My friend Febin said something yesterday regarding parenting which really hit home. She said that when we raise kids, we think they are deserving of love but we don’t think about them being deserving of respect. We don’t recognise that they are human beings in their own right with their own realities.
As a parent, you should never invalidate any of their feelings. All feelings are valid, even if their reactions seem disproportionate or inappropriate. While you can put boundaries on their behaviour, don’t put boundaries on their feelings. They have the right to feel what they do. By being accepting of their feelings, you also show them that they are loved and respected no matter what while also inculcating in them good behaviour.
When I thought about this in my own life, I realised how I still have the ‘parent’ talking to me in my head whenever I feel a certain way. For example, this evening, my grandfather walked into the room where I was taking a nap and touched my shoulder to see if someone was lying there (his eyesight is poor.) I woke up with a jolt feeling thoroughly irritated and asked him what he was doing rather rudely. I immediately felt bad that I had gotten irritated in the first place and had reacted the way I did. When I thought about it some more, I realised that it was actually okay to have become irritated. What I needed to work on was my reaction. That gave me a lot of relief because it’s easier to fix behavioural reactions and so futile to change emotional reactions. One feels what one does and that’s valid. Boundaries can be set on the behaviour.
The other thing she said that resonated was how a parent shouldn’t show over-the-top encouragement and happiness when the kids accomplish something. If they do this, the child learns that they are loved only when they ‘score points’ and that’s not the message you want to send. What you want them to feel is that they are loved irrespective of their actions or accomplishments and that they are inherently worthy. So it’s good to praise their hard work and the fact that they undertook the endeavour and not necessarily praise their success or condemn their failure.
I thought about how I could extend this to myself and others as an adult. While we might’ve been the most influenced as children, the truth is that we continue to talk to ourselves the way our parents and other influential adults spoke to us when we were children. And we can take conscious control of how we talk to ourselves now. Instead of praising ourselves when we accomplish something and being critical of ourselves when we don’t, we can remind ourselves that we are inherently worthy. Our stumbles or successes in any endeavour don’t reflect anything on our inherent value or lovability.
I’m participating in the Ultraworking Pentathlon at the moment and one of my nutrition goals is to avoid foods with processed sugar. I did great on days #1 and 2 but yesterday when I was at my friend’s house I ended up having a dessert she had loving prepared for me which had processed sugar in it. “There goes my perfect score”, I thought and then started talking critically toward myself about how I had messed up my chances of getting an A+ in the competition.
Today when I was reflecting on this, I felt that it really hadn’t been that big of a deal. I had been so happy that my friend specially prepared a vegan dessert for me. Plus, such things happen and it did not reflect negatively on me as an individual. The next time, I can always let people I’m visiting know about what I’m doing beforehand. Or I could just visit them after the competition. There are so many options. What is not an option is beating myself up and somehow tying my self-worth to an external event.
I feel a deep dive into attachment theory, parenting, and consciously changing ourselves as adults coming on soon! 😀