Author: Dr James Best
I am so proud of my daughter, and I try to make sure she knows that. I know she has some aspects of her personality that are not perfect (and at times can be very frustrating!) but that’s ok, I suppose we all do. I am determined that she will always look to me as someone who totally believes in her. There are probably going to be times she is going to stuff up, but when she does, I want her to know that I will be there for her.
Even if we’ve established a nice secure attachment with our child, that doesn’t guarantee we are going to get along with our child. Remember, your child is their own unique self, not just an extension of you and your partner. How well do your two personalities, attitudes and beliefs fit together?
A parent-child relationship can be analogous to buying a pair of new shoes. Ask yourself: Is my child’s personality a good fit with mine, and also my expectations? Whatever your answer, you can’t take this particular pair of shoes back to the shop! You have to make it a good fit. This can require flexibility; you have to be nimble in your approach and your expectations. This flexibility and adaptability has to come from you too, not your child. Remember, you’re the adult here. What matters is how good a fit, how well the relationship works, for this particular child.
As our children mature both sides of the relationship (parent and child) can have an input, creating a more functional relationship. Our kids can even teach us as we teach them —a relationship in the true sense. This relationship can be thought of as an entity in itself, one that needs looking after too; it’s not just about our child and ourselves needing attention individually.
However, the shoes hardly ever fit perfectly. There are always going to be points of contention. This is ok. Temporary and mild stress in a relationship can even be in the learning zone — we must both adapt to negotiate with a point of view that is different to our own. I often hear parents say how much they learn from their child.
How can you make your fit a better one? Remember what you like about your child. Remember their strengths, and the bits of them and their emerging personality that sit well with you. Remind them that you think these good things about them —they might not know!
This can then provide them with the confidence, the strength, to reach out to you. You remain the bedrock that keeps them grounded, the pathway back to feeling safe. You orientate them, like a spinning electron is orientated to the steady, heavy nucleus. We know what we can change and control, our own strengths and weaknesses. If we accept our child for who they are and not what we want them to be, they can then accept themselves in the same way. Acceptance is a wonderful gift. It makes our kids feel special and worthwhile. Like Billy Joel sings I like you just the way you are.
The best way to demonstrate acceptance, and support our kid’s self-esteem is to offer unconditional love. Unconditional means unconditional— even if they stuff up, we still love them. We enjoy them for who they are, regardless. They are special and worthwhile. We believe in them.
Every child needs at least one person (preferably more) in their lives who can give this commitment. This is the person (or people) from whom your child will gather strength. As a parent, make this your aim—to be this for your child.
Some people challenge all this gooey giving stuff as being too soft; that too much love, or love without a ‘but…’ on the end of the sentence (that is, conditional) can lead to a child becoming too full of themselves, self-obsessed and selfish. This is just plain wrong. Actually the opposite is true. Unconditional love leads to self- belief and an increase in self-worth, not self-obsession.