Where is the line drawn between wanting your children to grow into their best selves and accepting them for who they already are? This question runs through my mind on a constant loop whenever I am around my two children. I am forever hearing a voice in my head encouraging them to try a bit harder. It doesn’t matter if I am observing from a sporting event sideline or coloring beside them at the kitchen table or listening to them practice the piano from a different room. I hear that persistent perfectionist voice and then must choose whether or not to speak it aloud.
This year, after eight years of parenting, I discovered that not every parent hears this voice. I was shocked. Shocked! I’ve spent the last year learning more and more about the enneagram, and I now know that pushing my children toward their best selves is characteristic of parents who are a One Type. We hear the voice of an inner critic who continually tells us ways we could do better and be better. We hear the voice not only critiquing our own actions, but also those whom we love the most in the world. For me, this means my husband and my children. And in case you are wondering, 40 year old spouses do not appreciate being called out for their shortcomings and failures.
For years, I offered this feedback without even noticing. I think I’m helping. I’m offering suggestions and constructive criticism on how to do things better. Who wouldn’t appreciate that? Well, most people as it turns out.
This spring I was throwing the softball with my six-year-old in the front yard and doing what I always do. Read: offering nonstop feedback.
“Don’t forget to trap the ball in your glove with your left hand!”
“Nice throw! You got it right to me!”
“Next time, try following through when you throw it back.”
After about five minutes, my articulate first grader looked at me and said, “I don’t need a running commentary, Mom.”
She didn’t need the positive feedback that she did something well nor did she need the constructive feedback on how to do something better. None of it was helpful and all of it drove her bananas. At six years of age, she was well aware of what she can and cannot do, and she certainly didn’t need to hear it from her mother.
My older child has an entirely different personality and a whole lot less self-awareness. He thinks he does most things exceptionally well and rarely notices when he doesn’t. Enter the buzz kill mom who suggests ways he might do it next time. As a result, my son regularly asks me if I’m proud of him. Am I proud of him for making choir, passing a kung fu belt test, beating a difficult level in a video game? “Um, sure, buddy,” I tell him. “But I’m always proud of you.” Even though I’m proud of him all the time, not just for specific accomplishments, parenting him as a perfectionist has obviously taught him differently.
So, where is the line drawn between wanting your children to be their best selves and accepting them for who they already are? As a parent, I understand my job to be raising adults. I am called to prepare my two children to go out into the world where they can thrive and make positive differences. As a follower of Jesus, I understand my job to be seeing Christ in all persons. I am called to offer unconditional love, grace and support to every person I encounter…including my own family.
I know firsthand how exhausting it is to give everything I care about in life my absolute best. Perfectionism is a never-ending, unattainable quest and one I do not want my children to pursue. Even though I know that I love my children unconditionally and that they bring me unending amounts of joy, the message my children hear is that I love them the most when they excel. This sort of legalistic love is not why God became incarnate in Jesus. It is not why Jesus was crucified. It was not why Jesus overcame death and his grave.
Right now as after school activities kick into high gear and there is ample opportunity for suggesting improvement, I find myself praying that I might parent from a place of grace. One of the reasons this is so difficult for me is that grace doesn’t make sense. I need order in life. I need things to be right, and grace is just not right. We are sinful human beings, and God loves us anyway? What?!?
But God doesn’t really care about things being right or that they make sense. God loves me not because I give everything my best, but because I simply exist. I don’t have to earn God’s approval and my children don’t need to earn mine. I want to be better at extending this grace to them…better at it, but not perfect.
[Image Credit: Beth Seliga of 3 Cats Photo]