I’m not licensed to speak to parents. I haven’t studied parenting or child development in an academic setting. I do not have a child, and I am not pregnant or planning to have a child.
I have been a child, though, and I know the child I was well. I know the environment she was raised in and the way it shaped her. I know parents, too. I know parents of White kids and Black kids and Hispanic kids (rich, poor, and everything in between). I know children whose parents I have never met. I listen to parents, but more often, I listen to kids, and I understand them. I have been understanding and listening to children of all ages, races, shapes, and sizes since I was a child, and that’s why I’m writing this.
The most important words that come out of our mouths during our lives are those that we say to children. Children are precious, malleable, hopeful, naive, sacred, unique, innocent, and delightful little hooligans. Children turn the most hardened grown ups into softies. Children make us laugh and smile wider than we have since we ourselves were in tiny bodies. Children are our future, and the imprint of the child inside of each of us still shapes who we are in the world.
Children want to see their parents living their dreams. They want their parents to take (healthy) risks, even if it comes at a cost for the entire family. Children don’t want their parents to stay in rotten marriages or toxic workplaces for their sake. Children don’t want parents who keep the peace; they want parents who are willing to fight for happiness and satisfaction, and who don’t shy away from disturbing the status quo in their pursuit of something better.
I hear adults who have realized that something is “off” in their lives worry about making a change because of how it will affect their kids. I hear people say that they don’t want their kid to have divorced parents because they know what it is like. People also say they don’t want their kids to have angry and argumentative married parents because they know what that is like. People look back on their own wounds when considering the actions they need to take in their lives. That’s the wrong direction, folks. The answer to today’s question comes from within. It comes from the heart and mind. It comes from careful evaluation (based on trial and error) of what your best looks like, what will enable you to thrive, and, as a result, give your best to your kids and the world.
Kids know when they’re the reason that you aren’t happy. That’s far too big of a burden to ask them to shoulder. Glennon Doyle, in her book Untamed, talks about parental love as a river. The river can get blocked, which keeps the love in the parent’s heart from actually reaching the child. A parent who stays in a relationship, job, situation where they aren’t happy, fulfilled, or satisfied, is allowing that situation to clog up their river. The child is downstream, not worried about having the perfect family, not wanting their dad to have a flashy job, or their mom to be the thinnest, just wanting to receive the river’s flow. The child just wonders what they did wrong when the water doesn’t make it to them.
Kids can overcome anything, they just need their adults to stay in relationship with them as they work through things. Big changes upset their little apple carts, but with parental TLC they can regain their footing, and by doing so gain valuable skills for life (which we know will trash that apple cart more than once during their lives). When kids are protected from upsetting changes, they’re sheltered from the reality of life. Kids don’t need that from their parents. They need parents to teach them to be strong and resilient warriors who are able to bounce back when life’s changes and trials knock them down.
Parents who step out and face their challenges, fight their demons, and pursue their dreams, set powerful examples for the children who witness them. Parents who clear their riverbed make way for love to roll through like a tidal wave.
Let the love roll, Parents. The kid in you wants to ride the wave, and your kid(s) is there to receive it.