Liz Matheis, Ph.D. provides advice for reprogramming the messages you have received from your parents and pass on to your child.
Parenting is about you, the parent, and the “stuff” that you carried into this gig. You and I both know that parenting did not come with a manual with a colorful cover or an appendix with chapters that range from infancy to adulthood, and we certainly didn’t have to take an exam or gain a license to become a parent.
Becoming a Parent
If you ask me, before we decide to start a family, we should be required to take a course and gain a certificate that says, “You’ve been warned. You’re about to get on the bumpiest roller coaster ride of your life. You will learn and teach, you will watch and be watched, you will guide and be guided.”
When I became a parent, I had a vision of who my child was going to be. I often was lost in my daydreams of a blue-eyed little boy who would eat, sleep, and follow my every instruction; who was athletic, confident, and social. Well, I did have a beautiful blue-eyed boy, but the rest didn’t work out just like that.
Part of becoming a parent means that we need to understand and recover from the parenthood that we received. It means that we need to understand and become aware of the messages that were given to us, the wounds we continue to carry, the messages we continue to give ourselves that started off as our parent’s judgments, criticisms, and conditions and then became our own words that we speak to ourselves, with or without awareness.
Our children are not our narcissistic extensions. They are not here to fit into our visions and expectations of who they will and should become. Our children are born with clean slates, and they have the potential to do everything, anything. But it is through our criticisms, expectations, and our conditional love that creates judgments and deflates motivation and potential. We have been given by our parents, and their parents and their parents, a checklist of who we “should” become as parents and who our children “should” become. But that checklist may not be in sync with who your child is — who they want to be — and therein lies the problem. Instead, we live a life where we are “should-ing” all over ourselves.
Do the Dance
When two people dance, one person moves forward and the other responds by stepping back; one moves to the side, and the other follows. The dancers listen to the body language, feel the direction in which the pair is being pulled. Dancing is an art because there are no clear-cut rules about the exact steps. Yes, we can take dance lessons and have an idea of the type of movement, the beat, the general idea.
Parenting is a dance.
A dance with no instruction on how your child will respond, what to say, how often to say it. It requires timing and awareness of what is needed, how much, and when to stop. When to say something and when not to; when to guide and when to step away; when to intervene and when to let your child work it out, or not.
I know, it’s exhausting, but being in tune with your child will make your parenting more productive in that you are moving in the same direction. When you move out of sync, you — the parent — and your child become frustrated, and the interaction is no longer enjoyable.
Enter Into Your Shadows
As parents, we have inherited many generations of rules, standards, expectations, and sometimes, plain old garbage. It is up to us, as parents, to be aware of what messages we are giving our children based on the messages that we were given to us and the messages we have internalized and believed.
For example, think about the high-achieving parent who has an average child. In my experience, this is a tough one for parents to accept. The message that is passed on, verbally or nonverbally, is that “you are not worthy of my love, and I cannot accept you unless you are above average.”
I know that sounds harsh, and although it’s not being said, it is being said without words.
It is not an option to return the child to the average pile and pick up another one from the above-average or superior pile. So the work here becomes bringing to awareness the messages that we are holding on to and using to interpret and value or devalue our children’s identity, interests, grades, friends, and the list goes on. Once you are aware of the long checklist of standards, you will be better able to let them go for yourself and your child. At that point, you will likely find that you are seeing yourself and your child through a different filter. But the first step is awareness of those internalized messages that guide your everyday decisions, actions, and words.
Parenting is not just about our children. It’s also about us and the many standards with which we came into as children ourselves. Think about this daily and begin to shed away the generations of expectations and messages that may not be serving you or your child.