Self-control, self-awareness, and self-love may be the three most important skills our children can learn from us. And we all know that we cannot teach what we haven’t learned.
When I was much younger, and admittedly, at times throughout my adult life, the phrase “loving myself” has elicited some immature and inappropriate jokes. I’m beginning to think this was just a defense mechanism to laugh away the fact that I didn’t actually love myself. I’ll spare you the jokes.
Being kind and generous to others was always emphasized and drilled into my brain growing up. In fact, as a child, my parents would go out of their way to treat my cousins and their coworkers’ children better than they did me. I remember one time having to give away a new toy I had just gotten to one of my younger cousins.
I no longer blame my parents for this parenting style because I now understand its value. Long ago, if you lived on a tiny isolated island with limited resources, the most valuable resource became relationships. You couldn’t afford to offend others who had skills that were vital to your family’s survival, so you played nice, even if their children were spoiled brats. Full disclosure, this is just my theory, and the spoiled brats are hypothetical.
Today we can lock ourselves at home, order everything we need to survive from the internet, and have the items delivered to our doorstep within hours. We also don’t have to put up with hypothetical spoiled brats, though I like to think that we’re all adults who are emotionally intelligent enough to handle a child without losing our minds.
If you came here today expecting to read about tips on how to control your child, I’m sorry to say you’ll be greatly disappointed. This article deals with us, the parents. After all, parenting refers to the parent and not the child. Otherwise, it would be called childrening and not parenting, and the children would be required to learn how to do it.
So, how can we become better parents?
Children Imitate Their Parents
In today’s world, we have so many responsibilities placed upon us. Along with being parents, we are expected to take on an economic, social, and societal role, among others.
Because it’s our responsibility to provide financially for our children, we take on an economic role. This means we become business owners, teachers, or freelancers. There are expectations that come along with whatever work we decide to pursue: orders to fill, children to teach, articles to write.
At the end of the workday, when we close up shop, finish grading the last quiz, or do a final edit on an article, we return to our children. They get a preview of adulthood by how fulfilled or unfulfilled we are in our work lives.
We are uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, and members of our local communities. We are friends, coworkers, and activists. Whatever social roles we play, whether we’re thrust into them or we choose for ourselves, we decide how much time and energy we dedicate to each.
Some may be rewarding, others not so much, but we take on these personas anyway. Through observation, our children learn to interact with others inside and outside their own social circles.
If we are to be productive members of society, there are societal norms that we must follow. We can choose to be taxpayers and law-abiding citizens and voters. In these roles, we teach our children the rules they will one day have to follow if they want to be accepted in a modern society. It may not be perfect but it’s hard to deny it’s better than it has been in the past.
Depending on our values and beliefs, our children may one day staunchly defend the society they’ve grown up in or become rebels who seek to destroy and replace it. Either way, there are, and will always be, norms that keep society from eating itself.
3 Individual Skills to Cultivate as a Parent
Everything mentioned above is irrelevant if we don’t know who we really are as individuals. Who’s behind all the masks we wear to fill the roles (including the parenting role) in our lives?
Does Johnny Depp dress up as Jack Sparrow and talk like a pirate to his children? Does Former President Obama speak like a politician at the dinner table?
If we don’t know who we are deep inside, all the roles we play only become masks to hide the real person behind them.
Some of us might bury ourselves in our work to avoid confronting our own issues. Others escape by drinking alcohol and using drugs. We even see and hear about helicopter parents. According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean of freshmen, this parenting style “robs them [the children] of the chance to learn who they are, what they love and how to navigate the world.” These parents put off their own issues to detriment of their children.
We are the first teachers in our children’s lives, and they notice much more than we think or would care to admit. If we have a bad day at work, they’ll notice. If mom and dad are fighting a lot, they see that. If we engage in self-destructive behavior, what message are we sending to our kids?
Self-control is important both as an individual and as a parent. It’s amazing how much value we place on the aspects of our lives that are out of our control. We need to forget what we cannot control and focus on the things we can.
Take traffic, for example. Traffic is one thing that we hold no control over, yet it still drives people mad. Accepting that we are powerless against traffic, we can begin to look at possible solutions that are within our power. We could plan ahead and leave home earlier. Or better yet, if you are an environmentally conscious individual, use public transportation or carpool with coworkers.
As much as we like to think we control; and, in some cases, own our children, they are individuals not unlike ourselves. Sometimes we must loosen the reigns and let them make and learn from their mistakes. The more authoritarian we are to them, the more they’ll want to rebel against us as they grow.
Self-awareness is another skill that’s important to have as a parent. It’s something we cannot outsource, no matter how much money we have. As individuals, we’re often unaware of things that happen around us (and to us) as we’re constantly bombarded with expectations and responsibilities. We forget to take time for ourselves to reflect and reassess.
Even activities like guided meditations, though a good starting point, are counterintuitive. How can we be self-aware and connect to our inner being with someone else’s voice in our head? I have a hard enough time trying to quiet my own inner monologue.
Being self-aware is to know our strengths and flaws. Knowing our flaws allows us to understand what we need to work on to be better. If I’m not aware that I’m failing my children in my duties as a parent, why would I change?
Self-love is probably the hardest thing to do, at least in my case. With all the unrealistic expectations today on how to look, act, and think, it’s even harder than when I was a child. Having the self-control to not be too hard on ourselves when we fall short is crucial in learning to accept and love ourselves.
It’s also just as important that we don’t fool ourselves and become willfully blind to our faults and shortcomings. This could be thought of as tough self-love. Being self-aware, and knowing what to work on, can help in this regard.
How can we be loving parents if we don’t even know how to love ourselves? We cannot truly love and care for our children, or anyone else for that matter, if we cannot love and care for ourselves. We hear it all the time: parents have to set a good example for their children.
If we let people or things outside of ourselves affect our way of being for better or worse, we effectively give what little control we have to that person or thing. We cannot allow a partner or a job determine our value and worth.
In other words, instead of looking outside of ourselves for validation, we should be looking within.
We all want what’s best for our children. That’s why we work so hard and try our best to give them what we didn’t have growing up.
Some day (I hope not anytime soon), we won’t be around for them. It’s just a sad fact of life. I can rest easy, however, if I know they have the individual skills to carry on and have a fulfilling life.
Rumi said it best in one of his poems: “It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”
If you’re reading this, we are on the same road. We may not know each other personally, but I’m glad to be walking it with you. One day, I hope our children will walk together.