I Love You, Unconditionally
Watching the recent series of MasterChef I got to thinking about the expectations we put on our children. Over and over again the same theme kept coming through from the contestants when they were asked about why they were there. They wanted to make someone proud. It sounds nice at first. The judges and other contestants would commend them and encourage them, telling them that their family would indeed be proud of them. A lot of them especially wanted to impress their parents. To give them something to be proud of. I didn’t have the same reaction. I found it sad. One woman in particular was very upset when she left the show, commenting that she felt like she had disappointed her parents.
I hope my children never feel like this. That their life should be lived to impress me. I want them to feel pride in themselves when they accomplish something because they worked hard and it was meaningful to them. Not because I have evaluated it and deemed it worthy. I don’t want their self worth wrapped up in other people’s perceptions of them. I want it to come from within.
‘When children feel they must keep doing impressive things so their parents will be proud of them, their acceptance of themselves may become equally conditional’
– Alfie Kohn
We do so many things as parents that we don’t even consider the impact of. And I am guilty of them too! Encouraging children to perform for a ‘good job’ from us. Praising them when they are quiet, amicable, and obedient. Punishing them when they are disruptive and can’t control their emotions. Things we would never consider doing to an adult. I mean, if I was crying and my husband said to me ‘ok, that’s enough now, stop crying, it’s not that bad, you’re being silly’ he could expect a less than impressed reaction. We encourage this dependence on our praise. Even when you go out strangers ask your children ‘have you been a good girl/boy for Mummy today?’ They are sent off to school where the focus is increasingly on standardized testing. They have to compete and perform better than their peers to be deemed ‘good’. They are bombarded with this pressure from everywhere! It’s really no wonder that they then grow up feeling their job is to make their parents proud, and feeling as though they have failed if they don’t live up to others expectations. That’s what we have taught them!
I am so grateful that we have discovered this homeschooling life. Where education is not standardized and we have the freedom to let them learn in their own time, without competing with anyone or being constantly tested. Where I can show them respect and trust in their learning, instead of pressuring them to learn what I think is important. But what good is that if I am still treating them differently in other areas? That needs to change too.
And it’s really hard to change! ‘Good job’ comes so naturally to me. It slips out of my mouth like an impulse at the most unnecessary times. When my child is struggling with a big emotion, a disapproving expression comes over my face before I realize. But if you change your perspective, if you realize that children are people and deserve the same respect as anyone else, it gets easier. Would I give a patronizing ‘good job’ to an adult in an effort to shape their behavior? No. And my child deserves the same respect.
It is a hard habit to break but I am trying, and practice makes perfect. I will keep trying because it is so important to me. I want to raise strong girls who know themselves and their worth. Who don’t need to look to others to find acceptance. I want them to find what makes them happy, not what will make others happy with them. I want them to know that I accept them for who they are now. That I will guide them through life but I won’t try to change them. I want them never to doubt that I love them unconditionally.
I love this post SO much Sara. Every word is so wise and true. I think we’re always a work in progress and there is no perfection – there is always more to learn and more to improve on and another level of connected parenting to rise to. I think just the simple fact that we want to do better is enough. You’re an amazing mother and I know your girls are going to be amazing women in the future 🙂
Thank you so much Andrea. And I always love talking with you about parenting and homeschooling and life!
Oh boy – I love this article. But this is something I struggle with daily. I have two children, one I can parent like this; she will always meet me half way, so to speak. The other, who is 6, does not only question authority, but has no regard for it. She does not accept consequences for her actions. She is a big person trapped in a small body. So, I try and be careful with the words I use, and try and encourage that determination. But if only that determination could be used for good, rather then ‘evil’ and if I didn’t get soooo frustrated it would be easy!
Oh I so understand! My 3 year old is the same and it is SO frustrating! But we just keep trying. I’m sure we’ll both get there 🙂
I’ve just stumbled into your blog thru Kate (aneverydaystory.com) link, and i feel truly truly truly inspired esp now that im just on my 2nd year of raising a lil girl. Thanks for being such a great inspiration. you are a blessing!
Thank you so much! What a lovely comment!
This is such a lovely post! So heart felt !! (I guess like all of us) I do these things better some days than others? But want so much for my girls to feel and know I love them unconditionally! This post reminded me of that & made me think I must look at the unconditional parent book again, I got so much from it the first time & something’s stuck with me really well but it’s probably time for a refresher! Thank you!
Yes, definitely have times where it doesn’t all go to plan!
It’s a great book isn’t it!
Thanks for sharing some beautiful wisdom. I relate to what you are saying so much. Finding acceptance of self and feeling blessed and appreciative of the people we are seems to be a very hard task for those I know. Constantly striving to be better then “average” or to reach our societies definition of success. What beautiful knowledge to pass onto our children that they are good and perfect just the way they are. Now all we have to do is keep practicing 🙂
Yes, practice practice. It’s a hard habit to break. Well, it was for me anyway.