Children pay attention to EVERYTHING. They use all of their senses to find clarity, safety, certainty, and love when they are around their parents. Children watch you, even when you don’t realize it.
They notice how your tone of voice differs from the words you say, they see how you come home from work and watch who you become, when you get home. Even though your children live in the “now”, they file away the nonverbal messages you give, and if there is a pattern, they try to figure out how they fit into the equation of why you are acting the way you are acting and sometimes,they wonder why they don’t seem to fit into your behavior at all.
Children will even go so far as to metaphorically behave; doing what they can to prevent the chaos, stress, and pain that their parents experience. Metaphorical behavior is when a child acts out in the same way as a parent to shift the focus off of the struggle of the parent. For example, if a child’s mother has migraines and the child has no other choice but to take responsiblity for helping his mother with her pain (making dinner, cleaning house, putting her to bed, getting her medicine) the child can then develop migraines himself, as a way of connecting with his mother (same symptoms) and even more so, getting the mother to get out of her pain, enough to take parental responsiblity via a doctor’s visit, and ultimately relieving him of his childhood paternal duties. He is metaphorically working to change the hierarchy of power.
Children learn, at a very young age, what it takes to make the family system work. They notice the changing moods of their mother or father and quickly figure out how to navigate the emotional swings. They see their mother who is constantly complaining of illness and realize that the way to feel significant, let alone to gain the love and connection they need, is to become the caregiver, vigilantly keeping watch over her changing symptoms.
They also learn, very quickly, about love and relationships. They watch how you and your mate regard each other. They see how you anticipate your partner’s needs, and meet them, or intentionally ignore them, serving your own needs instead.
Based on how you relate to your mate, you help your children determine how valuable they are as a man or woman. Their model of an adult love relationship is founded upon your love relationship. If you adore each other, your children will learn to expect that from their mate, as well as be able to give that deep love to someone else. If you show contempt for your spouse directly or passive-aggressively, your children will learn that, too. They will also learn that they must rely on some level of suspicion and mistrust in relationships. If you are a parent who can’t keep your house clean or keep your promises, your children learn that being messy is ok and that relying on you, is not.
As a parent, if you act like a big shot, taking credit,in public, for the existence of your children, while in private, you stay on the periphery and focus on yourself, your children will notice that, too. If you are a parent who is passive or controlling, your children will emulate that part of you at some point or they will rebel against it.
So, what do you really want your children to know from your behavior? Do you want them to know that you speak out of both sides of your mouth or that you mean what you say and follow through? Do you want them to discover that you consider yourself more important than them, serving your needs while denying them theirs? Do you want your children to know that you are their soft place to land, even when they don’t like you; they still know that your love is unconditional? Do you want your children to know that, no matter what happens in your life, they bring sweetness and happiness into your heart when you see them? Do you want your children to learn about integrity, honesty, fidelity, responsibility and compassion from you?
Do you take time to really think about what your behavior is telling your kids about you?
One way to do that is to take a moment and reflect on your own childhood and recall how your parents parented you. Can you see how they loved each other but weren’t affectionate with one another, and in your relationships, you withhold affection? Did you notice how one of your parents was very dominant, and, as a result, you don’t do well with authority? Did one of your parents have poor boundaries and asked for adult advice from the adolescent you about whether they should stay in their marriage with your other parent or divorce them? Did one of your parents live vicariously through you, putting pressure on you to become everything they weren’t?
Do as I say, not as I do. It’s not enough for you, as a parent, let alone a person, to expect someone to follow your verbal example and then display incongruent behavior. This mixed message, especially when used as the avenue for raising your children, creates an incredible sense of confusion and uncertainty for your child.
Having worked with thousands of parents over the years, I know of no parent who has the intention to mislead, cause pain, or fail their child. I also know, that, without upgrading your parenting consciousness, you could easily make any one of these mistakes.
You can always change your ways, if you want. People change all the time. If you want to be a different parent, start within, and look at yourself and what you value most. If you can learn how to rearrange your priorities, so that your children get the best of you, do it. If you can’t figure out what needs to shift in you so that you can improve your relationship with your mate or your child, find someone who can help you.
Create a legacy of which you are proud to pass on. Your children’s happiness and view of how good the world is begins with you. What do you want your kids to know about you?
In love and light,