I’ve been a mum now for the last 27 years. And I can’t even begin to count all the mistakes I made. “Ah, we all do”, you might say. And yes, that is true. Particularly in this area, as for me, this is the toughest job in the world.
It’s not just a phrase, I know it. After all, I’ve raised my 2 children, mainly on my own. With hardly any support.
I provided both - a boy and a girl – with the same opportunities, the same affection and the same rules. The path and process were stunningly different. The results too.
Hindsight is a great thing, right? It allows us to learn and to adapt. Which I clearly did. Still, I know I could have avoided some significant mistakes, had I started at the right end: Me.
This is my motivation to share. As it might avoid some horrifically tricky situations. Or at least give you the certainty that you’re not alone, and it might give you so much more peace of mind when it comes to your children, seeing them growing up.
I’m sure you’ve already read enough books about parenting advice or listened to specialists and experts, right? The thing is – our reality is always different as I have learned the hard way. That brings me to my first point.
Your child is unique. I bet you have had this thought before. Let me explain what I mean by that. I believe that we are all unique as humans being in our individual path. Yes, there might be lots of similarities with others. The devil is in the detail, though. So what works for one person, doesn’t work for another. And while I treated my children the same (or at least that is my perception), I now know they required different things. Different help. Different measures to support them finding their path. Because they are unique. And so is their way in life (nothing to do with the profession they might choose eventually – I’ll come back to that in a moment). The one thing where we can treat all of our children the same is love. You cannot give too much of it. And unconditionally.
You might have one child, not 2 or more. The same applies so. He or she is unique, and his requirements might be different than the ones from your friend’s child. Or the one described in the books. It’s your job to find out. While observing and communicating. Often they know best.
2. Wanting my children to succeed in what I defined as success
Let’s face it: success is a fickle thing. We all use the same word and probably mean something else. What we all have in common as parents: We’d like our children to succeed. With all our heart. And many of us have this fuzzy idea of success in our heads, which usually involves having a good job, earning good money, being happy. The latter often considered a result of the first two. I get it. That’s how we were brought up. Well, most of us. Performance counts more than anything, and school is SO important. Question: when was the last time anyone checked out your results from school? Exactly.
All of those points are obviously connected somehow. When we see our child deviating from the path we have in mind for them (and let’s be honest, we ALL do) and we are worried about them not being successful, or being excluded from social circles, if we see our child behaving differently than others, our fear kicks in.
I know what I’m talking about. I have a son who hardly spoke a word when he was three. I was told he might be retarded (by well-meaning friends). That sent me into a panic. Inside – as outside, I was defending my son forcefully and told people that things will be alright.
He did speak eventually. And he’s even very intelligent. Still, my fear kicked in. And got even worse, when he started kindergarten and school and did not really belong. Had no best friend and was considered “different”. That triggered my own deep-seated fears. I just didn’t know at the time. Hence I did not look there. Had I known it would have changed a lot. For my son and me.
Fears make it impossible to trust. When we see our children walking on a path which might be alien to us, hardly any of us lean back and say curiously: Huh, let’s see where this leads”. Precisely that’s required (unless the child clearly harms itself in one way or another – a topic for another time). Children test out what suits them. They try on different behaviours and paths. To see if they fit. And even if they don’t and we can clearly see it – they got to feel it to know. When my child plays up, it’s probably got something to do with the fact that they sense I don’t trust him/her.
Trust is the greatest gift we can give to our children. And I know how damn hard it is sometimes. My son is 23 now and is still figuring out paths. And many I don’t like. Which gives me a perfect opportunity to practice trust. And believe you me – I don’t always succeed!
That is a big one. Sometimes our children behave in ways which are despicable for us. We loathe it. And we utterly dislike our children in these moments. Until the bad conscious kicks in – hey, this is my kid. I’m supposed to love her all the time. Yes, you are, and you probably do. Nobody demands from you though to like your child all the time. Or even more precisely: his or her behaviour. I went as far as telling my kids in those situations, after this epiphany (which created a massive relief for me): “Hey, sweetheart, I love you with all my heart, AND I utterly dislike your behaviour”. Please note that I use the word AND here. NEVER but. As this would destroy the message in the first part of the sentence. Just saying .
Another big one. Our children are not blank canvases when they are born. Those where we write on and define who and what our children become. Where they become successful and beautiful when we’ve written all the right things on. And fail if we don’t.
First of all, our children are born with their soul. And eventually, it starts expressing precisely that. And the outcome might be that your child is utterly different from you or the other parent. Yes, children have our genes. They don’t determine all parts of our personality or character, though. Yes, we have (some) influence on our children.
We often completely over-estimate what level of influence we have. The smaller the kid, the more significant the impact. Of the people who spend time with your child. That might be you or someone else. Let’s face it though, our influence quickly starts to wane as others kick in: friends, peers, school, society, the internet….you name it. This is not just my view but supported by several studies, meanwhile. Quite a relief - as we’re not “guilty” or a failure. That does not relieve us of our job to accompany our children as good as we can though.
BTW – even if we live the healthiest, most honest, disciplined life with tons of integrity, we don’t get any guarantee that our children copy all of our behaviour or attitudes. And what really lands with our children might only show years or decades later.
You don’t have to do it alone. I read books. I listened to experts. And still, relating to point 6, I felt guilt and shame when I realized one of my children was different, and the behaviour did not reflect the “norm child”. The best thing we can do for our children is to provide them with all the support they can get. Even if we can’t offer it. Even if it means checking out a potential diagnosis from a psychologist. What I did eventually. Being pressured into it from teachers. In hindsight, I was glad I did. Because then we got clarity. And could progress from there. My son was tested for autism, and we found out he’s not. So, I could put a worry of years to rest. Even if the result would have been different – the clarity for the child is what is essential. As it gives us pointers about the support which we could get from others, which we could not provide. I learned that sometimes I’m too close to see what is really going on. So, external help can be incredibly valuable. And you’re anything else than a failure then – rather a hero, as you go out of your way to get your child the help it requires.
AND there is no harm in getting help for ourselves. If we're stuck as a parent. My children were (and partly are) still my greatest teachers. Sometimes I'm not quite sure for what, I tend to find out eventually though. Which then triggers an immense sense of gratitude and it's humbling when I look back and realize how much valuable lessons I got - mainly about myself.
Believe me, I was worried about asking for help. I was afraid that it means that I have failed in my most important role. When I did though, everything changed. And it became lighter.
My children are grown up now. And have been going very different paths. Some of which I like, some not. That’s not the point though. I’ve accepted that my children are people in their own rights and always were. AND every time I have an argument, I worry or get upset or angry at them, I take a step back and look closely. At myself, that is (yes, still). Namely, to find out what I can learn about myself here, what lesson the universe (in the form of my children) presents me to learn.
That relaxes me every time. And I don’t feel the need to change my children or push them into a (=my) desired direction. Funny thing is, every time I take this path, I give them the chance to behave differently. And sometimes – often to my utter surprise – they do.
Believe me, I know it’s not easy. Let’s talk and share as parents rather than judge, blame or criticize. Or feel superior if our child falls into the socially accepted category. Let’s have the sometimes difficult conversations with our children, our partners and other people in the life of our children. Showing compassion – for ourselves, our child – and other parents and children, who might face their very own struggles. As we all do from time to time. That is the reality.
You’re not alone. And together we’ve got that.
PS: After I wrote this I realized there are quite a few lessons to learn for me as a leader too - even if the dynamic and the emotions are quite different between parents and their children than between leaders and their teams. I'm pretty sure you find those parallels and if not, drop me a line at [email protected] The biggest similarity: We are leaders in either scenario. And leadership starts WITHIN OURSELVES.