On Loving the Child You Have

The idea of changing our children is something most parents contend with. Our children aren’t strong enough, vulnerable enough, kind enough, empathetic enough, tough enough, popular enough, smart enough, social enough -- you get the picture. Many of us struggle to "fix" our children, not because we don’t love them enough but often because we love them as much as we do. We see the small things that might make life more difficult and we want ever-so-much to take that away; if we perfect our children, they can withstand anything and everything, right?



In trying to "fix" our kids, we often do damage that we never intended.  When we harp on about being "tougher" or "smarter" or "kinder," we’re sending our children the message that they aren’t any of these things. Instead of helping them feel confident in their skin or teaching them how to cope in a world that may not be perfect for some of their traits, we’re reminding them that they aren’t enough.

A few years ago, I was in the library with my daughter and she was randomly pulling down books, as toddlers do. I was flipping through them with her when she pulled on a religious book (I think it was Buddhism). We opened it and came across a page about having children. On it, were some of the most important words (paraphrased here) I've read as a parent:

When you have a child, you are given the child you need, not the child you want.

Tracy Cassels

What if, instead of thinking of our children as the problem, we focused on us as “the problem”?  What if, instead of looking at how we can change our children, we allowed our children to be our guide in improving and understanding ourselves?

When a child does something that makes you want to cringe, perhaps the thought shouldn’t be, “How can I change this?” but instead, “Why is this driving me crazy?” When we are faced with a behavior from our child, we have a choice as to how we respond: With frustration at them or with a long, hard look at ourselves. The ability to recognize and alter our gut reactions, however, is one that is hard to come by. For some of us, it may come down to our own upbringing. For others, it stems from our own unrealistic expectations about children. Either way, our children need us to love them, especially when it’s hardest.

Being able to look at an infant or toddler or child who is making you feel on edge and respond with love, not anger, will make it easier for you to accept love. When we feel like we are failing our children (and if we’re honest, most of us feel that way at least on an occasional basis), we can learn not to hate ourselves and shut ourselves away from the people that do love us because we feel we don’t deserve it. Instead, we can look at what we have done right and accept that we are not perfect, but we deserve to see what our children and Mark Darcy see until we train them out of it: That we are worth loving, just as we are.  

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