The back to school season always reminds me how the scholastic hopes that we have for our children impacts our parenting choices because education remains a gateway to success. In the past, moulding my son for success admittedly led to expecting him to be perfect lest he succumb to poor choices or judgement. Subsequently, I interpreted my son’s misbehavior as threatening his prospects of living the good life and erroneously adopted excessive discipline measures with the hopes of training him to “make better choices”. My ongoing practice of self awareness and unconditional love over the last eight months has taught me that our children’s capacity for success in the ‘long run’ actually depends on the relationship that they are having with themselves. Their ability to be compassionate, self forgiving and graceful with themselves during challenges will impact their ability to remain motivated, passionate and resilient over their lifetime. With so much content to cover on this topic, I will likely write another installment to address a subsidiary topic of giving our maturing children the freedom to follow their unique path to self re-discovery. I will not be able to thoroughly discuss the intricate relationship between self acceptance and the law of attraction as well as manifestation. So I will simply highlight that if we were attracting the external displays of how we want to be perceived then more of us would be manifesting a greater magnitude of abundance, purpose and fulfillment in our lives. After years of using a punitive approach to discipline, I now advocate for more compassionate measures to guidance and correction not only because of the positive results it has produced in our children but because I finally understand that even in our wisdom, without self compassion we remain entitled, unaware and dis-empowered.
Act with Compassion.
Parents send many implicit messages to children about how they are worthy of love and I believe that how we treat our children models how they come to treat themselves. Therefore, how we respond to their wrongdoings sets an important precedence for their own internal response/dialogue with themselves during their personal mistakes, failures and set backs. Disciplining choices that lack compassion disconnect children from their internal sense of self compassion during the moments that they have disappointed themselves or others. Compassionate discipline choices will vary according to each incident but in my practice I’ve found its beneficial not extend our dialogue/frustration into the past incidents or projecting the current issue as a reflection of their potential to behave differently in the future. This models to children the importance to focusing on the factors that we can control, which is the always the present moment. We all know that consuming our energy with what we cannot control does not enhance our self efficacy. When we begin extrapolating beyond the pertinent occasion then we can begin to implicitly create shame in children. Personally, being a product of the old school mindset of shaming bad behaviors to prevent their recurrence, I wholeheartedly attest that we have little success in learning from and transforming any personal conditions that we are ashamed of. Rather, shame undermines self agency because it leads to projecting blame to other factors and making choices to regain social approval instead of correcting our mistakes. It’s also important to avoid self negating statements that equate the child with a behavior. For example instead of “you are not a good listener” try “I need you to listen more carefully” and provide the rationale as it pertains to the situation. I believe that disciplining without compassion is ‘one’of the ways we come to perceive that people will “love” us only when we are perfect and thus become afraid of failure and pursuing our authentic goals as adults. Sustaining contentment and success in the very long run requires accepting ourselves as worthy in spite of our imperfect outcomes and each moment where a child misbehaves is an opportunity to teach them how to overcome failure without fear, guilt or shame. Essentially when children can feel worthy despite their transgressions then we are freeing them from caring what others think of them when they would otherwise fear not being good enough, which is the true secret to sustained growth and success.
Perfection Doesn’t Exist.
A majority of the parenting advice that I read in the past primarily focused on adapting the parent-child relationship or on how to change our children. However, I’ve discovered that we must first enhance the relationship that we are having with ourselves in order to improve the dynamic with our children. That’s because the relationship we are having with ourselves is the only one that exists and we simply project the expectations that we have of ourselves onto everyone else, including our children. If you are like I was in the past, I was often in a relationship with perfection instead of myself. Our attachment to perfection leads to feeling inadequate or unworthy if we believe that others will judge the imperfections in some aspect of our lives. Therefore, we are expecting our children to be perfect human beings because we see them as an extension of ourselves. I often resorted to non-compassionate disciplining choices because those were my only measures for responding to myself for making mistakes. The way I scolded my son for his mistakes reflected the manner that I criticized and treated myself for messing up amidst the perceptions of others. Our desire to prove to others that we are good enough heightens our frustrations to any act of imperfection but excessively punishing ourselves and our children to preserve an image for others is truly deserting ourselves in the worst way. Improving my own self acceptance and releasing the need for perfection had made it possible to respond our children’s behaviors in the same compassionate context that I relate to myself. A majority of our children’s ‘misconduct‘ and behaviors are normal developmental curiosities as they are experiencing every stage of their development for the first time and will naturally explore the full scope of their being and self boundaries. For example, my one year daughter currently puts everything in her mouth during this stage of her development. She doesn’t care if the object is food or paper, yet it would not be reasonable to react as to one of her paper eating episodes as though she ought to be a perfect one year old and know better. It’s possible to approach every stage of our children’s growth in this compassionate manner if we abandon the expectation of perfection and nurture a more loving relationship with ourselves. Interestingly, every parent is striving to teach their child(ren) not to be influenced by the opinions of others, but without self compassion for their imperfection, children may develop a stronger propensity to seek admiration and validation in their social relationships. Admittedly, many of us were raised in the exact same manner that we are parenting our children to mould us into better people than our folks, yet by in large we turned out pretty much the same, so it’s worth breaking the cycle.
Changing The Success Story .
The consciousness of success is slowly evolving beyond the old model of commencing adulthood motivated to prove ourselves, only to become stuck or complacent in unfulfilling arenas twenty years later. The externally driven approach to success is not sustainable over one’s life time, therefore we must equip children with the self compassion necessary to continue challenging themselves to explore their full potential. Without self compassion, we may complete our post secondary education, get a decent paying 9 to 5 job, own a house etc. But we need to embrace unconditional self acceptance and grace to experience inner peace, make empowered decisions in our personals lives and nurture a positive mental dialogue, which encourages us to explore our inspirations. Our generation minimized that value of the relationship that we are having with ourselves while putting on a good front to the world. It’s now obvious that our degree of self-love impacts every life decision and subsequently shapes the progression of our personal lives. Without self acceptance, we resign to making choices that help us to feel loved and accepted by others. Hence our initial success platform as young adults may simply reflect the conditioned need to be approved and validated by our friends, family, public etc. With time, it becomes less desirable to continue expending excessive efforts in endeavors that don’t authentically fulfill us. Yet, without self compassion, we may remain both afraid of failure and lack the passion necessary to support exploring continual personal growth. Parenting with compassion allows children to internalize their worth as being greater than even the most damaging outcome. Such self grace is what will allow them to detach their happiness from the outcome of their efforts and remain curious about expanding their creativity and potential. More so, nurturing children to be compassionate to themselves unconditionally enables them to make empowered choices especially when their expectations aren’t met. Essentially self compassion, is the key to sustained happiness because it allows us to feel worthy and accept ourselves amidst our changing circumstances. Positive psychology studies have shown that happier people make an average $600-700K more money over their life time, live longer and are more fulfilled in their relationships (1). When we are happy with ourselves, we tend to make choices from a framework of self expansion, while choices that stem from a feeling of unworthiness are geared at seeking approval and simply appeasing our discontent. The new face of success in the coming generations will continue to be that of creative entrepreneurship, which is primarily motivated by passion and self evolution. The greatest gift we can give our children is modeling the self compassion and awareness that compliments evolving their creativity, growth and potential.
Remaining compassionate when we are triggered by our children’s actions is undoubtedly difficult but we must imagine that if we react excessively from frustration, those responses will likely become the choices that they will also choose for themselves. Rather when our choices always align with love then we avoid the inconsistency of swinging between anger to guilt, which limits our effectiveness. If we teach our children to always feel worthy in themselves then we can rest assured that they will be able to take make empowered choices that support their success and fulfillment. Life will never be perfect, therefore expecting perfection of our children may not afford them with the skills and confidence to gracefully overcome challenges without fear. Rather, when we model self compassion, we teach children not to be ashamed of their mistakes but to forgive their errors and take responsibility for their actions. A child that feels worthy at all times is better able to make positive choices and are less likely to be limited by their imperfect circumstances or the judgement of others.
(1) Information adapted from Rob Mack, happiness coach, speaker and author. Interviewed on Earn Your Happy podcast. Aired August 25, 2017
INI ANANA IS AN ASPIRING LIFE AND SELF DEVELOPMENT COACH IN EDMONTON, AB. LIKE STEEPING JOY ON FACEBOOK FOR MORE SELF DEVELOPMENT INSIGHTS.