I had dinner with someone recently who complained that her mother was not supportive of her life decisions. I pointed out that everyone else around her (personally and professionally) believed she was making smart strategic decisions about her life. She said something to the effect of: “I know but it would just be nice if she (her mother) supported me too. After all she is my mother.”
I was reminded of an incident between my eldest son and me. It happened several years ago at a Christmas party. Without reliving the uncomfortable details, it was a situation where I took someone else’s word over his. The incident is a poignant one for me because as it turned out my son was right and I realized the devastating impact my doubts can have on my children.
I have since ceased believing in absolutes and my own infallibility. Being a parent does not automatically validate advice as being good or opinion as being informed. It does however stress the necessity of open minds and open ears for both fathers and their children. I failed as a father that Christmas. I failed to listen as I’ve often told my son to do. And I forsook the fact that my children “know” things too. In fact, they might just know more than us “Grown Ups,” as their unfettered minds absorb the many new and exciting experiences from the burgeoning world around them.
When did it happen? When did we become so dull, gray, and “grown up”? I can’t help wondering about the tipping point. When was it where I became so “Grown Up” and closed up and stop considering the infinite possibilities of living and just settled for the simply finite ones tethered to the observable world? And what pushed me over that edge?
I remember it was somewhere around high school/late middle school my father became obsessed with telling me I had “to respect the reality.” I remember how stubbornly I clung to my dreams – my beliefs – my idealism then. The Christmas incident showed me just how misplaced my values had become. I valued the grown up notion of being right over listening to someone important to my very being itself.
Digging around the Web and Googling, I couldn’t find anything on the direct impact of parental doubt on a child. However, there were several resources on addressing self doubt and if you liken to parental doubt to failure there was an abundance of information on that. Most articles on failure that 'I’ve come across focus on the restoration of confidence like this Parent Zone article, “Handling Fear Of Failure in Children,” and this Associated Content article, “Help Your Children Deal With Failure.” I even found this video on the On the Ball Parenting Blog:
I couldn’t find any direct advice on when a parent is wrong or the impact of parental doubt but I would imagine a post on the subject would offer the same advice on restoring confidence as the articles on failure. It might also offer advice on restoring trust.
“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived” that’s the closing statement of the video. After I learned I was wrong I apologized immediately to my son that Christmas night. I told my dinner companion what I wish I would have said to my son.
I told my companion that sometimes as parents we get so caught up in the ways we’ve been seriously hurt that we’ll do anything to keep our children from having even remotely similar experiences (even though quite rationally there is very little we can do to control the experiences our children will have).
I told my companion that regardless whether her mother understood the decisions she has made, I am certain her mother is proud of her regardless of the path she’s chosen.