“You show your vulnerability through relationships, and those feelings are your soft spot. You need to have a soft spot.”~Victoria Pratt.
I was a prickly child. If anyone smiled at me and called me the ‘baby’ of the family, I corrected them “No, I’m the youngest.” I despised being picked up. I was a big girl; I did not need to be carried. So it was quite distressing when I moved to Jamaica and people would offer to ‘carry’ me home. I would protest, not knowing they really meant they wanted to ‘follow’ me home. Well that was even more confusing! Why would they want to walk behind me? Many Jamaican sayings were quite confusing to me until I learned to say them without trying to take them literally.
I was remembering that steely determination that I had to be fiercely independent, to assert my own personality as the youngest of a large family. I often felt left out as they reminisced on family events in the past. I was so frustrated at being told that it was before I was born that frequently I would interject as a story was unfolding: ‘Was I born?’ My granddaughter reminded me the other day of that desire to be big, to be independent, as she patiently tied her own shoe laces. Two rabbit ears, pulling through…she even did a double knot! Well that was the first shoe. The second one was more stubborn, more resistant. I leaned in to assist and got sternly told to back off (‘No Granny, I can do this’). And so I had to hold back, realizing that it was more important that she do it her way (even if it pulled out five minutes later), to allow her the feeling of accomplishment. There are no better words than when a kid can announce: “I did it!”
When we had one of my social events a couple of months ago (remember that I have hosted three or four events in the past 4 months, as compared to none in the previous 2-3 decades!), the kids managed to find some hula-hoops that the previous owners had left behind, decorating the fence. There were some experts present, and my granddaughter became quite frustrated at not being instantly fabulous at the skill. It took her a week, but soon she was hula-hooping like a pro. Her brother (less dexterous than she) took longer, but he too can now demonstrate his proficiency.
It was Erikson who pointed out the importance of working through our stages of psycho-social development to emerge as healthy adults. He outlined the stage of autonomy versus shame: toddlers must be given the freedom to assert themselves (safely) or else they will grow up to be scared of trying things, sure they will fail and be shut down. Older kids should be encouraged when they try something new, when they insist and persist, they should not be made to feel guilty when they demonstrate their independence. If we are smart enough as parents, we create environments where our children can experiment and grow, given enough freedom (within reason) to allow their personalities to flourish. Unfortunately most of us parent by instinct, embodying the way we were brought up, or doing the opposite if it had lasting untoward effects. I learned about Erikson long after my youngest child was born, so I could only reflect back and wonder if I had done untold damage!
Recently I listened as a friend struggled with an issue with a grown child, a young adult. I remembered reading, when I had kids in the teenage years, that our responsibility as parents is to raise children who learn to accept the consequences of their actions. This, the author explained, is the definition of maturity. If you need to teach your child a lesson, you have to let them discover that actions have consequences. You stay up too late and can’t wake up for school? Oh well, I guess you’ll be late for school. You didn’t wash your clothes as instructed, and now have no clean uniforms? Oh well, guess you’ll have to go to school in dirty clothes. Your room is a mess? Please keep the door closed and do not let your messiness extend to the communal living area. Most of us are unable to let our kids fail. Even at housework. We swoop in and save them, unable to stand the sight of a messy room, a disheveled kid. And this behavior has been given a name: the helicopter parents; those who are forever rescuing their kids (even college age and beyond). And when the cycle is repeated over and over again, we wonder why.
But there is another truth, and that is that, as usual, the answer lies in balance. We encourage our little kids to do things for themselves, and then we overprotect them when they get older. How will we ever get them out of our house, if we convince them they cannot cope in the real world? How will the fledgling ever learn to fly if they don’t get a push?
Yet another petal of this unfurling story, is the fact that as adults we expect to face and conquer every challenge that life throws us. When was the last time you asked a friend for help? When was the last time you confided your biggest fears in another? We show our kids this tough exterior, as if there is shame in not knowing the answers. So when they struggle to develop, they think something is wrong with them if they feel scared or timid.
The author Brene Brown uncovered the truth, that those who allow their vulnerabilities to show have greater capacity to feel joy. Those who expose their own weakness, their need for help, also allow themselves to laugh with abandon, to feel great happiness, even though it puts them at risk for pain. Many of us protect our feelings with a strong armor, hoping to avoid the hurt of disappointment. Like those little kids, we have learned to hide our initiative, allowed guilt to guide our decisions.
On this Friday morning, I challenge you to feel your feelings, and laugh with abandon! I encourage to let your kids grow; they will never achieve independence if we try to control their destiny. And if they fail, they will learn the lesson that much faster!
Have a wonderful weekend Family!