I’m fairly confident I won’t be enshrined in the Parenting Hall of Fame, but it won’t have been for lack of effort. Truth is: I came to many of the realizations/insights that fill the pages of this blog through lessons learned fairly late in life – too late in some respects to make a meaningful difference in my own home and in the lives of my own children. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t help others climb the mountain. In that spirit, I thought I would share three “truths” that I believe are critical to punching your ticket to the PHOF:
Encourage your children to openly express the full range of emotions that make up the human experience in your home (e.g., sadness, joy, frustration, pain, anger, disappointment, love, hatred, etc.), even if, at least initially, they don’t always do so in a way that you deem to be appropriate or at a time that may be convenient for you (or other members of the family). Trying to shield them from any of those feelings is futile and failing to entertain and validate them when they are occurring and need to be expressed is downright harmful, because it forces the “feeler” to swallow them and, in the process, breeds shame. I know because, in the ignorance of my youthful parenting, I inadvertently sent a message, by my words and deeds that “negative” feelings were unwelcomed visitors in our home and, wherever possible, should/must quickly be replaced with a happy face.
Don’t be afraid to be emotional in front of your children – that goes for you too dads! This does a number of positive things. First, it lets your children know that you’re human and imperfect – that you cry when you hurt, that you bang on the desk once in a while when you’re frustrated, that you sometimes yell when you’re angry, that there are times when you just want to be quiet and left alone, that you understand the importance of empathy, etc. Second, seeing a parent express (and work through) their emotions openly (and in healthy ways) is the surest way to convey your “permission” for them to do the same, without feeling that they will be judged or dismissed or, worse yet, criticized for doing so. It also will help to dispel the notion that “negative” feelings are equated with guilt or shame and should be hidden from view and encourage the healthy expression of emotions.
When you realize that you’ve made a mistake or that you could have handled a situation differently (e.g., in a more respectful or less hurtful way) make it a point to acknowledge that fact. Obviously, it’s best if you do that as close in time to the actual occurrence of the “misstep” as possible, but it’s never too late to admit that you were wrong. Thus, even if the realization comes years later, as has often been the case in my own parenting life (See “Dear Ashley . . .”), there is still an opportunity for understanding and profound healing, but all three depend on you, as the parent, taking the difficult, but incredibly liberating step of acknowledging your own imperfection. If you’re uncomfortable doing it in person, I understand. This is one of those areas where the letters I talked so much about last week can come in handy. Trust me, you will be amazed at the difference at what a difference “admitting” what you’re children already know (i.e., that you’re imperfect) can make in their lives and yours!