I haven’t won any Mom of the Year awards. And I definitely don’t have anyone knocking on my door, asking for parenting tips or advice on what we should teach our kids. The mantra I adopted during pregnancy, and have used pretty much every day ever since, is, “I know nothing.” But a popular mom blogger recently wrote a post where she talked about how she was teaching her kids to be “sweet” and “good.” She also mentioned how her children “got everything right” in their school work.
I know those are common words to parade around, especially in the fantasy world of social media. But it felt really ‘off’ in my heart when I read her post. I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of her millions of followers buying into her message. My spiritual practice this year is to feel into my intuition and follow where it leads.
So this is the post my heart wants to write in response:
Let’s Stop Teaching Our Kids To Be “Sweet.”
Instead, Let’s Teach Them That They’re Powerful Creators
Here’s what I learned from everyone around me, from the time I was very young (and I’m sure you can relate): in order to “earn” love and acceptance from others, I needed to be attractive, amiable, pleasant, and sweet.
Up to this very day, I still catch myself making choices and taking actions for the purpose of being seen as pleasant and sweet. A big part of me still thinks that I need to earn approval from everyone around me.
It’s a recipe for suffering. Because the standards the world sets for being “attractive” and “sweet” are impossible to attain. And anyway, even if someone could attain the impossible for a week or two, no one can be perfectly appealing all of the time. We all have our daily messes and difficulties and embarrassments. It’s a part of this mixed bag known as life on earth.
Let’s stop encouraging our kids to follow a convoluted and confusing rulebook of morality and people-pleasing. Let’s stop teaching our kids that acceptance and approval are things they have to earn.
Instead, let’s teach our children that they are the powerful source of love, compassion, kindness and acceptance. We don’t have to search for approval and acceptance. Instead, we need to nurture and grow those powerful qualities that are already within us. We’re not meant to earn love; we’re meant to be love.
That’s why I often say things to Trevor like, “Your Heart already knows the best answer” and, “Love is your superpower.” I think we’re born understanding these things. But then the world teaches us we need to “earn” approval, and that causes us to forget. My sense is that I’m reminding myself of these truths, more than teaching anything to Tru!
Let’s Stop Teaching Our Kids To “Behave.”
Instead, Let’s Teach Them To Be Guided
Something happens when we fixate on “being good” and “listening to authority.” We focus so much on figuring out what others want from us, that we completely lose sight of our own inner guidance and the callings of our own hearts.
I spent a good portion of my life working really, really hard to be labeled as a “good” student, a “good” employee and, most recently, a “good” mom. And here’s the result: I didn’t even know that I had intuition until my early 30’s. I was so focused on understanding all of the “rules” of life so I could be sure I was perfectly following all of them. What the world forgot to mention was that, despite years of dedication, I’d wind up feeling empty inside.
When we stop hearing our guidance and inner voice, we lose our connection with our soul and our life purpose. And that’s how we find ourselves in a world like ours, largely afflicted with sickness, depression, and war.
That’s why I’m very open with allowing Trevor to make many decisions for himself.
I encourage him to remember that he already has his own best answers within himself. His intuition is his strength and his power.
Of course, I still have a few rules for Trevor that help me cope with life as a parent. I’m learning to balance both my own intuition as well as Tru’s! Tru knows not to get out of bed before his clock shows 6am, for example. I also insist on an 8pm bedtime (although Tru finds a lot of tricky techniques for pushing that bedtime back by half an hour!) And Tru isn’t allowed to run in crowded parking lots.
But largely, though, I encourage him to get in touch with his own heart. And to be guided by what his inner voice is telling him. In allowing him to listen to his own voice, Tru discovered a huge passion for outer space. More recently, Tru is showing a very strong interest in athletics. His after-school calendar is filled with golf, baseball, and basketball practices. That’s all his own choice; I’m a bookworm who has basically zero interest in sports! But I’m doing my best to honor his guidance.
Let’s Stop Teaching Our Kids To “Be the Best.”
Instead, Let’s Teach Them To Be Messy and Make Mistakes
I was recently in a group meeting where we were talking about following our creative passions. One woman mentioned how she’d really like to try a new art project, but hasn’t done it because she’s terrified of her family seeing her make mistakes. I’m sure most of us can relate to this paralyzing fear of being seen as a failure.
It’s the result of a society where we value perfection over experimentation, playfulness, and creative expression.
So here’s my suggestion. Maybe we don’t need to heap on the praise when our kids score a winning goal in soccer or get an A on a spelling test. Instead, let’s praise our kids for trying something new. Or inventing some crazy story or art project. Or getting back up after they fall down. Or showing up, even when it’s hard. Or helping someone who’s struggling. Or knowing when to ask for help.
And let’s be sure to teach our kids that “failure” is only a short-term judgment. What temporarily seems like a “failure” is almost always a learning experience that helps guide us in an even more joyful direction.
I have a lot of perfectionist tendencies that have held me back from exploring new ideas and attempting new projects. I don’t want Trevor to be as terrified of set-backs and mistakes as I am. So I have this song I like to sing with him, from Disney’s Zootopia:
They fall down and get up
Nobody learns without getting it wrong
I won’t give up
No, I won’t give in till I reach the end
And then I’ll start again
No, I won’t leave
I want to try everything
I want to try even though I could fail
I’ll keep on making those new mistakes
I’ll keep on making them every day
Those new mistakes
Let’s Stop Teaching Our Kids To Be “Likeable.”
Instead, Let’s Teach Them To Honor Their Uniqueness
The middle school/junior high phase of life was really tough on me. I bet you can relate. I remember that phase as the time when I began sacrificing my own heart in the name of “fitting in.” I was terrified of saying something in class that might be labeled “silly” or “stupid,” so I just stopped raising my hand. I stopped choosing clothes based on what inspired me and instead selected what I thought was “cool” or “popular.” I passed each day in a sort of low-level dread of somehow being excluded or laughed at or left out.
Let’s not let this generation of kids to go through what we went through! Let’s teach them – as young as possible – to honor and value their uniqueness.
It’s a critical skill for developing children who are compassionate and inclusive and loving toward all.
But it’s also very simple to demonstrate. For example, when Trevor was younger, he let me dress him in whatever cute little outfit I picked out. He simply didn’t care. But recently, he’s been putting his foot down and saying that he only wants to wear sweatpants and t-shirts. Internally, it pained me to not be able to dress him in the adorable outfits I’d already purchased (just another sign of him growing up!). But I’ve been encouraging him to dress himself each morning. I tell him that he should be free to choose his own personal expression.
Here’s another example. I was talking to another mom on the playground, and she told me about her son’s hip hop dance class. I’ve always loved dance, so I thought it would be so much fun to take Trevor to a class. But Tru wasn’t interested. So I told him I wanted to honor his heart, and I let it go. These seem like such simple examples, but I think that celebrating a child’s uniqueness is that simple.
When we teach a child that uniqueness is wonderful and helpful and important, here’s what happens. That child is able to stand strong and proud in his one-and-only personality. Therefore, he’ll automatically honor the unique traits and qualities of everyone around him. It’s always a win-win situation.
Children who are taught to embrace uniqueness don’t judge or make fun of or exclude other children.
Imagine a middle school/junior high school where kids embraced differences and cheered each other on for looking unique or having unique viewpoints or interests. Imagine a world where kids didn’t sacrifice their own hearts in the name of “fitting in.”
That’s the world I want for our kids.