Every time I tell my 4-year-old daughter to get dressed in the morning, she comes out of her bedroom wearing her pink, glittery crocs. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold outside or if the pink glitter clashes with her outfit. My daughter loves her crocs, and that is good enough for her.
I try to reason with her. “Sweetie,” I explain, “it’s chilly outside. Wouldn’t your feet be warmer in your nice, new winter boots Grandma gave you for your birthday?” “No,” she replies every time. “Only crocs, Mommy!”
I sigh. Every morning is a struggle for me. Should I let her make her own decisions (even if it means suffering the consequences)? Or should I put my foot down and insist that I know what’s best for her? Sometimes the weather is too cold for crocs and I have to open the door so she can feel the outside temperature and reason which shoes are more appropriate. When the temperature is around 30 degrees, she usually agrees to wear her rain boots. Other times, I let her wear her crocs, even if I think it is too cold and or if I think it looks silly. Every day is different, and I try to account for all the factors before I react.
A square peg in a round hole
From a young age, our children begin to express their opinions about the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and the times they sleep. As parents, we quickly learn that our children do not always share our visions and desires for them.
What do we do?
Do we insist our children conform to our will, or do we let them make their own decisions and discover their individuality?
As a mother, I find myself constantly trying to balance between educating my kids while also respecting their choices to allow them to form their own identities. Making this judgment call isn’t always easy. I also love to explore their choices and behaviors because it helps me get to know my children better and understand who they are at that moment.
As a therapist and life coach, I often see clients who are still shocked at how unseen and misunderstood they feel by their parents. They confide that they feel like a square peg being pushed into a round hole. Growing up, their parents had clear and strong visions of how they should act and who they should be. We are all familiar with the cliche of the young man who gave up his dream of becoming an artist and went through years of medical school because his father wanted him to become a doctor, or the teenage girl who tempered her activism in social justice because her mother disapproved of her outspokenness. Parents’ desires exert considerable pressure and are capable of swaying their children’s dispositions and life trajectories.
Accepting differences is not always easy but certainly required for our children to individualize. When a child feels authentically accepted and supported he/she has more room to learn, be creative, grow, and flourish. Children who feel supported and unconditionally loved in their uniqueness develop closer relationships with their parents.
It is surprising to notice that even from the earliest age, man finds the greatest satisfaction in feeling independent. The exalting feeling of being sufficient to oneself comes as a revelation. – Maria Montessori
Do our children feel loved?
A shocking 80% of adults feel their parents didn’t love them enough as kids, resulting in mental health problems in childhood as well as adulthood. Of course, we love our children more than anything else, but too often that love becomes obscured by negative comments and criticism. Deep down, we want our children to feel cherished and secure, and it is not a lack of love that prevents our children from feeling appreciated.
According to attachment based theory, “delight” is one of the key qualities parents should exhibit in order to foster a positive self-image and improved mental health in their children. Above all, children need to feel joy when we are with them, which causes them to feel deeply appreciated and accepted just the way they are. Yet in our busy lives, it can be hard to pause and simply delight in our kids.
As I’m rushing in the morning, trying to prepare lunches and get my kids out the door, and my 4-year-old is screaming “only crocs, Mommy,” it can be difficult for me to take a step back and marvel at my youngest daughter’s ability to form and assert her own opinion. It can be difficult to smile at her creativity in wardrobe choice and compliment the fact that she got dressed all by herself. Most of all, it can be difficult to decide, in the heat of a meltdown, whether it’s best to put my foot down or let my child march to the beat of her own drum. Yet whether or not I succeed in finding the proper balance, I try to do what’s best for my daughter.
Parenting is a journey; sometimes we react the way we should, and sometimes we miss the mark. Yet if we are guided by our love for our children and desire to do what is in their best interests, we can parent our children in a way that simultaneously educates them while enabling them to individualize.
Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul. – Maria Montessori
Reach out today
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