A young mother of two daughters was sharing some of her parenting struggles with me. She spoke of how overwhelmed she felt in the early days of parenting when she was discovering how differently each of her children were wired, how foreign their personalities were from hers, and how ill equipped she felt to parent them. At her wits’ end, she asked for advice from a mentor whom she admired, whose own children were adults. But rather than being quick to offer advice, her mentor replied with a question. “What if you just let them be who they are?”
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Letting our children “be who they are” is probably one of the biggest challenges we face. Not piling our expectations onto them. Not living our lives through them. Not expecting them to do things the way we would do them. Not passing on to them the pressure we feel. Finding the right balance between affirming who they are while still encouraging them to grow. Teaching them to give their best without making them feel like they must be the best at everything.
There is so much that we want for these kids that we love so much, and there is very little that will stop us from ensuring they achieve their full potential and purpose. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it is not.
Heeding the advice of the well-known proverb, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child,” is a good thing. But, living vicariously through our kids and shackling our identities to their success or failure—not so much.
Sadly, we have never seen a generation of kids who are more miserable than this one. Researchers have a slew of theories for why we are seeing so much misery among kids, but if you guessed that how we parent is one of them, you’re correct.
Of course it is good and right to be proud of the good choices our kids make and to be on our knees in prayer over the not-so-good choices our kids make. But if our worth is anchored in our child’s choices, their good choices will inflate our heads and their bad choices will deflate our hearts. And that is just no way to live.
More importantly, if our worth is anchored to our child’s choices, we better believe they feel the weight of it. It’s a pressure, a burden that they are not designed to carry. It’s too heavy. It will crush them. It is crushing them. Sadly, we have never seen a generation of kids who are more miserable than this one. Researchers have a slew of theories for why we are seeing so much misery among kids, but if you guessed that how we parent is one of them, you’re correct.
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And it starts early. Take, for example, the grocery store scenario. We are mortified when our kids throw a temper tantrum in the checkout lane. Why? Because that must mean we’re a bad mom. It must mean we haven’t done everything we know to do to raise children who are well behaved and self-controlled. Right? It’s a silly example but worth noting how we, from very early on, need our kids to look awesome because we think that makes us look awesome.
Or how about the athletic field? There are few places we see parents piling the pressure onto their kids more than they do there.
Coaches and parents alike question the refs and umps, scream at the players, and throw profanity around like confetti. We’ve kinda lost our minds, and our kids crack under the pressure.
Could it be that we need our kids to succeed because that means we’re succeeding? Do we need our kids to be “good enough” because it means that we parents are “good enough?” Do we need our child to get “student of the month” because that must mean we are “parent of the month”?
Of course, some kids are just more prone to perfection-seeking than others. Such kids tend to create their own pressure, even if their parents are actively trying to relieve it. But often, we parents play a role in the pressure our kids feel, so we have to be willing to take an honest look at how we pile our own pressure onto our kids.
We parents aren’t the only ones linking accomplishment to acceptance and success to significance. Our kids are attempting to answer the question, Is who I am enough? by:
• How well they perform on the field
• How much they excel in school
• How many likes they get on their Instagram feed
• How well they behave for us
The primary message our children receive is that they’d better be the best at everything, and this leaves them afraid to reveal their inadequacies and insecurities—and hiding behind the best version of themselves. This leaves them longing for what all our hearts most crave:
• to be known—truly and deeply known
• to be accepted—for who they are, not who they wish they were
• to be loved—with no strings attached
What we want is for our kids to feel what we ourselves long to feel. Safe. Safe to take off their masks and let down their guards. Safe to be as fragile as they feel, trusting they will remain loved just as they are, for exactly who they are.
So when the internal and external voices whisper lies to our children like, “You’re insignificant. You’re not enough. You’re not measuring up. You are a disappointment,” we want them to know, deep in their souls: The only One who gets to define you is the One who created you and He calls you a one-of-a-kind-masterpiece who is deeply known and completely loved, even on your worst day and even in your greatest failure.
But here’s the thing. To help our kids live in this freedom, we have to know this freedom for ourselves.
We have to go first. We have to get our own identities anchored in being fully known and accepted and loved by God first. And as we do, we will become emboldened and empowered to lead our under-pressure kids in doing the same.