What follows are four gifts that we can give our children (of any age), and those gifts will be delivered imperfectly:
We can take responsibility for our own feelings. We don’t have to make our children responsible for our emotional conditions. Your feelings are your own. Children don’t make us anything. We arrived wherever we are long before them. Our own love or struggle to love “makes” us feel, not them. They don’t have that much power.
We can take responsibility for our own moods. When we are down or blue or anxious or happy, children cannot change us. They influence, but cannot be in charge of healing or changing our moods. We need to get help from other grown ups to assist us in alleviating difficulties or even in celebrating our grown up periods of elation. The pressure on a child to change a parent’s mood, or keep a parent in a certain mood is an onerous impossibility for a child.
We can take responsibility for our own actions. We don’t need to tell a child that they are “making” us act a certain way. We do it in the form of “Don’t make me . . . .” which assigns some magical potion powers to a child that they don’t have. If the child takes own the magical powers, they also take on a form of grandiosity. They see themselves as being able to control people through appeasement and false approval-seeking to be safe. Or they tend towards “giving up,” and take on the rejection of not being able to do enough “to make someone not do . . . . “
We can be consistently congruent. We can say what we mean, in the tone we mean it, to match the condition of our hearts, for which we can take responsibility through truthfulness. It’s a long sentence that says we don’t leave a child in a position to have to read minds. Children and grown ups are extremely intuitive. Children trust their intuition to ask questions and to make sense of their parents’ feelings, moods, actions, and words. If we are incongruent, the child becomes responsible for reading our minds. They can’t, but intuition can be used to make some great guesses that leaves asking questions far behind.
As we deliver these gifts clumsily, imperfectly, but consistently we are presenting our children with their opportunity to trust us to take responsibility for ourselves. If they trust that we are doing that, they will be free to grow into people who can helped to do the same.
We must remember that we all fail, and even our ownership of messing up blesses a child, leaving them free to do the same. Our ability to seek forgiveness for messing up blesses the child. Not only do they have opportunity to forgive. They are growing into people who can seek forgiveness. They have seen it, and will practice what they have seen.