“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”— Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Last night my teen daughter was in a talkative mood. There are times when she gets this way. I have learned, that no matter how late it is, no matter how tired I am, when she gets in these moods, I show up fully “present” and “in the moment” for her. This means I don’t focus on anything but her and what she’s sharing. All kids need to feel like they're our most important priority, and that what they think and feel matters.
She shared such incredible insight. I was in awe of her. Out of the mouth of this 17 yr old, were relationship concepts and observations, which if spoken by a mature woman you’d be aware you were in the presence of wisdom. It took me much later in life to awaken to many of the truths she shared last night. I sat in jaw dropping realization that this “child” of mine has most definitely grown leaps and bounds in the last few months. It was as if I was in the presence of a peer, not my child. It is in this moment that as a parent, I knew, that no matter what happens in life, “My baby will be alright!”
It is reassuring.
Sometimes my mind becomes ensnarled in frustration, which leads me to impose reminders like: “Don’t forget to study for your SAT today!” or “Remember to get on-line and research Colleges!” These are the moments I am certain my child is still a child.
The teen years are such an awkward stage, where she is part child, part adult, which keeps us both mutually off balance and frustrated. I have to walk the narrow line between hovering too much and giving her enough independence to make her own decisions.
I have often shared a lot of life’s lessons and observations, so that she could benefit from my and others’ mistakes, and not have to commit them herself to learn. As parents we try so hard to protect our children from getting hurt. But try as we might, they will make their own mistakes, perhaps even repeating some of ours (despite our forewarning). It’s a part of growth that they must walk through their own mistakes.
I’ve always maintained open and honest dialogue with my daughter and no subject was ever off limits. It’s important to me to always be available to talk about anything, no matter how sensitive the subject. This stems from my childhood where I never felt comfortable talking to my parents about sensitive matters, because we didn’t have such open communication and I always feared my mom’s judgmental nature.
Last night I realized that no matter how much I love her, forewarn her, or lay the moral framework from which to assist her to make decisions, she will still make mistakes.
She began with, “I want to tell you something but I don’t want to disappoint you.”
With such a preamble, I knew I needed to reassure her that I wouldn’t judge her. “Sweety, I won’t be disappointed in you. I am proud of you for having the courage to talk about difficult things.”
In the midst of her talking, all I could feel was relief. I recognized that at the end of the day, if I can’t be my child’s support system and gift her with unconditional love, I have failed as a parent. Failure is not whether my child makes mistakes; it is how I handle her doing so.
Many times we as parents fall into the trap of defining ourselves through our children’s successes and failures. We may even react with shame, disappointment and fear of “what will so and so think of me?” We have to let go of judging ourselves as parents, so that we do not judge our children.
Friends and myself have experienced parents of our own who replayed our mis-steps, constantly reminding us, making it impossible to forgive ourselves and move on. We can begin anew every day of our lives— Even if we make the same mistake more than once. Regardless of how we were raised, we can discard the destructive parenting experiences, and replace them with a new loving model that our children can benefit from.
As parents we must never be the ones who damage our kids’ psyche and self-esteem. It is our job to build them up, help them navigate through their feelings, not tear them down with reminders of failure. If we don’t know how to do this for them, then we should reach out to parents who know how, and to professional counselors who can walk us through the process.
According to my daughter, “What’s most important is a parent’s reaction when you tell them something. You’re already feeling bad, and you’re trusting your parent…you want their unbiased opinion, but if they come guns loaded and screaming, next time you don’t want to tell them anything. You’ll hide imperfections because you don’t want to make them mad or disappointed. It makes you feel worse because you already know something’s not right. That’s why you come to them in the first place— you want them to help you get through it. Getting angry doesn’t help us get through it.”
Ella VeneziaCopyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.