Last week, I came home from food shopping. I asked my kids, as always, to help carry in the groceries. They both helped, but 13 year old Alice said: “Mom, You always seem to interrupt me when I’m at the most exciting part of my book!”
I, of course, saw a teachable moment, and seized it. “Alice,” I answered, “I know exactly what you mean." I thought I was empathizing, and I was. At least, if I had stopped there. But silly me, I was trying to make a point. I kept talking. "That happens to me too. I’ll be writing a article when you arrive home after school with your friends in tow, and you’re all starving, and I have to stop and lose track of what I was about to write next so I can fix you guys a snack.”
I thought I was making a good point to teach her gratitude, but her feelings were hurt. 17 year old Eli – who is always a fair observer – thought I was giving her a clear message that I wasn’t happy to feed her and her friends. He thought I was at the very least ungracious, if not mildly rejecting. It wasn’t until the next evening that I saw how right he was.
My friend Linda was picking up her son Isaiah from our house. You have to understand that Linda’s partner died last August, and she is learning trial by fire just how overwhelming it is to be a single mom. Naturally, Isaiah begged “Can’t we stay longer?”
Linda answered “I know you love to hang out with Alice. We do have to go home though, because the dog is waiting to be fed, and your brother will be arriving home soon and everyone will be hungry… Boys needing to be fed….” She paused, and I saw myself, and all moms, in her face -- feeling a bit oppressed by having to sacrifice our own needs, so often, to feed everyone else, when we may not be getting emotionally fed ourselves.
And I saw Isaiah’s face freeze. I could almost hear him concluding that he was a burden to his mom. But luckily, Linda sensed it too. Immediately, she scooped Isaiah up in a big hug, and announced with total conviction, “Boys needing to be fed? I LOVE IT!”
Seeing Linda, of all people, finding a way to reassure her son that she loves caring for him and doesn’t feel burdened by him, made me realize that I had given my daughter exactly the opposite message. No wonder her feelings were hurt. Now, I give her positive messages all day, every day, so I don’t think I did her any lasting damage with that one interaction. But what happens when we give our kids the message that caring for them is a burden, on an ongoing basis? They conclude that they really aren’t important to us on a deep level, that they really aren’t lovable, if they can’t even convince us to love caring for them.
Think about the messages we give our kids all the time:
“Fix your own snack…I’m tired of cleaning up after you…Can’t you do anything yourself?….Your new shoes are so expensive…..No way am I coming to every performance of your play…I’m tired, why doesn’t someone else around here make dinner for a change?... What are you jabbering on about? Can’t we have a little peace and quiet for once? ……What do you think I am, the maid?...Don’t be a baby….I’m not getting up early to take you to that game, get a ride….”
All of these statements are totally understandable. No one of them will ruin your child’s life. But since it’s inevitable that parents will sometimes feel this way, we need to be sensitive to the effect on our kids. First, we need to take care of ourselves so we can feel more gracious about meeting their needs. Second, we need to be sensitive to the underlying message we send, and provide our kids an antidote, like Linda did: “I LOVE IT!” Kids need to feel that we love caring for them. When they get the message that we don’t – even when that isn’t the message we intend -- it shapes their unconscious view of their own worthiness for the rest of their lives. READ POST