The job of a parent isn’t easy. Despite our best efforts, we may find ourselves put in the position where we will have to make difficult choices. This means that there will be times where our children aren’t happy with us, but does that make us bad parents? The answer, in short, is no. Sometimes doing what is best for our children isn’t the same thing as doing what makes them happy. That’s not to say that we don’t aim to do the opposite, of course. Learning to be an authentic parent is a lifelong challenge. As parents, we also do what we can, when we can, to make our children smile. In this way, parenting can be like a double-edged sword. But the risks are always outweighed by the reward: building a better life and a successful future for our children.
When trying to guide and teach children, parents must remember to be mindful of what they say and how they say it. I’m sure most of us can recall a time at some point or another during our lives where our own parents ended up saying or doing something that hurt us. While their intentions may have been good, the memory and terrible feelings associated with it remain. These feelings may have even had a negative impact on our lives and/our choices, such as dissuading us from pursuing our dreams.
The Dangers of Being an Over-Protective Parent
More often than not, in instances such as these, our parents were merely trying to protect us from the unfortunate situation of having our dreams crushed or getting hurt. But in doing so, they may have unfortunately done the very same thing, themselves. No stranger to this sort of situation, Dr. Steven Joseph states that “Many people, when they think about their childhood, will recall times when their wishes, dreams, or aspirations were ignored, laughed at, or dismissed by someone whose role was to nurture and care for them.” An internationally-known leading expert in positive psychology, Dr. Joseph has heart many cases which resemble this exact situation. The reasons are almost always the same: “those parents and other adults say and do these things out of a misplaced desire to be helpful. It may be that they genuinely think they are helping.”
As parents, we would never go out of our way to hurt our children intentionally. When we steer them away from something it’s because we’re trying to keep them safe. The problem lies, however, in our limited perspectives. In essence, we end up trying to guide our children towards what we feel is best for them, however this perspective only encompasses our point of view. In doing this, we end up trying to mold our children into the shapes we find most desirable, or, put in other words, we sometimes guide them down paths that we want them to explore, not the ones that they want or that will fulfill their needs.
Raising Children as Individuals
While our intentions may be good, noble, even, it doesn’t excuse our actions. As a parent, our lives will be full of tough choices but sometimes what is best for our children isn’t what we want. Rather, it is what they need. There will be times when these two vital things simply do not intersect, and we must be prepared for it when the time comes. To this, Dr. Joseph recommends something that he calls “authentic parenting.” This, he explains, “starts with the belief that each person is unique in what they bring to the world. Like an acorn that has the potential to grow into an oak tree if it receives the right amount of sunlight and nutrients from the soil, authentic parents do their best to care for and nurture their child so that he or she develops to their full potential.”
When we learn to see our children as individuals, and not just our babies, we learn to recognize their true potential, or what they can contribute to this world. In order to do this, we must learn how to listen carefully to their voices and learn to distinguish their superficial wants from their honest needs. Sometimes the latter can be lost in translation, resulting in their being unintentionally pushed by the wayside. By doing our best to understand their point of view, including their desires and wishes, and learning the difference between guidance and controlling, we can help to open up a whole new world of possibilities for our children, rather than just limiting them to a selection of preferred options. Our job as parents, then, is not to direct the lives of our children, but to enable and empower them to go in their own direction.
Learning to be an Authentic Parent
It all starts by showing interest. However, many of us are guilty of misunderstanding what that means. As Dr. Joseph explains, “Showing interest in your children is not telling them about your record collection or pushing them to play the sports that you liked as a child. No, it’s about finding out what interests them and being interested in their world.” Showing interest is done by listening and asking our children what they think and feel, thereby demonstrating a genuine desire to understand them. In doing so, we can better support our children as individuals, and encourage them to be who they want to be, not who they think we want them to be. After all, we will love them no matter what. Therefore, we must allow them to be themselves.
Our children are ultimately going to follow a path that is different from our own, and that is perfectly fine. That being said, it can be difficult to provide advice when we don’t fully understand the direction they’re going, but we can still help by providing our love, support, and willingness to understand. We can help our children in developing the skills they need to navigate their own world, rather than focusing our energy on constructing that world for them.
It’s true that parenting can be challenging, but no one is perfect and mistakes are to be expected. Does this make us bad parents? No, so long as we learn from our mistakes and understand that an apology now and then doesn’t mean that we’re “losing” or that we’re incompetent. It just means that, like our children, and like our parents before us, we’re still learning. For life’s more difficult lessons, a family therapist can be a good method of learning new tactics and strategies of communication. They key is that we, and our children, are learning together, rather than growing apart.