“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” –Rumi
The idea of always having to do your best may feel overwhelming. But before you begin to feel overwhelmed understand that doing your best means giving it 100% with the resources you have at the time. The demands of parenting, for all that it entails, with household responsibilities and job obligations, are going to drain you of physical and emotional energy. Accept this as truth and give yourself permission to be not perfect.
What you do with the energy resources you have on any given day is what is essential. The same question asked twenty times might not irritate you one day but drive you crazy the next. It is always the intention behind your actions that is important. Whether it be cooking dinner, presenting at a meeting or reading bedtime stories, do it with the best intention that you are able to summon at the moment. That way, when you look back on your life, you can truly say that you did everything with your best effort.
Abigail’s mom may be able to coach soccer, be the Brownie troop leader, and work part time, whereas you may be overwhelmed by the responsibility of deciding what to make for dinner each night. Accepting your own limitations is the first step to living in synchrony with your natural rhythm and helping you manage your days without stress. German author Johann Von Goethe wrote, “The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.”
Just as you need to accept your own limitations, it is also important to acknowledge your child’s individual style of living in this world. Some children can move quickly from activity to activity while others become overwhelmed when asked to do too many things in a short time frame. Some children absorb new information as if by osmosis; others need to labor over new ideas before they incorporate them into their understanding. The awareness of respecting your child’s unique strengths and weaknesses will allow you to honor her place in the world without comparing her to other children. You don’t want to be compared to Abigail’s mom, nor does your child want to be held up to the accomplishments of your best friend’s child.
By living with the awareness of always doing your best, you will offer your child a realistic role model of how one can live life taking on challenges without being tied to the outcome. She will see that sometimes Mom has a lot of energy and is very patient and sometimes she is very tired and yells a lot. She will learn to honor your humanness by witnessing your moods and mistakes.
Ultimately, not being the perfect parent will give your child permission to fail and not have to be “perfect” to please you. Without the pressure of being perfect or having to live up to high expectations, she will be more willing to take risks and challenges. When she makes a mistake and is upset, remind her how much you still love her just like when you make mistakes she still loves you. This will help her understand that love isn’t dependent on an outcome. It is a permanent source within each of us that we can count on being there.
In our competitive society it is quite difficult to allow oneself the freedom to evaluate your performance based on effort. From a very young age, children seek positive reinforcement from their parents and adults in their world. As a parent, I encourage you to encourage your child with a full heart for all she dreams to do, and praise her always for her effort.
There is a distinct difference between the concepts of praise and encouragement. Praise occurs after the act has been completed. It originates in our ego because it has a judgment assigned to it. We only offer the praise if we think the action was worthy of it. Encouragement, on the other hand, occurs prior to the start of the action. Its purpose is to inspire and motivate from love and is not dependent on the outcome or result.
Back in the 1980s, parents were told to use positive reinforcement to build his or her child’s self esteem. It was the new approach proclaiming that through positive reinforcement, parents could motivate children to stretch their abilities, take risks and become successful. This was supposed to enhance the development of the child’s self esteem.
As a new parent, I was more than willing to offer praise for every little action my son attempted. I remember saying things like “good walking,” “good eating,” and “good listening.” Parents of the 1980s used these non-stop compliments to encourage their children to perform even the most basic skills. The problem in rewarding activities that don’t require much effort is that it doesn’t encourage a child to stretch her limits. If a child is looking for external rewards as a motivator for her actions, then what happens when there is no one there to watch?
In retrospect, the results of praising every little action our children attempted or accomplished, was that we created a generation of self assured, oversized egos who often expressed a sense of entitlement. What is entitlement? According to author Maya Angelou, “It is a consciousness of I deserve. It is feeling we have the right to rewards, special privileges, or recognition based on personal merit, achievement, or simply because of who we are. It’s having a sense of superiority, as in, ‘I have so much experience, you should listen to me.’ ” These children had no problem with possessing positive self-esteem. In fact, they thought they were good at everything and became easily frustrated when a task required too much effort.
They often blamed their failures on external reasons like, “The teacher was so stupid and couldn’t explain anything.” “It was the other guys’ fault that I smashed into the curb because he stopped short.” Parents raising children from the perspective that their child was amazing, were often willing to support the child’s theory of external blame, taking on the school, Little League coach or whomever else got in the way of their child’s success. Unfortunately, the parent didn’t look within him or herself to see that the child’s way of interacting within the world, and others, was at least in part created from their parenting style.
The lesson learned is that praise needs to be earned and given in conjunction with the effort extended rather than from the outcome of that effort. A child with a reading disability may have to struggle to get through her homework, needing an enormous amount of encouragement and praise; whereas, another child may breeze through the same assignment in half the time with little required effort. Both may end up with the same grade, but the child who had to struggle needs more encouragement and deserves more praise.
Use the notion of doing one’s best as a measure for your children’s actions. Whether they did or did not accomplish their goal, ask them if they tried to do their best. If they say yes, believe them. Then be proud and pleased with their efforts even if you are disappointed in the outcome. Remind them that doing their best is all that counts. Be authentic in accepting their performance. If they did their best, even when you are not pleased with the end product, their best is all they can do! This is extremely challenging as a parent because, truthfully, most of us want our children to excel. We allow our own egos to define our expectations of them.
Taking responsibility for one’s actions requires one to admit failure. It is the acceptance that not all that we do is going to be good. This is true for everyone. Accept the fact that both you and your child will make mistakes. However, teach her that being able to apologize and recover from those mistakes is what is important. Acknowledging your personal mistakes will offer your child the freedom to make her own. Most importantly, this process will teach one of the most essential of all human traits: the ability to forgive.