It wasn't until after I became a parent that I truly understood what my new role was. Prior to becoming a mother myself, my relationship with my parents was more about me forgiving them for all the things they did to me (or didn't do for me), and for understanding that they did only what they knew. That was how I was able to build upon our relationship, from one full of resentment and blame to one of understanding and love from a much deeper place within myself.
My journey of being a parent has taught me so much about myself and about becoming the best parent I could be without sacrificing who I was at the core.
Cultivating a 'whole healthy' relationship with my children was my #1 goal. Having a whole healthy relationship means being our authentic selves (being true to who we really are) while simultaneously having a positive relationship with the other person. Not easy sometimes, right?
So I went on a quest to learn everything I could from all the experts in the field of parenting and building healthy relationships to understand who my kids were at the core, and how who I was at my core, could co-exist in a harmonious manner. Trust me when i say it's not easy when you have children who think, feel and behave very different than you. But parents, here's the kicker. Sometimes when you have a child who's cooperative and does everything you ask of them, you may be compromising who they are at their core. It may seem easy for you, but not so easy for your child. Let's think about this for a minute.
After studying and observing numerous parents and their relationships with their children, what I learned was that many parents want to re-live their youth through their children, or they want to utilize their children as vehicles to their success in life somehow. And if you have a child who is a parent pleaser, like I was growing up, then you have a child who will do what it takes, what's asked of them, to make you happy.
You can test this easily. Say a child has been playing football for many years, and they're doing really well in the sport, and you see almost every Facebook post from the parent is about the child playing football. All you have to do is ask the child about their sport. What do they like about it? How was their season? If a kid really loves the sport he's really good at, they will want to talk about it. You can see the light in their eyes when they're talking about it.
From personal experience and from observing other children where they're really doing it to make the parent happy, it's not a positive end result for the child. And ultimately it's not for the parent either. Because knowing or unknowingly, the parent becomes the child's target for resentment. Especially when we push them too hard into something that they might just be ok with because their parents want them to excel in "it" <fill in the activity, sport, college major, academic honors, etc>. We're talking years of therapy, trying to find themselves and confusion as an adult. Because for a child, feeling love from a parent is super important, and doing what pleases mom and dad is one way they feel like they can get love.
Now that my 3 children are 12, 16 and 17 years old, I feel as close to them and maybe even closer now (because they get things more now) as when they were younger children. My 12 and 16 year olds still like to crawl into bed with me and cuddle on occasion. My 17 year old still comes to me or dad for a quick back rub before bed. I feel good about our past and I feel even more excited about what the future holds for them. I see each of them being who they are at the core, so I have to believe they will choose professions, and partners and life choices that will serve them well. Sure, they're not #1 in every activity they've done up to this point, and they're not 4.0+ GPA students, but they are living a loving, whole healthy childhood, and as a parent, I can only hope they take that into adulthood.
So a key lesson I've learned as a parent is this. Truly get to know your child. Learn their strengths, their passions and what they're really good at. Don't focus on their weaknesses and shape them into someone they're not. With our world as competitive as it is now with young people competing to get into colleges and expectations to be more and do more at younger ages, it's become a race to oblivion. Suicides and breakdowns, turning to violence, being totally disconnected with those who are supposed to have your back, have all become sadly, a common theme in our societies. As parents, we need to be accountable and help our children grow up to be whole healthy individuals, and for us to have whole healthy relationships with them, especially as they become adults. Because that is what will carry them, and you, to a fulfilling and harmonious life separate and together into the future.