Tsasbary
Our children need us to see them for them, not as something we’re continually molding into something better. Think about that. You are not ok being you. I want something better, so I’m going to break you down, mold you into what I really want. It just breaks my heart thinking about how we as children have probably felt this at least at some time in our lives and now if we’re not doing better, we could be perpetuating it with our dear babies.
The key is to learn to love ourselves independent of what love is reciprocated. When we love ourselves our children will see that they should love themselves as well. They will no longer be burdened by HAVING to love us and then will WANT to love us. It’s impossible not to want to love people that show you so much love, especially when they love you for ALL that you are, quarks and all.
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