Great parenting is simple. But it’s hard. We overcomplicate it because we’re convinced that doing things for our kids: making sure they have good opportunities, education, friends, nice clothes, etc., are all that is important.
But even if we give them all of these, they might still end up miserable. Why? Because we’ve missed the mark on meeting their deeper needs. That’s why we need to shift our current parenting paradigm of providing them with things and opportunities and give them what really matters: our love and security. Then, they’ll have a shot at growing into stable, healthy and happy adults.
Shifting that paradigm begins by answering three critical questions our kids have.
1. What do you believe about me?
If I asked you what you believe about your son or daughter, you’d probably answer: ‘I believe that he’s smart, capable and a good kid. Or maybe he isn’t now but he will be very soon.’ You would say that your son or daughter can grow up to be anything they want to be.
That’s nice, but what matters most is how your child would answer the question. It might be quite different from yours. I’ve cared for thousands of kids, and frequently heard answers like this. “Well, my parents sometimes think that I can’t do anything. They tell me to do well in school, at soccer, be nice to others and to be respectful. The problem is, they say that, but they don’t really mean it. When I get a bad grade, my dad gets mad and thinks I’m stupid. My mom asks what’s wrong with me and sometimes thinks I’m lazy. They may not say these outloud, but I know that’s what they’re thinking. I sometimes feel like a loser.”
Or, they might say, “I don’t know what my parents think about me. They push me to do well in school and get upset if I get a bad grade. They tell me to just have fun at soccer, then follow me to games and yell instructions from the sideline. They boast about me to their friends and that’s OK but it makes me feel that I’m just something they can use to show off. What do they believe about me? I don’t really know.”
With good intention, we make sure our kids succeed at everything they do. But often this makes kids feel used. Down deep, they still don’t know if we believe they are valuable, lovable or if even if we enjoy being with them.
Your child needs you to look deep in your heart and ask yourself what you really believe about him. Do you cherish him even if he fails? Do you believe he is capable or stupid? Is he talented at something or not? Regardless of what you say, your child knows exactly what you believe about him. So, be honest.
When I graduated college, I was rejected from every medical to which I applied. I was devastated. One day I overheard my father talking on the phone with a friend. He said, “Yes, my daughter Meg will be going to medical school in the next couple of years.” And he meant it.
In that moment, I learned what my dad believed about me: I was strong, determined and capable. His beliefs secured my beliefs about myself.