A lot of us parents think we need to project an image of perfection to our kids. No, we arenât struggling. No, we donât argue with our spouse. And, of course, we aren’t filled with anxiety!
Everything is fine.
We want to protect our kids. We don’t want to burden them with our adult issues. They should be allowed to just be kids, right?
Right. The problem is, we end up lying to them.
âMommy? Are you ok?â
âYes, Mommy is fine. You can go play.â
âBut you look so sad, Mommy. Are you sad?â
âNo, Iâm really just fine. Iâm not sad. Now run and playâ¦â
Iâve done the same thing.
âDad, are you and mom having an argument?â
Oh the lies we tell our kids!
And they know it. Children are highly observant creatures. When you lie to them, you not only teach them that you are not trustworthy, you teach them to doubt their own perceptions of reality.
Itâs serious. Who wants to teach their kids self-doubt or to pretend whatâs actually happening isnât happening? We all do it. We teach our kids to be fakes when we fake it in front of them. Then, kids end up believing it is NOT ok to be honest when they are struggling, to pretend that everything is fine, just like you do.
Then, of course, when they get older and begin to struggle with bigger issues, they will feed back to you the same old story that you fed them. No, noâ¦everything is fine. You can go away now.
The alternative is honesty. Be honest with your kids. This doesnât mean you need to dump all of your problems in their lap. It means that you are a person â a real human being who struggles. And you are allowed to struggle.
Here are some principles to guide you along the way:
Answer their direct questions honestly (but leave out the gory details) then offer reassurance.
If a child is aware enough to make an observation and ask a direct question, she is aware enough for a direct answer.
Letâs say your archenemy at work just slept with your boss and is now getting all kinds of favors and recognition that really belong to you. Itâs driving you nuts. Youâre sitting at home stewing on all this when you daughter notices.
âMommy, are you upset?â
âYes, I am. Thatâs nice of you to notice. You donât miss much, do you? I am feeling pretty bad right now.â
âWell, some people at work are doing some bad things and it is really bothering me. Iâm trying to figure out what to do. But listen, Iâm going to be OK. And I am so glad you care enough to ask me how Iâm doing. Iâll be OK â even though I am upset right now, but you don’t have anything to worry about.â
Letâs say that you are struggling with wicked self-sabotage. You continually set yourself up for rejection by inviting all the wrong people into your life, who are now spreading rumors about you and stabbing you in the back. The main symptom you experience is anger (which is a defense mechanism that covers up the real issue, but thatâs another topic).
âMommy? Are you angry at someone?â
âYes, Iâm sorry, sweetie. I sure am. But itâs not you.â
âOh. Why are you so angry?â
âWell, Iâm learning that I have been making friends with the wrong people â even at my age I am still learning how to make good friends. Can you believe that? Some people I thought were myÂ friends arenât treating me well and it makes me upset, but that is something I am working on.â
Be honest. Spare the gory details. Teach your kids that you are a person, not a liar. Show them that their perceptions are accurate (when they are). Demonstrate how to share feelings and NOT be a fake.
Then, when they are teenagers, they will be more likely to be honest with you. Of course, with teenagers there is no guarantee!
If your kids are already teenagers and you have been masking your obvious feelings from them for years, while expecting them to share theirs with you, then youâll be dealing with someone who resents you for being a hypocrite. You expect them to be honest and deal with their issues, yet you havenât been honest with them.
The same principles apply, but now youâve got a lot of ground to make up. It will take some time â and probably wonât come to fruition until your teenager is an adult, although I could be wrong about that.
Being honest with your kids requires being honest with yourself first. Once you admit you are struggling to another person, the issue becomes more real to you. And that can be intimidating if youâre used to lying to cover up the truth.
Youâre a person. You make mistakes. You have feelings and everyone (especially your own child) knows it. Avoiding this reality only keeps you trapped within it. In other words, itâs self-sabotage.
Thereâs a million ways we can sabotage our success in life and unwittingly cling to unhappiness. Pretending everything is fine when it is anything but fine is just one of them.
So, what kind of example do you want to be to your kids? A facade of a person who always has it together and never struggles? Or an honest, genuine person?
Learn more about self-sabotage by watching the free video below.
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