When you are expecting a baby, it is common to fantasise about what your baby will be like. You picture a combination of their parent’s looks (she will be tall like me, and have your curly hair), you laugh that the baby will inherent all your abilities (he will be good at maths like you), and your temperament (charming like her mum!). Shortly after that precious baby is born, these fantasies start to dissolve (but no one in our family ever had green eyes before!). And you slowly start the process of getting to know your baby, and learning about the person they are going to become. You can even laugh at how naïve your expectations were.
So you think you have left that all behind, that you love your child unconditionally, and that you are on your way to being an accepting parent.
But why then, do you still get so frustrated with your children? It starts innocently.
The noisy, sociable parent can be frustrated by their child who won’t join the party. The soccer dad may be cross that his child doesn’t want to join the soccer team anymore. Another Dad is angry that his son won’t go for a run with him, while his older sister is very happy to. The mild, easy going mother is horrified that her child is having such a tantrum after losing the swimming race. Another mother is desperately stressed that her child seems to prefer sitting alone at lunchtime. The avid reader is so frustrated that their child won’t read a novel. The TV watching adult is bemused and horrified, that his kid won’t put that damn novel down and come and play Play Station with him. He jokes about his nerdy kids to his friends all the time.
And this mild frustration can start to build. The child keeps repeating the incomprehensible behaviour, the parent moves from frustration to annoyance. And it keeps going. Over time, it may evolve into something bigger, into a fear; that in some way, this child isn’t good enough.
The child who won’t join the party will never make any friends
The child who isn’t good at soccer will be taunted at lunchtime by his peers.
The kid throwing the tantrum will be judged by everyone as a sore loser.
The boy who loves reading will have nothing in common with his Dad.
And kids know. When that fear starts to manifest, they know that in some way they are not delivering. That they are not good enough.
In other words, as parents we are judging our children for being themselves. For being different from us. For being different from their siblings. For being different from their friends. For being different from the idealised norm of an appealing kid.
Parenting is a complicated dance of living with, and getting to know, and trying to teach, someone who is a complete stranger. There is a constant tricky balance between trying to change your child, and accepting your child. Meeting your child where they are, means accepting them for exactly who they are. Accepting their personality, their temperament, their skills and abilities, their preferences, their choices, and their way of living. You also factor in where they are in stages of physical, emotional and mental development. They are not like you, or their siblings. They may share a few traits, but they are their own complete person.
A good place to start is to assume they are doing the best they can. Maybe they have been trying really hard, and failing in the past and are completely discouraged. Maybe something bad happened at school today. Today might just be a bad day, an off day. Maybe they just find running really tiring and their body isn’t suited to it. Maybe the part of the brain that is needed for that skill, just isn’t fully switched on yet. Maybe their decision-making ability is still not working properly in their brain.
Assuming they are doing the best they can, casts a lens of compassion over your relationship, rather than judgement. It immediately softens your thoughts.
This doesn’t mean you condone bad behaviour. You still have boundaries and consequences in place and deal with poor behaviour choices appropriately. But it does mean you drop the frustration, the resentment, the judgement, the disappointment. You drop the stuff that sets you up to feel bad, and gets in the way of your compassion.
I believe that self-love springs from self-knowledge.
To love yourself, you first have to know yourself. So you can embrace your strengths and weaknesses, accept all your embarrassing quirks, or lack of talent. To love yourself you have to understand your personality, and how it operates. As you learn about yourself, you adapt your life to suit. You learn that the introvert needs to be alone to recharge, that the extrovert needs company to do so. You learn to play to your strengths, and to thrive despite anything you may have identified as lacking. Despite your lack of courage, you learn to try things. Despite your lack of skill, your go to classes and learn. Or because of your lack of skill, you laugh and don’t bother trying.
You can do this with your children too. Learn more about their inherent personality, so you can accept their lack of interest in having a large group of friends. Learn more about their abilities so you can say, “actually you can give up soccer, I see it is really hard for you”. To learn more about your child, try some children’s personality profiles, talk to their teacher, or any other sensible adults who spend time with them. If you think they have a serious skill gap, get a professional assessment. Do your homework, and learn more about who they really are.
Next time you find yourself getting annoyed at your child’s choices, you can ask yourself some probing questions
- Who do I need to be, for this particular child?
One of your children may need an encouraging and involved parent, another may need mum to step back and leave them to it.
- Where is this kid coming from? Why don’t they want to do this? Is it part of their personality, is it about confidence, maturity or lack of abilities? Is there some logic behind it?
Your child may be a true introvert and prefer being alone, being in a crowd may stress him out.
- Does this really matter? Are they happy in their choice?
Acceptance. Meeting them where they are, not where you wish they would be.