My son and daughter are opposites.
One spends a great deal of time in his head, he reads voraciously, worries over problems that don’t yet exist, plays by the rules and is happier when he knows exactly what to expect. Methodical and analytical, I can sense his mind strategizing how to optimize for the best outcome.
My daughter marches to the beat of a different drummer. Completely carefree she lives in her body. She is an artist, a dancer, a walking carnival who cares less about what people think of her and seemingly blind to the approval of others. The end result does not interest her as much as the process. She approaches situations with equanimity and is lives quite happily in the “now”.
I will learn a great deal from my daughter, this I know. The issue is, I can more closely identify with my son, simply because I am more like him.
This may seem relatively inconsequential however, the differences and similarities we have with our children can play a huge role in how our children feel about themselves, affecting their self esteem, behaviour and the relationship they have with others.
For example, my 9 year old son often thinks like a grown up, his ideas are easy to follow and I admire his thought process and vision. As a result, my energy feels calmer around him.
My 8 year old daughter is a delightful enigma to me. Her made up rules are often foreign and tremendously peculiar. Often I’m left baffled and confused. I know she senses it.
Emotions cannot be hidden.
When I invite myself to be fully present in these moments with her, I feel a shift occur inside me. I feel energized, creative and joyful. Sublimely aware I’m being offered the gift of my second childhood through her wondrous, no rules, imaginative play.
Every child desperately wants to be understood and accepted, to be considered unique and wondrous in our eyes. Kids search endlessly for where they stand on the hierarchy of our attention and connection. It’s one reason siblings can turn out so completely opposite from one another.
Often our children’s deepest fears and pain can go unnoticed and thus unresolved inside of them and we are unaware of how we may be contributing to it.
The more conscious I am of my inner mind and the subtle behaviours which create distance, marginalization or misunderstandings, the better the chance I can offer my kids what they need to feel safe, loved and appreciated.
This can be tricky process. Each of our personalities have been shaped in part by how we’ve been socialized. A dynamic synthesis of our biases, beliefs, blindspots, inner wounds and forgotten identities. Catching it can be challenging.
One tip is to simply feel into your body for sensations that you are triggered or anxious around your child and explore it. Be still and ask yourself:
What is my deep fear when my child behaves this way?
Who does this behaviour remind me of?
For example, an impatient child may unconsciously remind us of our own impatience and we feel anxious to fix it, lest they turn out like us. We compound the problem communicating in a way that has our kids feeling judged and not good enough.
An angry child may remind us of our own repressed anger and unexplored sadness or fear. This in turn can create power struggles, defensiveness and confusion between us and our children.
It is so easy to miss the root causes and simply see one child as difficult, frustrating or confusing. The cost of not exploring our feelings is massive. It can distance us from our children and the affect the sibling relationship.
So what can we do?
Next time our children express a different value or behaviour, observe your discomfort and get curious about it. Notice any desire you have to constrain them so they fit your own values, which only thwarts their self esteem and unique identity. An immeasurable opportunity is being gifted to us. We are saying, “I accept you as you are.”
Dr. Barbara Howard research at John Hopkins University reveals ‘we feel more connected to the child that makes us feel more successful as a parent.’
I continue to become more aware of my my words, my energy and my excitement when engaging with my daughter. Her extraordinary way of maneuvering through the world will help me grow and rediscover that unstructured girl I have repressed.
I will fail at times.
On those days however, when I miss the mark, I will not worry. Later, I will find her and hold her close, tenderly and curiously I will ask her…
“What can I do to love you in the way you want to be loved? I’ll whisper to her, “Teach me how to love you.”
It’s the one question every child most wants to be asked by their parents. It takes courage to ask it but even more courage to actually listen.
With Love, Rhea xx