I am the parent of teenagers and every parent of a teenaged person is very familiar with “the look”. It arrives anytime I begin to share a bit of knowledge or guidance and they are just not having it. They fight hard against this well-meaning guidance, because they are trying to assert their independence and individuality. It is an ongoing ebb and flow of the need for acceptance and the drive for independence.
What I do know, is that though they seem to resist our guidelines and opinions, they hear every word, and still, what their parents say deeply affects them no matter how disinterested they appear.
I was in a meeting a week ago, and one of the other people in the meeting, after having had a very successful career as a producer, was starting a new tech company. She was pitching a product from her new company to us. As she was sharing, she mentioned how she put so much work into it and was excited that it was finally launching in February. While she spoke about the company, she added that her parents had said ‘well, it’s about time’ as she had been working on this business for so long. Upon sharing this, I noticed her cheeks blush. It got me thinking, no matter how old we are or how independent and successful we become, we still profoundly care about what our parents think.
What it ultimately comes down to is the need for approval. It is one of the most basic human desires to feel appreciated and accepted. The first place we learn to seek this acceptance is from our parents or caregivers. As young children, approval and acceptance means survival. Because we need our parents to fulfill our most basic needs, their approval becomes as essential as food and water. This desire is primal, but also emotional. The connection is so strong that even as we grow and begin to provide for ourselves, that need for our parents to accept us remains just as strong.
The trouble, though, with seeking and receiving approval is that it blocks us from looking for and seeing new information. Kabbalistically, when we seek approval outside of ourselves, we block ourselves from the Light. We are not learning to strengthen our own inner wisdom and as we seek to validate ourselves externally, we disconnect from the Creator. As parents, if we are overly approving of our children, we are actually hindering their growth instead of helping it. They may become overly-dependent upon it instead of discovering their own gifts and strengths for themselves.
This creates an interesting experience for both parent and child. Luckily, this dynamic ebbs and flows over time and as children grow into young adults they begin to individualize. They want to create themselves apart from their parents’ image and begin to rely less and less on their parents’ approval… but still seek to be accepted.
This is why we, as parents, need to stay involved in our children’s lives, even as the roles begin to shift and evolve. For me, I see my job as a parent as allowing my children the space to share their thoughts and actively listening to them. I let them feel heard and accepted and then work with them to get them to the place they need to be – rather than perhaps where I think they should be.
And, while this is far from a compendium on parenting, here are a few things I think are important to remember:
- Is your parenting based on what your kids need, or something you are trying to soothe within yourself? Perhaps you are a working parent and feel guilty about the time you spend away from the home.
- As parents, are we 100% aware of why we either praise or criticize our children even if they don’t deserve it? Perhaps by telling them how wonderful and talented they are, or conversely, by being overly critical, some parents try to soothe their own anxieties. These ultimately come from their own insecurities and is the not the kind of parenting the child needs.
- Are you trying to control them? Perhaps you are trying save your child from failure or are you afraid they are going to make bad decisions. Where failure is concerned, it is in a child’s best interest to experience failure on their own terms and learn their own lessons from it. After all, it is from failure that our greatest successes derive.
Nurture your children for the people they are, not for who you want them to become. I believe that our kids are not really our kids, in the ownership sense of the word. We are just here to help guide them to manifest their goals. Your children get to see you, you don’t need to teach them because you can lead them by example. I strive to live in such a way that my children see my passion and drive every day. This is one of the important lessons I show them. One that I could never fully teach them. They will learn from you in ways that you could never fully understand or control. What you should strive for is to create an environment with a support system that honors and challenges them to be the best version of themselves according to them. And your pride, admiration, and approval will become a beautiful bonus, instead of a necessity.
Rav Berg has spoken about the idea that parenting should begin with restriction. He shared this idea of restricting yourself as a parent, from applauding or overly-criticizing your child. That by resisting the impulse to intervene in these ways you are allow your child to become the beautiful person that they are meant to be. When we superimpose, when we think we know what’s best, when we decide for them we take away a myriad of possibilities that were available to them.
Thought into Action
Have a conversation with your child and notice when you feel the need to intervene. Instead of doing so, restrict. Let them tell you about their feelings and what they think, without offering any of your own advice.