By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Most of us really don't like it when someone is angry with us. We don't like it when people go into resistance to helping us when we need help, instead of caring about us. We don't like it when people withdraw from us, disconnecting from us and shutting us out. We don't like it when people make demands on us and do not respect our right or need to say no. Many of us will do almost anything to avoid the soul loneliness and pain we feel when people treat us in angry, resistant, demanding and uncaring ways.
It takes great courage to stay loving to ourselves and to others when we are faced with angry and closed behavior. It especially takes courage when the people we are dealing with are our own children. Yet unless we have the courage to come up against our children's anger, resistance, and withdrawal, we will give ourselves up and not take care of ourselves to avoid their uncaring reactions. The more we deny our own truth and our own needs and feelings, the more our children will disrespect and discount us. Our children become a mirror of our own behavior, discounting us when we discount ourselves, disrespecting us when we disrespect ourselves. The more we give ourselves up to avoid our children's unloving behavior toward us, the more we become objectified as the all-giving and loving parent who doesn't need anything for ourselves. When we do this, we are role modeling being a caretaker.
Cyndi is a caretaker. She and her husband have three children, ages 8, 6, and 3. Cyndi's children, as well as her husband, have her wrapped around their little fingers. Cyndi is so desirous of pleasing people and of being liked that the moment her children are upset with her, she gives in, giving herself up. A good example occurs when Cyndi is on the phone. Tina, her three year old, has already learned that if she cries or yells, Cyndi will get off the phone. Cyndi complains that she never gets to finish a phone conversation, but her willingness to give herself up to please her child has already trained this child to control her through crying and tantrums. Because Cyndi is not caring about herself, she is teaching her family not to care about her, and then wonders why she feels so drained and uncared about.
On the other hand, it is unloving to our children and ourselves to expect our children to take responsibility for our well-being. It is unloving to demand that our children give themselves up to prove their love for us and to pacify our fears. It is unloving to demand that they be the way we want them to be rather than who they are. It is unloving to set limits just to make us feel safe, rather than limits that support their health and safety. When we behave in this way, we are role-modeling being a taker.
Andrew grew up with a mother who was a taker. Everything was about her. When Andrew wanted to learn to play the saxophone, his mother refused to allow it because she didn't like the noise. When Andrew wanted to play football in high school, his mother would not give him permission because she wanted him to keep her company in the afternoons after school. She didn't care at all about what he wanted - only what she wanted was important. If he didn't do what she wanted, she would get so angry and withdrawn that Andrew learned to give in out of fear. Andrew learned to give himself up to control his mother, which has been a major problem for him in all his adult relationships.
The challenge of good parenting is to find the balanced between being there for our children and being there for ourselves, as well as the balance between freedom and responsibility - to be personally responsible to ourselves rather than be a taker or a caretaker.
Our decisions need to be based on what is in the highest good of our children as well as ourselves. If a child wants something that is not in our highest good to give, then it is not loving to give it. If we want something that is not in the highest good of our children, then it is not loving for us to expect it. It is loving to support our children's freedom to choose what they want and to be themselves, as long as it doesn't mean giving ourselves up. Children do not learn responsible behavior toward others when their parents discount their own needs and feelings to support what their children want. Our own freedom to choose what we want and to be ourselves needs to be just as important to us as our children's freedom and desires.
On the other hand, if we always put our needs before our children's, we are behaving in a self-centered, narcissistic way that limits our children's freedom. We are training our children to be caretakers, to give themselves up for other's needs and not consider their own.
The challenge of loving parenting is to role-model behavior that is personally responsible, rather than being a taker or caretaker. This is our best chance for bringing up personally responsible children. However, we need to remember that we cannot do everything "right" as a parent, that our children are on their own path, their own soul's journey. They will make their own choices to be loving or unloving, responsible or irresponsible. We can influence their choices, but we can't control them. They have free will, just as we do, to choose whom they want to be each moment of their lives. All we can do is the very best we can to role-model loving, personally responsible behavior - behavior that supports our own and our children's highest good.
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