From the first spark of life, we begin a relationship with someone else. In those early stages, we are utterly dependent on that other person. Slowly, we begin to understand that who we are is impacted by the relationships we have with other people. We begin to make sense of our world through those relationships. They play a critical role of helping us better understand ourselves and the world.
Some of the children and families I work with experience disruptions and pain in those early relationships. As those experiences begin to impact the child, they form the basis of beliefs that many will carry with them into adulthood. A child whose needs for nurturance is not met may experience the world as a place they cannot trust. A child whose parent anxiously tries to help the child avoid difficult situations may learn that they are powerless to handle the strains of this world.
The parent-child relationship forms the foundation for child to understand their world and who they are within world. The parent plays a critical role in the child’s ability to make sense of that. In many ways, a parent acts as a mirror to their child.
For some children however the “mirror” they look into through their parent somehow seems distorted. Through repetition and experiences, they begin to believe that this view of themselves is what is true about them. Little does a child realize this distortion starts to become reality for them. They learn they can’t trust the world around them. They may believe they are not good enough, not lovable, and a failure. They then start to push people out of their life because of the pain these beliefs create for them.
This is usually not a conscious process by either parent or child. There are often patterns and beliefs parents have adopted for themselves, often based on distortions as well. Parents too see themselves as not good enough, not lovable, and at times a failure. They find they have less and less they feel they can offer their child while operating under this distorted reality.
The people we are closest to us show us who we are. It is easy to ignore comments from those who do not know us very well. Their comments just don’t seem to matter as much in part because we have a weak or nonexistent relationship with them.
Comments and criticisms cut much deeper however from those we know. We begin to wonder if what they are saying about us is true. We begin to doubt who we are and may even limit what we believe we can do.
There is a way to interrupt this cycle—to stop this process before your child develops distorted beliefs about themselves and the world. My experience is parents can successfully change this by being much more conscious of their parenting and the beliefs they bring into the parenting process. Instead of acting automatically, they can begin by responding intentionally to their child. They learn how to better control their reactions. They are intentional about developing more empathy for their child when they struggle or have big emotions. They challenge their own beliefs at same time they are willing to reach out to others to help in this process.
In many ways, parents are no different than their children. We understand ourselves through the relationships we have in our life. Parents can learn through supportive relationships that some of their unhelpful beliefs are patterns that do not need to be continued for themselves or with their children.
The company you keep does impact you. If you want to be a better parent, surround yourself with people who are supportive and are willing to reflect to you your strengths and possibilities so that you can do the same for your child.
Making changes as a parent is an ongoing process. A journey though begins with a single step. Begin to be more purposeful about the thoughts you have, the interactions with your child, and what you allow into your life. Think small steps. Over time though the small steps add up to a much greater level of change that we can create in our lives. It is this drip, drip, drip of human interaction that helps create a more accurate reflection of who we are especially when we have relationships in our life that support positive growth and connection.
Doesn’t your child deserve the best version of you?