A Lesson To Remember
“It is the kind of girl I am. I can’t help it.”
These were the words my daughter offered me as an explanation to why she poked holes in the shoji (paper screen) in her bedroom this morning.
I was stunned by these words. Although it had not been the first time she had explained her behavior with a statement like this, I couldn’t understand how or why she felt that way about herself. I could not accept her explanation because it was dangerous in my eyes. If she adopted a core belief that she was a certain way by nature and there was nothing she could do about her impulses, then she would have no incentive to change destructive or counter productive behaviors. I couldn’t figure out what I had shown her in my action or inaction that would lead her to the conclusion that she had no control over her behaviors.
Taking a moment to think of the best response to what she had just said and being careful not dismiss what she had just said, I told her that I didn’t agree with her and that it was her choice to poke holes in the shoji and that she could have chosen not to poke holes in the shoji just as easily. I explained that in every situation we have choices and that she could always make different choices if she wanted to. She had no reply to this, and rather than beat the issue into the ground I dropped it. However, I have been stuck in that moment ever since.
What she had said about the shoji was in direct contrast to what she had said to her father a few weeks ago when he said that he couldn’t braid her hair the way mommy did.
“Daddy, you shouldn’t say that you can’t because if you say that you can’t you won’t. You should say that you can braid my hair, okay,” she had responded with the poise and confidence of someone who knew what they were talking about.
Impressed by her insight, my husband said, “Where did you learn that?”
“Mommy told me,” she said with a smile.
I was so proud of her. I thought to myself, I must be doing something right that she was able to internalize that important belief. However, now I’m not so sure that I had anything to do with it after hearing her say, “That’s the kind of girl I am. I can’t help it,” in response to the question, “Why did you poke holes in the shoji?”
I realize that I can say and do certain things in an attempt to get a certain result, but I really don’t have much control over how my daughter interprets the things that I say and do. No matter how careful I am with my words instilling in her the belief that we always have choices and we are in control of our behavior and our interpretation of events, I really have very little influence on how she synthesizes and analyzes the information I convey to her. Our consciousness is a result of a complex system, we are more than the sum of our parts. Who knows who we are and how our self awareness is formed? My daughter is the only one who truly experiences the events in her life and her idea of her Self is constructed based on interpretations of a series of experiences in her life so far. If she feels that her actions are a result of her nature and that she has no choice but to poke holes in the shoji then is anything I say going to change that for her? At the same time, if I do not offer her a counter example or different interpretation of her circumstances how else is she going to learn? Do I even have an influence on how and what she learns?
As her mother, I want her to be happy, love herself, and always be self confident. If I question her interpretation of the event, will it undermine her self confidence? At the same time, can I honestly allow her to believe that she has no control over her behavior? If I respect her explanation, is it the same as condoning her actions? I cannot accept her choice to destroy the shoji, yet I do not want her to internalize my disapproval of her choice as disapproval of her. When she says, “That’s the kind of girl I am,” I can’t help but think that she has interpreted my disapproval of her choice as a rejection of her as an individual, and I can’t help thinking that something in my own behavior or in my reaction to her destroying the shoji conveyed that message.
As a parent, I feel that I am responsible for helping to shape the core beliefs that constitute my children’s self image, but I’m not sure that is even within the scope of my abilities. How much control do we really have over our children? How much influence do we have over their decisions and their consciousness? There are aspects of my daughter’s personality from whose origin I cannot place. Where did she get the idea that her behavior is the result of the kind of person she is? I have always talked to her in terms of choices explaining that she always has a choice. Her choices good or bad have resulted in desirable or undesirable consequences, and I have always been careful to focus on the choices or the behavior. So, why would she come to the opposite conclusion?
I’d like to think that if I said the right things, and responded in the right way that it would result in a happy healthy kid, but the truth is, raising children isn’t like perfecting a recipe, or planting a garden. What you put into it is not always what you will get out of it.The belief that raising a healthy happy kid is simply a matter of saying and doing the right things, is a myth I have held on to for a long time, and it is because of this myth that I have blamed my mother and father for my harmful core beliefs.
I believed, until recently, that their upbringing and the choices they made when they raised me led me to have low self-esteem. However, now that I am a parent, and I am raising my own children, I see that that is not necessarily the case. There are so many things that make us who we are, and although our parents are a big part of that, they are not the only part. A lot of it has to do with how our brains interpret events, and no matter what our intentions might be, our children’s interpretation of our actions are entirely out of our hands.
Despite this realization, I am not going to stop working on myself so that I can be an example for my daughter of what it means to live a happy and fulfilling life. I am not going to stop insisting that it is our choices that matter not our individual natures. I am not going to stop expressing my approval of certain behaviors and my disapproval of others. I’m just going to do it with a little less certainty and absolutism.
My desire to be a positive influence in my children’s lives has not changed, but my rationale has. I am not going to do these things because they will make my children happy people with sound minds and bodies because the truth is, I have no idea if what I am doing will yield those desired results. I am going to do those things because they are what feel right to me. They are how I have decided to parent my children after extensive research and careful consideration. It is the best way that I know how to parent, and so that is how I will parent. At the same time, I will be open to what my children need and be willing to adjust my beliefs about parenting where and when it is necessary.
As far as how it will all turn out, I can only have faith that my children will be kind, happy, well rounded adults who will follow their life’s purpose without hesitation. I will have faith that it will all turn out exactly as it is meant to with or without my help. I will believe in my children and the amazing process that is involved in their upbringing with the understanding that the result of that process is out of my hands. We are not destinations, or works in progress, we are the process, we are the journey, and our lives are infinite possibilities.
Today, I am grateful for the lesson that the shoji incident has taught me. I am grateful for my children for it is through them and interacting with them while they grow and develop that I learn my most valuable and poignant lessons. They represent to me everything that is wonderful, awesome, and frightening about being human. It is hard to describe what it is like to raise a child. It is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and I don’t think anything can prepare someone to be a parent. For me, parenting has been thrilling, frustrating, amazing, awe inspiring, and humbling. It is a wonderful experience, and it is teaching me how to be better to myself.
Until next time, I wish you all the very best, and if you are a mother, I wish you a happy mother’s day.