A lot of us parents think we need to project an image of perfection to our kids. No, we aren’t struggling. No, we don’t argue with our spouse. And, of course, we aren’t filled with anxiety!
Everything is fine.
We want to protect our kids. We don’t want to burden them with our adult issues. They should be allowed to just be kids, right?
Right. The problem is, we end up lying to them.
“Mommy? Are you ok?”
“Yes, Mommy is fine. You can go play.”
“But you look so sad, Mommy. Are you sad?”
“No, I’m really just fine. I’m not sad. Now run and play…”
I’ve done the same thing.
“Dad, are you and mom having an argument?”
Oh the lies we tell our kids!
And they know it. Children are highly observant creatures. When you lie to them, you not only teach them that you are not trustworthy, you teach them to doubt their own perceptions of reality.
It’s serious. Who wants to teach their kids self-doubt or to pretend what’s actually happening isn’t happening? We all do it. We teach our kids to be fakes when we fake it in front of them. Then, kids end up believing it is NOT ok to be honest when they are struggling, to pretend that everything is fine, just like you do.
Then, of course, when they get older and begin to struggle with bigger issues, they will feed back to you the same old story that you fed them. No, no…everything is fine. You can go away now.
The alternative is honesty. Be honest with your kids. This doesn’t mean you need to dump all of your problems in their lap. It means that you are a person – a real human being who struggles. And you are allowed to struggle.
Here are some principles to guide you along the way:
Answer their direct questions honestly (but leave out the gory details) then offer reassurance.
If a child is aware enough to make an observation and ask a direct question, she is aware enough for a direct answer.
Let’s say your archenemy at work just slept with your boss and is now getting all kinds of favors and recognition that really belong to you. It’s driving you nuts. You’re sitting at home stewing on all this when you daughter notices.
“Mommy, are you upset?”
“Yes, I am. That’s nice of you to notice. You don’t miss much, do you? I am feeling pretty bad right now.”
“Well, some people at work are doing some bad things and it is really bothering me. I’m trying to figure out what to do. But listen, I’m going to be OK. And I am so glad you care enough to ask me how I’m doing. I’ll be OK – even though I am upset right now, but you don’t have anything to worry about.”
Let’s say that you are struggling with wicked self-sabotage. You continually set yourself up for rejection by inviting all the wrong people into your life, who are now spreading rumors about you and stabbing you in the back. The main symptom you experience is anger (which is a defense mechanism that covers up the real issue, but that’s another topic).
“Mommy? Are you angry at someone?”
“Yes, I’m sorry, sweetie. I sure am. But it’s not you.”
“Oh. Why are you so angry?”
“Well, I’m learning that I have been making friends with the wrong people – even at my age I am still learning how to make good friends. Can you believe that? Some people I thought were my friends aren’t treating me well and it makes me upset, but that is something I am working on.”
Be honest. Spare the gory details. Teach your kids that you are a person, not a liar. Show them that their perceptions are accurate (when they are). Demonstrate how to share feelings and NOT be a fake.
Then, when they are teenagers, they will be more likely to be honest with you. Of course, with teenagers there is no guarantee!
If your kids are already teenagers and you have been masking your obvious feelings from them for years, while expecting them to share theirs with you, then you’ll be dealing with someone who resents you for being a hypocrite. You expect them to be honest and deal with their issues, yet you haven’t been honest with them.
The same principles apply, but now you’ve got a lot of ground to make up. It will take some time – and probably won’t come to fruition until your teenager is an adult, although I could be wrong about that.
Being honest with your kids requires being honest with yourself first. Once you admit you are struggling to another person, the issue becomes more real to you. And that can be intimidating if you’re used to lying to cover up the truth.
You’re a person. You make mistakes. You have feelings and everyone (especially your own child) knows it. Avoiding this reality only keeps you trapped within it. In other words, it’s self-sabotage.
There’s a million ways we can sabotage our success in life and unwittingly cling to unhappiness. Pretending everything is fine when it is anything but fine is just one of them.
So, what kind of example do you want to be to your kids? A facade of a person who always has it together and never struggles? Or an honest, genuine person?
Learn more about self-sabotage by watching this free video.
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Last reviewed: 5 Mar 2014