What is your most important job as a parent?
Parents focus a lot on good behavior. Many spend so much energy on compliance that it seems they believe they can measure their worth as parents by how well their kids behave. If my kids do what I want, when I want it, then I must be a good parent.
I see it differently. I have watched in amazement as my daughter, stepson , foster son and other significant friends and family members take on adult life. In almost all cases, there was plenty for us to worry about as we watched the teen years before their “launch.” The transition to autonomy for each these young people was unique and again, not without doubts on all our parts.
However, as I observed them conjuring up their life dreams or just falling without plans into adult roles, I realized that one characteristic was the key – how each young person thought and felt about him or herself. Self-worth is at the foundation of all of our decisions and actions. It guides our daily behavior and our long term dreams.
When you listen to young children, they all seem to come into the world with strong self-worth . “I am going to be an astronaut.” “I love to paint.” “I am a good friend.” They have the courage to try new things and do them imperfectly. Just the persistence to keep getting up and trying to walk involves a whole lot of belief in yourself! Not worrying about the number of times you fall and being willing to try again is evidence of good, solid self-worth.
Sadly, it seems that as children get older, the grownups’ efforts to shape and polish young ones results in diminished courage and confidence.
Self-worth has two parts:
Self-concept – your thoughts and ideas about yourself (I am smart, I am inferior, I’m helpful, I run fast, I am bad at math, I can’t spell)
Self-esteem – your feelings about yourself (I am proud of myself, I am worried about who I am, I feel bad about myself, I am excited to be who I am)
Children with strong self-worth have a good idea about who they are. Strong self-worth does not mean that children believe they are superior to others or good at everything they do. They have realistic ideas about their strengths, capacities, gifts, talents and challenges. Most importantly, children with strong self-worth feel enthusiastic about developing these abilities and creating goals that involve their strengths. They can admire the abilities of others and work with them because they don’t have to be perfect. They are happy with who they really are.
I sometimes wonder what would be my “elevator speech” about parenting. You know, if I had just one elevator ride with a parent I didn’t know, what would I tell them? After all these years, it is this:
Your most important job as a parent is to protect and strengthen your child’s self-worth. Every interaction with your child, your words, your tone of voice, and your body language are all either putting money in their self-worth piggy bank or taking it out. Threatening and punishing in order to achieve compliance can often negatively affect self-worth. Take time to think before you act, take a deep breath and keep that goal of strong self worth in mind.