Instead of starting off the new year with resolutions you are likely to ignore, how about deciding to accept yourself and your kids just the way you are?
You might find that acceptance is much harder than setting unrealistic goals that keep you in a state of tension when you can’t meet them or control them in your children. The task is realizing that the only way for change to occur is to first accept yourself, quirks, problems, and all.
Acceptance is what you and your children need the most. If you’re reading this, I can guarantee that your children know you love them. But…do they know you accept them? Or do they think you wish they were different? Be in your child’s head for a minute and answer that question.
Acceptance has to do with the expectations you set—consciously or unconsciously. Do your kids think they meet up to your expectations or do they believe they can never be good enough for you? How about you? Do you believe you’re good enough?
When you know you are good enough, then you are in the right space to grow and develop. When you believe you can’t get it right, that you don’t matter, or aren’t good enough, your focus goes inward. It gets stuck in worry, anxiety, self-blame. And you take that out by blaming your kids for whatever. That is not the place where change and growth can occur.
Most of us want our children to find what they love in life. But to attain that, they must find their own drive, their own motivation, in their own time. It doesn’t happen on your timetable or by doing what you think they should do to achieve it. You may be all for what your child loves. But can you get out of the way? Can you let them make mistakes, sometimes big ones, that may be necessary to redirect them? Can you accept and trust their process?
Acceptance doesn’t mean accepting all your child’s behavior. Acceptance means knowing that out-of-control behavior is a signal that your child’s emotional state is in turmoil. Acceptance means not taking that behavior at face value but instead accepting the emotional state that has provoked that behavior. Acceptance is for the child who is always, always there underneath.
Children come in all shapes and sizes. No two are alike. Thinking your son should behave like your friend’s son, sets your “shoulds” on unrealistic goals that can cause great damage. You are not accepting your child when you compare. And you will only judge yourself a failure.
We are often unaware of our expectations. When you tell your child what you think is best, does she feel safe and secure or pressured to do what you want? When you tell her she must stay on the team because she made a commitment, where does that leave her? If she has discovered she hates being on a team, worries about what other kids think when she never hits the ball, and feels nervous all the time, there are going to be negative consequences when she thinks you will be disappointed in her.
The point is to meet your kids where they are. Solve the problems that are front and center without fear of what this might lead to. You can get so focused on what you fear is coming down the pike that you close yourself off to the present—and acceptance. Your child knows it before you do.
Change happens only when your child feels accepted and okay the way he is. He will clutch and implode or fight back when he thinks you want him to be different.
“Yeah, but what about when she doesn’t ever do what I tell her? She’s got to learn to listen.” Can you allow yourself to look at the relationship, instead of the idea planted in your head of how it must be and realize she doesn’t listen when she doesn’t like what she’s hearing. Do you? Then, can you step back, regroup, and ask her again in a way that is more respectful?
How often do you criticize? You may think you’re teaching your child how to be a better person, but in fact you are doing the opposite. You are teaching your child to:
- fear failure and become a perfectionist.
- not to take risks or trust their environment
- not trust himself and need praise and accomplishments for validation.
- have a difficult time with social relationships for fear of being criticized by everyone.
- feel anxious about never getting it right
- over achieve or drop out
- fear what other people may think instead of trusting her own thoughts and opinions.
- become a narcissist if the natural egocentric development was never accepted and allowed.
- hoard what was always at risk of being taken away (screens, food, etc.)
The work begins with you. If you are overly critical, and acceptance feels impossible for fear of losing authority and control, then look to your childhood. You can be sure your critical tendencies come from the criticism of someone near and dear to you.
Learn how to let go of what you think is right. Just because you’re the parent doesn’t mean you are right. Understand that your critical parent wasn’t right about you. Criticism grows out of fear, never love. Criticism demands perfection for fear of it all going wrong. A critical parent requires children to see things their way. There is no freedom to explore, take risks, and widen horizons.
It takes a lot of practice to value acceptance above all else. Whenever you find yourself being critical of your child, stop yourself. Recognize that you may be doing more harm than good. Then think of something you can accept. For example, an annoyingly demanding child can be valued for her persistence and determination.
Make sure your expectations are realistic and age appropriate. When they reflect more of what you want and need, there is danger of setting your child up for failure. Your child will believe he can never meet up to what you expect—he can never be who you want. And that can mean a lifelong search to fill the hole of being a disappointment.
Many will have to push through addictions, depression, mental illness, overachieving to prove themselves, unable to take care of themselves because of a deep-seated belief of unworthiness. You may find your child falling too far to get back up again.
This year and for every year here-after, give your children the opportunity to accept themselves so they can mess up and grow. But first, give yourself that opportunity.