Helping Children Develop Their Gifts
It has only been recent and only through my personal work in therapy that I have become aware something significant. Looking back on my life, my childhood, I realize that I have had to allocate my psychological resources for defending myself against real or perceived threats to my ego. I reflect back to my childhood, to my unique gifts and my unique way of thinking and realize that much of what makes me, “me” has always been present. Yet, there wasn’t anyone consistent in my childhood context that could see me and offer the necessary validation. Had that occurred, I could have, from that early point on, used my time to develop those gifts. Instead, it is if I have wasted many years, decades, trying to prove to others that I was worthy of love and attention.
My goal as a father and a therapist is to regard children in such a way that they can take an internal copy of this sense of “okay-ness” with them. That means that when they show up in a way that pushes me to the end of my limits, I try to think about them with love and compassion. Our unfiltered anxiety for our children has the unfortunate side-effect of creating a sense in them that something is broken or wrong. Really seeing children means that we have to own and work though the emotions that cause a fracture in attachment. That means that when their behavior requires a response from me, I operate from a place of love and awareness rather than a place of judgment and exasperation. This kind of response requires the exercise of healthy boundaries rather than lecturing, debating, guilting, or intimidating. This kind of being in the world and being in relationship with others compels us to transform because we must sacrifice what we know for what we don’t know.
Obviously these ideals will not always be attained, but we can aspire them and when we fall short, which is often, we can show up with authenticity and with our apology. My therapist once remarked, after a story I shared where I fantastically failed with my daughter, “that it might even be better that I fail and apologize rather than ‘get it right’ in every instance.” Not only is it impossible to get it right in every instance, but failing and owning it with a child offers something precious. It shows them that they are not crazy, that their injuries are not imagined. It models humility and shows them how to make amends. And perhaps most importantly, it shows them they are not the only one who struggles and offers them a sense of connection rather than a sense of “aloneness.”
It is never too late. Just recently my mother made amends to me. She started doing this in the last few years. She has done it with some specific instances as well as in a more general sense. She told me during her last visit, “I am sorry I couldn’t be there for you when you were a child. You were too big for me—you overwhelmed me and I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how amazing you were because I was distracted and dealing with my own challenges.” I was not an angel child. I was an angry, acting out child who needed several interventions, but what was beneath all of these acting out behaviors was the wisdom that something wasn’t right—some things weren’t okay. Beneath many of our children’s struggles is wisdom similar to this. I have had many discussions over the years with my therapist and she had suggested the same idea, but it was something special to hear this from my mother.
So I must ask myself—we must ask ourselves the same thing of our parenting. Where are we limited? How do our limitations prevent us from holding our children in our minds with love and compassion? Because how we hold our children in out minds is how they will come to think of themselves later in life. If we can regard them as amazing and wonderful so when they make unhealthy or unkind choices we regard them with compassion. We can understand that such choices are merely evidence of wounds and the best way out of those choices is to provide them with an emotionally safe place to express themselves. Then our children can spend the rest of their lives developing gifts, far beyond our limitations, instead of spending their mental resources on proving themselves. They have so much to offer the world and we would do well to get out of their way.