My most important mission in life, beginning with the birth of my daughter in 1985 and continuing after the birth of my son in 1991, was to raise emotionally healthy children—children who were not saddled with any emotional baggage that hindered their ability to blossom, grow, and soar in life as I had been. I was ready and willing to do anything it took, no matter what was required, to assure their success in life. It was a major feat that I, against all odds, accomplished very well. I am not boasting, just in awe, that my children are now self-assured, appreciative, self-driven, intelligent adults with healthy boundaries in place who appropriately show love, empathy, and compassion towards others.
Because of the tumultuous childhoods my two sisters and I endured, our young adulthoods did not resemble that of my children’s in any way. They were excessively stormy years and it took decades of hard work to achieve emotional stability. The abuse we suffered at the hands of our parents was not physical—it was emotional and equally as damaging. We grew up in an angry, confusing home that was emotionally unsafe for many reasons. Our parents loved and nurtured us to their maximum capability; they did the best they were equipped to do. But the love we were shown was often overshadowed by conflicting actions and mixed messages.
I share these facts, not with the intention of blaming or claiming the role of victim, but primarily because the point of this article is to emphasize the dire importance of healthy influences in our developing years. Influential adults, whether by action, or spoken word followed by action, are the implements that write the story of a child’s future.
We all suffer adversity and we all stumble. No one escapes life without bumps and bruises. We develop coping skills, crucially needed to navigate through life, through the challenges that are frequently placed before us. It is through all these mechanisms that we develop, learn, and grow—become better human beings and evolve our souls. All the positive aspects of life, such as love, hope, and faith, would not exist without it. Suffering is essentially life’s gift; it brings knowledge, strength, compassion, and understanding.
Our children will encounter many hurdles throughout their adult lives; that is a given. It is our responsibility to prepare them for life by giving them the strategies they will need to jump those hurdles—to overcome obstacles, persevere, and thrive. Children must be taught through gentle lessons and shown by age appropriate, comprehensible examples that life will not always go the way they want it to. They need to experience the processes of failure and disappointment and see that the end result is often better than what they originally hoped for.
Children must be taught the importance of faith, spirituality, and hope. They should be given a spiritual foundation that is relatable, not just religion by rote, and then shown every possible example that demonstrates it working in their lives. This is especially necessary for when they reach their emotionally charged teenage years and cannot imagine how life in the future can possibly be different from their reality of today.
Children must be taught how to develop clear emotional boundaries. They must be given a healthy sense of who they are so they know what are and what are not acceptable behaviors to tolerate from others.
Children must be taught self-respect and to respect others. They learn this by example—by being shown respect.
In a perfect world every parent will accomplish all of these things and more, but the reality is that we can only teach what we live. If we allow unhealthy limitations to rule our own lives we cannot give our children what they need to succeed and soar in life. If our own ability to cope and problem solve are lacking or impaired, we cannot endow our children with those crucially needed life-skills. If we have no self-respect or boundaries, neither will our children.
We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that children will do as we say, not as we do. Believe me—our actions speak volumes louder than our words. Our children will always do as we do. If we do not improve ourselves, overcome our own obstacles, and get rid of our emotional baggage, we simply cannot provide a healthy foundation for our children. Dysfunction breeds dysfunction. The legacy of our behavior will repeat itself in some detrimental way in their adult lives.
That is not what we should want for our children. We should want them to grow up to be self-sufficient, successful, and happy. We should want them to be kind, understanding, fair, and loving people.
My ultimate goal in raising my children was for them to leave behind a happy childhood without needing to back-track and repair as I did—for them to embrace their future with clarity, not be saddled with their past—for them to live an optimistic life, not a guilt-laden one. I strived to raise children who could stand on their own two feet, confident and secure.
The lines of communication today are as open between my children and me as they have always been. I achieved this by listening to whatever they had to tell me without reacting—by being real and vulnerable with them—by disciplining with love and logic.
The most important commitment I made for my children was to get emotionally healthy no matter what it took. I loved my children enough to cleanse the toxins of my life so I could not possibly poison their delicate psyches with it in their impressionable years.
There is so much pain, anger, and violence in our world. It is the world our children are growing up in and will someday inherit. They will need every advantage to survive and thrive in it. But even more, we want them to carry enough light and love within them so they can spread it wherever they go.
A single light can extinguish an entire room of darkness. Our children can be the lights that change the world. It all starts with us.
Fascination with light by josef_moffett on Flickr – Some rights reserved
Happy Family by NYCArthur on Flickr – Some rights reserved
Baby Learns to Smoke – Dreamstime
Mother and Child by Robert Whitehead on Flickr – Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.