Many parents think they have to protect their children from their (the parents’) confusion or so-called negative feelings. They think that being a good parent means maintaining a certain role — always being patient, loving, wise, and strong. In fact, children need honesty — they need to see a model of a human being going through all the different feelings and moods that a human being goes through and being honest about it. This gives them permission and support to love themselves and allow themselves to be real and truthful.
Sharing your feelings with your children does not mean dumping your anger on them or blaming them for your troubles. It also does not mean you can expect them to be your partner or therapist and help you with your problems. The more you practice expressing your feelings honestly as you go along, the less likely you are to do these things.
Being human, however, you probably will dump your anger or frustration on them from time to time. Once you see that you’ve done it, tell them you realize that you dumped on them and that you are truly sorry, and then let it go. It’s all part of learning to be in close relationships.
Parents are Role Models for Their Children; Children Are Their Parent's Mirrors
Children serve as our mirrors by imitating us from a very young age. We are their model for behavior, so they pattern themselves after us. Thus, we can watch them to see what we are doing! Children often reflect either our primary selves (in the ways they are similar to us) or our own disowned selves (in the ways they are different from us).
When they behave in ways that we find upsetting or mystifying, they are usually acting out one or more of our disowned selves — our shadow side. For example, a woman friend of mine is a very sweet, loving person who is a committed pacifist. She was shocked and horrified to discover that her little boy loved playing with toy guns; of course, he was reflecting her disowned aggressive side!
Communicating Honestly with Your Children (and with Yourself)
When your child does something you don’t like, tell him or her how you feel about it and deal with it directly, but also ask yourself in what way that behavior mirrors you or how you might be supporting it in your own process.
For example, if your children are being secretive and hiding things from you, ask yourself if you have been really open and honest about all your feelings with them. Is there something you are hiding from someone or from yourself? Is there some way you don’t trust yourself and therefore don’t trust them?
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
If your children are being rebellious, take a look at the relationship between your own inner authoritarian and rebel. If your inner authoritarian has a lot of control in your life, your children may be acting out your suppressed rebellious side. Or, if you’ve acted out the rebel a lot in your life, they may be imitating you.
Take a good look at how these problems reflect your inner process. If you learn from your experiences and grow, so will your children. Externally, a lot of these problems can be worked through by deeply and sincerely sharing your feelings, and by encouraging your children to do the same. You may want to get support from a professional counselor or family therapist to help the whole family change its old patterns.
Children Learn By Example: By What You Do, Not What You Tell Them To Do
Remember that children learn by example. They will tend to do what you do, not what you tell them to do. The more you learn to take care of yourself and live a fulfilling, happy life, the more they will do the same.
This doesn’t mean you should abandon or ignore your children. It doesn’t mean that you let them do whatever they want. You are in a deep relationship with them and, like any other relationship, it takes a lot of caring and communication. It’s important for all of you to express feelings, make needs known, and set clear boundaries. Furthermore, you have accepted certain responsibilities to care for them physically and financially. You have a right to require their co-responsibility and cooperation in that process.
The key is in your attitude. If you truly see your children as powerful, responsible entities and treat them as equal to you in spirit (while acknowledging that they are less experienced than you in form), they will mirror that attitude back to you.
Communicating With Children: What Do You Want, What Do You Feel, What Do You Think?
From the time they are born, assume that they know who they are and what they want, and that they have valid feelings and opinions about everything. Even before they can talk, ask them for their feelings about things they are involved in and trust your intuition and the signals they give you to know what their answers are. For example, ask them if they’d like to be included in an outing or if they’d rather stay home with a babysitter. Trust your feelings about which choice they are making and proceed accordingly. Then pay attention to the signals they give. If you take them on an outing and they cry the whole time, next time try leaving them with the babysitter.
As they grow older, continue to include them in family decisions and responsibilities. As much as possible, allow them to make their own decisions about their personal lives. This means they may sometimes have to deal with the consequences of making certain decisions. Offer them your love, support, and advice, but let it be understood that their lives are basically their own responsibility.
Be sure you set your own boundaries clearly — what is okay and what isn’t. Making their own decisions does not include the right to take advantage of you. Above all, try to communicate your honest feelings to them and ask them to let you know how they are feeling. Almost all family problems arise from lack of communication. Your children certainly aren’t going to know how to communicate clearly if you don’t know how.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, CA 94949. www.newworldlibrary.com.
©1986, 2011 by Shakti Gawain and Laurel King.
Living in the Light: Follow Your Inner Guidance to Create a New Life and a New World
by Shakti Gawain.
About the Author
Shakti Gawain is a pioneer in the field of personal growth and consciousness. Her many bestselling books, including including Creative Visualization, Living in the Light, Creating True Prosperity, The Path of Transformation, and The Four Levels of Healing, have sold more than six million copies in thirty languages worldwide. For more than twenty years, Shakti has led workshops internationally, and has facilitated thousands of individuals in developing greater awareness, balance, and wholeness in their lives. For more info, visit her website at www.shaktigawain.com.