Healthy parenting nurtures children. A parent’s nurturing presence provides the emotional connection that not only helps strengthen the parent-child relationship, but also teaches the child how to regulate his or her emotions. Since conflict between parents is inevitable, it’s important to note a few rules parents can use to protect their children from marital issues.
If you want your children to be confident, stand up for and respect themselves, they need to learn how to ask to be treated with dignity and respect, and to learn to respect themselves, and to do so in the context of the family they grow up in formative years of their lives. Respect here does not mean obedience, it means mutual and unconditional respect for self and other as human beings. In other words, if your children had the cognitive and affective development of an adult (and they won’t until they’re about 25 years of age), and they wrote you a letter, they would say something like the following: Dear parents, Please remember that I am a child, and that I have a need (not just want) to know that you care enough about yourself and one another that is as strong as the need for you to care for me. Your thoughtfulness toward one another provides me security and sets a bar for how I resolve conflict in my life and adult relationships. SO, with all due respect, I ask you to consider to stop the following:
- Stop talking negatively about my other parent. This shakes my sense of security in the world, and creates scary feelings in me. Do let me love both of you as much as possible. How you treat one another wires me to emotionally relate to my self and others in ways that can last a lifetime. Teach me how to live with the highest respect for life in and around me by the actions you take to express your thoughtfulness and care for one another.
- Stop treating me like an adult you confide in. This too shakes my sense of security and causes me to feel confused about who is supposed to take care of who. It is too soon for me to worry about adult problems, and this can cause me to react defensively by either assuming too much responsibility for taking care of my parents — or by avoiding growing up and wanting to remain a child, not to live in the harsh world of grownups. Let me be a child, protect me, but also delight in me, encourage me and believe in capabilities I have, by believing in your self and each other. On this basis, I will see my strengths and master the skills of giving support to others some day. So, please find a friend or support person to talk to and leave me out of it.
- Stop making guilt-inducing comments if I enjoy being with my other parent (or other family members). This makes me feel torn and having to take sides between the two of you, and also puts me in charge of your happiness. This gives me a limiting view of love as a zero-sum endeavor, a competition in which the more love we give to one person, the less we have for the other. This also makes me feel uncomfortable to be myself in your presence, and can cause me to stop sharing my thoughts with you. I don’t want this to happen because I need you to be there for love and security.
- Stop arguing over how to parent me in my presence or when I can hear you. This disturbs my sense of safety and security, and makes me feel I am responsible for causing or fixing the conflicts between you. This also teaches me that, when I’m feeling “powerless” in my life, I can come between you and form a “coalition” with one parent against the other, and thus (subconsciously) enjoy the quick-fix illusion of power I have to get you to fight over my love and approval. This is not healthy for me or you (and you can’t try to change this with the “logic of words.” I am wired to do what you do, not just what you say. Please model self-discipline and healthy communication patterns.
- Stop asking me to keep secrets from my other parent. This confuses me about what is right or wrong, and does not teach me to respect you. It also tells me that I can do whatever I want as long as I keep it a secret. This doesn’t teach me personal responsibility, cooperation and other healthy habits of maintaining good relationships. I depend on you to teach me how still treat others with dignity even though I feel stressed.
- Stop blaming my other parent for things that go wrong in your life. This makes me think complaining and blaming is the best way to deal with stress and disappointments, and doesn’t teach me how to protect my sense of happiness in life by thinking of myself as an agent of change, and looking closely at what I need to learn or change to improve my life or some situation in life. This may also make me feel overwhelmed or guilty, and blame myself for your unhappiness. Emotionally, this is too much for me to handle, as a child.
- Stop all name-calling or derogatory descriptions of my parent—or yourself—in front of me or when I can hear. This is verbal abuse and it teaches me that it is okay to tear another down another person as long as this “helps” me feel better in moments when I feel stressed or powerless because I am not getting what I want. (The same applies to any physical aggression.)
So, dear parents, please remember that, while breaking the above rules causes much stress for me, following these rules, on the other hand, allows me to not only truly respect you, it also teaches me to respect myself. So please, if you feel overwhelmed by a situation or life at times, please avoid taking it out on me or dumping on me. Instead, find someone to talk to or seek professional assistance, especially if you have a problem handling emotional reactivity, anger or pain in your life. Most of all remember that because I am a child, my emotional and behavioral patterns are shaped by yours. In other words, I am wired by my human nature to do what you do, not what you say. Thank you for actively listening to understand me.
Love always and forever, Your child …
Safe to say, parents are in position to be the best teachers for their children. The best teachers, however, are great at learning from others. In other words, they see their students as teachers.
Your children, subconsciously, are tuned into how you, as a parent, treat yourself, how you treat each other, and how you allow others to treat you. Like mirrors they are teaching you to be all you can be on the basis of mirroring back what they are learning from you!
If you are not modeling your values at present, if you’re not living your best life, if you’re not in an authentic, compassionate (lovingly understanding) relationship with yourself, then you’re not participating in life as a teacher — and learner. In most cases, a compassionate way of relating to yourself and others was modeled for you; like most, you were exposed to punitive ways of getting others to cooperate with you by shaming, guilt-ing, intimidating them and the like.
You can start, however, at any time to give your child the gift of experiencing you as a parent who treats others (and your self) with the dignity and respect you expect in return. Your children’s security depends on it. (Remember to be kind and compassionate with yourself in the process, however. It’s not about being a perfect parent, just a human being who’s willing to grow and learn, stay consciously tuned in to yourself and children (and spouse if applicable), and thus continually learn how to better use the extraordinary abilities you’ve been hardwired with to consciously heal and love. And that’s amazing enough.)