to become a
What is My Job As a Parent?
by Morty Lefkoe, author of Re-create Your Life: Transforming Yourself and Your World and founder, the Lefkoe Institute
"How many times do I have to tell you?" "What am I ever going to do with you?" "What's wrong with you?" "Don't you ever listen?"
Imagine yourself to be a young child listening to your parents repeatedly ask you questions like these. If you stop for a few moments and experience what it feels like, you will have a clear picture of what far too many children feel every day.
People who try this exercise usually feel guilty, sad, and angry. (My wife and I certainly did when we tried it.) But what's even worse than the momentary hurt are the beliefs that you would form if your parents continued to use this accusatory tone day after day, year after year. You'd probably conclude: There's something wrong with me. I'm not good enough. I'm not worthwhile.
As parents we would be horrified to discover that many of our conversations with our children result in these beliefs. Nonetheless, speaking to them this way has a significant negative impact on them, not the least of which is low self-esteem.
For almost fourteen years my wife and I have been working with people who had a wide variety of dysfunctional behavioral or emotional patterns. Some were relatively minor, such as the inability to express feelings, yelling at children, and obsessing about what others thought about them. Some were serious, such as eating disorders, chronic depression or anxiety, and child abuse. I've helped these people with the Lefkoe Belief Process, a technique I developed that allows people to quickly and permanently eliminate the specific beliefs that are responsible for any undesirable behavior or feeling. When the beliefs disappear, the patterns do also.
In session after session, hour after hour, I have heard over a thousand clients describe the experiences they had with their parents, most of whom were very loving and well-meaning, that led them to the beliefs they were trying to eliminate: "My mom and dad always did ..., they never did ..., they always said ..., they never said ...." In my book, Re-create Your Life: Transforming Yourself and Your World, I explain in detail how what parents do and don't do, say and don't say, provide their children with the experiences that the children interpret into beliefs. Those beliefs, in turn, then determine their behavior and emotions and, ultimately, their lives-for better or for worse.
My wife Shelly and I have read numerous books on parenting and have taught countless parenting workshops. Nonetheless, we still constantly find ourselves doing things that are interpreted negatively by our two girls, ages nine and fifteen. But we have gotten in the habit of asking ourselves the question after we interact with our children: What has my child just concluded? When we think the answer is "probably something negative," we go back to our children to apologize and reopen the discussion.
As an example, one day when our daughter Brittany was about five years old Shelly went into the bathroom before bedtime to brush Brittany's teeth. Our daughter flatly refused, being the independent young lady that she is. After all of Shelly's parenting skills and tools failed, she found herself physically overpowering our daughter with one arm around her neck and one hand with the toothbrush in her mouth. After a few moments Shelly regained her sanity and realized what she was doing. She stopped immediately and apologized to Brittany.
Shelly realized that, as important as brushing Brittany's teeth was, far more important was what our daughter would conclude about herself and life out of that interaction if repeated consistently. A couple of possibilities include: I'm powerless or What I want doesn't matter. (Rarely do just a few experiences lead to negative beliefs. A number of experiences usually are required before we reach specific negative conclusions about ourselves and life.)
How can we get our children to do what needs to be done (teeth that don't get brushed do get cavities) without them forming negative beliefs about themselves? Knowing how to interact with our children in a way that facilitates a healthy self-esteem and a positive sense of life is not self-evident. There are many books that provide excellent skills and tools. One of the best techniques is to ask your child what to do. When Brittany didn't want to go to the bathroom to brush her teeth, we'd ask her how she'd like to go-with me leading a parade and her following (you should have seen me as a drum major!), with her in my arms or on my back, or did she want to meet me there in five minutes?
Most of us think we are successful parents if we get our children to behave properly, to learn what we think they need to learn, and to be happy. The question I suggest you ask yourself is: At what cost? If you succeed in achieving what you want for your children, but they form negative self-esteem beliefs, such as, I'm not good enough or I'm not worthwhile, or negative beliefs about life, such as, Life's difficult or I'll never get what I want, was your behavior really "successful"? In other words, are the benefits you achieved short term with your children worth the long-term cost?
I'm not saying that our children's behavior on a daily basis, the information they acquire from us, and their happiness are not important. Of course they are. What I am saying is that the single factor that has the greatest impact on whether or not your children achieve true happiness and satisfaction in life is a healthy self-esteem and a positive sense of life. Nothing we do, learn or feel when we're young will have as much influence on our adult life as the fundamental beliefs we form and take into adulthood.
To make this real, let's assume that you have one of the two following sets of beliefs: I'm not good enough; There's something wrong with me; I'm not deserving; I don't matter-or: I am good enough; I'm worthwhile just because I am, not for any reason; I matter.
Which set of beliefs would most likely lead to anxiety and depression? To substance abuse? To teenage pregnancy? To eating disorders? To satisfying relationships? To a productive career? To a truly satisfying life?
Given the critical importance of beliefs, what should be the major role of parents? Influencing behavior? Teaching information? Making their children happy?-or assisting their children to form positive beliefs about themselves and life?
If you chose the latter, the best way I know of to insure that you are getting your job as a parent done is constantly to ask yourself the question: What are my children likely to conclude about themselves and life as a result of this interaction we just had? If it is a negative decision, go back, apologize and clean it up. If it is a positive decision, congratulations! You got your job done.
copyright © 1997-2006 Morty Lefkoe