Are you raising your child or trying to fix your own childhood traumas?
Myth or fact: If you give your child the love you never had in your own childhood, will it make them happy, whole adults? Is the lack of love and encouragement in your childhood the cause of your adult problems and unhappiness?
A lot of the issues that come up in parenting are really not even about our kids, but about ourselves — how we process our own childhood experience and unconscious beliefs about our childhoods.
There’s a lot of hidden narcissism baked into popular beliefs about good parenting.
Whether you’re a parent or not, understanding the process of parenting is important for everyone, because it affects how we perceive ourselves as adults.
Reader question: “My Christmas was good, or so I can say, because my perspective of things has shifted a lot.”
“If my inner interpretation of things had not changed so drastically, my Christmas would have been horribly lonely.
“I am dealing with a 13 year old daughter who is mildly depressed and Christmas day was decorated with an outburst of crying. Her crying makes me feel desperate as I can’t figure out what to do to help her. She shuts down when she’s mad. I can totally relate to it because I was 13 once too so I know how she feels. I didn’t know that despair was genetic…I thought my teenage years were awful because of my parents’ lack of love for me. I am sure I gave my daughter much more love than my both parents could have ever given me, but on Christmas day I asked myself if my efforts have ever made any difference. And I keep hoping they have…
“I am glad you felt excited about the queens speech. [I shared with her that my daughter and I watch the Queen’s address on youtube every Christmas wherever we are in the world and then chat about it after — weird, but true!] Whatever the motive, if you two bond over it, it is great! When you said that my first thought was to try to find out what it is that makes my daughter and I bond too. Right now there’s very little she likes or feels happy with. She likes youtube videos and the music she downloads in her cell. I am not feeling how I can be included in her interests…she is very lonely and so am I…
“Thank you Amara for your love and for everything. Let’s stay in touch.”
You’ve given your daughter more love than you received growing up and you’re wondering if it made any “difference”. It depends on how you measure that, and perhaps you are measuring it the wrong way.
If you mean that by loving her she will somehow be spared from being moody, depressed, making bad choices, having to overcome personal weaknesses, etc….no, she will not be spared.
She is not the product of your love.
Your love does make a difference, because being loved is always better than not being loved. Obviously. But it does’t mean we get to sail through life.
And yet, we carry individually and collectively this totally unexamined, fundamental belief that giving our children “love” ensures their future happiness, wholeness and spiritual development.
Most people would be hard pressed to even be able to define what it means to love a child in such a way as to fulfill this fantasy in which you love them enough and in just the right way to inoculate them from the pitfalls of being human. What would that love look like, not in big brush strokes or conceptually…but in real life, on a daily basis? What are we even talking about? What’s at the heart of this belief?
The unexamined belief that if we love our children they won’t be negative, insecure, rude or mean, thoughtless, confused, indecisive, needy, emotionally unstable…why do we believe this? Is it true?
I share a lot of very personal stories in the Peerless and Mastery course material, and some people are surprised to learn just how bleak and terrifying my childhood was. If being loved and having a stable, perfect childhood was necessary to become a whole, loving, grounded, sane adult then I should have lost my chance to be all those things from the start.
So there’s this pervasive belief that if we love our children in the right way, they will be happy, sane, grounded and emotionally, socially and financially successful and fulfilled. If you turn this over to see the other side of this belief, it looks like this: If I was loved as a child in the right way then I would be happy, sane, grounded and emotionally, socially and financially successful and fulfilled.
The two aspects of this belief are one belief, one mythology about how we do or don’t become an adult with agency, capable of even approaching this ideal we hold of personal development, wholeness and emotional freedom.
It’s hard to even fully examine this belief when it’s already taken hold. It’s like a spreading vine with innumerable tendrils that wrap around and ultimately affect how you interpret a lot about yourself, others and this human experience.
Our childhoods affect us, deeply. It’s much better to love and care for your child than to not. But it’s a huge leap from these simple statements to the belief that loving your child is what gives them the keys to a happy, well adjusted adult life. Conversely, it is an enormous leap to believe that any lack of parental love and care in your own childhood is what’s keeping you from the same.
If you hold this belief, you might examine it and see the fallacy, but that’s not the end of it. It’s such a deep rooted, unconscious belief that in no time at all, you’ll just snap right back into believing it. It’s something you need to make a lot of effort to notice, and each time you notice it, you need to pull out those tendrils and release yourself until you finally uproot the thing entirely.
It’s not your job, nor even within your ability, to fix your daughter’s depression or dark mood.
Really let that sink in.
Your daughter is her own person and does not need you to make her inability to manage her moods go away. She needs to develop the tools to understand and manage her own moods.
Sometimes those moods are because of something really difficult she’s going through and sometimes they are normal puberty brain chemistry and sometimes a combination. But this is not about you.
Please let that sink in. It’s not about you.
It’s not about what you experienced as a child and built beliefs around, it’s not about validating your ability to make things better or that you’re a good mom or whatever. You will be much more effective in helping her and also much calmer yourself once you remove yourself from it and truly recognize that your daughter is a unique person who has her own karma, her own path and things to learn and hardships and crappy personality traits and insecurities and critical internal monologues and brain chemistry…all of it. The whole package of human experiences, defects, frailties, strengths.
Being human is a mystery, isn’t it? Hasn’t it been a bit of a mystery for you, for all of us? Is she any different? Is all this messy human-ness any less of a mystery for children? Whether or not we parent them well, love them well? Aren’t the comic/tragic adventures of Consciousness trying to navigate the experience of being in this human body, this human mental and emotional system…all this fragility and limitation…isn’t that common to everyone, regardless of anything else…including or especially their upbringing?
Darling, we all make this error. We look at our own experience, our own upbringing and form beliefs based on them. It’s totally normal. Then we project this very subjective, very personal, and probably very flawed understanding onto our children.
I gave my daughter almost more love than she could hold. She would be the first to tell you that my love could build an entire universe. She is overflowing with it. And? Does she have perfect self esteem? Does she make flawless relationship choices? Does she feel happy all the time? What do you think?
We haven’t outgrown this particular quirk of our childhood cognitive limitation. It’s normal to be “narcissistic” as a child (it’s not even a defect, but an ordinary phase of development), but we need to grow out of it to be effective parents.
So, kids have this very faulty way of looking at the world…namely, they think everything is about them.
If their mom is shooting up heroine, they think it’s their fault. If their parents get divorced, they think it’s their fault. And it’s more accurate to say they believe (not think) it’s about them, that they are somehow at cause for all kinds of things, that this incomprehensibly complex world of relationships, geopolitics, global economics…or even what God is moved to do or not do — somehow is all about them. Have you ever seen a kid pray to God and bargain with him? “I’ll be a good kid and give up doing X if you please make my mother stop taking drugs.”
We understand this about children, that they lack the cognitive ability to comprehend that often they are not the cause of what happens to or around them.
At the same time as they see themselves as magically the cause and at fault for all kinds of things, they don’t see the obvious things for which they are directly the cause. Parents have to constantly point out the obvious: if you’re a jerk to your classmates, they won’t like you and you won’t have friends; if you lie on the regular, no one will believe you when it counts.
The interesting thing is that we grow up and we can conceptually grasp that everything’s not about us and that there are some things in our lives for which there is a clear cause and effect — and we are the cause of these outcomes. In short, we intellectually understand that the world doesn’t revolve around us and also there are clear consequences for our actions.
Even though we’ve gained the ability to conceptually understand these things as adults, we often still unconsciously BELIEVE the world revolves around us, that we are the center of everything and everything is about us. At the same time, even though we intellectually understand we are responsible for our actions and our choices, we ACT as if this isn’t true.
So take some time to look at this. Can you let your daughter have her own story? Can she be the center of her own story, or do you need to be?
And what about your own story? Are there obvious problems in your life, destructive outcomes for which you ARE directly at cause yet not willing to take responsibility for fully and tackle head on? One of the effects of childishly placing ourselves at the center of other people’s stories is that it drains away our attention and focus from our own.
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