I’ve spoken to several people recently about the goals that we have as parents. These conversations have given me a chance to see how my goals of parenting have changed as my kids have grown – and as I’ve grown!
For instance when my boys were younger I felt that good parenting was evidenced by kids that were polite and respectful. While I still feel that it’s important to teach those qualities to our kids, I now place far more value on empowering my boys to know their feelings and to express them.
I believe that a big factor in why my boys are so self confident is because they’ve always been encouraged to discover their truth and share it with me and my ex. If hearing their ideas makes me uncomfortable ( like when they told me that they wanted to try alcohol and marijuana), then I do my work to get clear on why I’m anxious before I just push against their plans. I can’t promise to never be upset at their statements, but I do commit to speaking to them with respect. They’re not allowed to speak to me with disrespect, and I hold myself to similar standards.
I have quite a few teens and young adults in my private practice. When they come in for sessions I usually work on helping them discover and feel their truth. This is similar to the work that my adult clients do. But the difference is that once these young people know their truth, they have to determine if they feel safe to share it with their parents. If a child’s truth disrupts the parents’ ideas for the child, what happens? It’s different in each household.
Here are some questions that I sometimes ask parents:
If your child’s desires – or fears – contradict yours, what happens?
How quickly can your kids get in touch with what is bothering them?
When your child is troubled, does he hold it in or express it?
Does your child seem connected to her own ideas and plans, or is she following the route that has been laid out for her (by you, her peers, etc)?
What happened the last time your child told you something that made you anxious or uncomfortable?
Living with people who allow you to speak your truth without negative repercussions is critical to emotional well-being. I believe that this is true for adults as well as for children.
I know that I’m guilty of half listening to my kids – listening for the excuse or the statement I’m dreading, then pouncing on them before they’ve finished the sentence. I’ve been working on taking a breath, knowing that I need to wait before giving my opinion. My impatience and irritation will cut off the flow of information that I know we both need in order to keep our relationship emotionally safe. So I force myself to pause, waiting to speak until I know that I’ve actually felt what my child is saying instead of just hearing the words and immediately giving my response.
Many years ago my spirit told me that “everyone yearns to feel truly seen and heard.” This desire does not emerge at a certain age, but is always present in each of us.
Who really listened to you as a child? Which adults really seemed to hear you?
If you think back to the favorite relationships that you had as a child, I’m sure that they will be ones in which you felt truly seen and heard.
So when my adult clients ask for parenting advice, I say some version of:
“Make sure your kids feel truly seen and heard. Work to listen more openly, without your own agenda filtering everything that you hear from them and affecting how you respond. Make it a priority to be an emotionally safe person for them to talk to, and encourage them to discover their true feelings.”