I had parents who didn’t sugarcoat. “Mom, do you think I could play in the NBA someday?” “Probably not, you’re white and short.” When I tried something new and sucked at it, they lovingly (okay, let’s not get carried away, sometimes not so lovingly) told me so. When my piano playing sounded more like Chinese water torture than Beethoven, they were the first to let me know.
But then they always told me they loved me anyway.
Until recently, I never knew how rare that is. Because of their truthfulness, I have a healthy sense of self and, even more importantly, I am able to untie my identity and feelings of worthiness from the things I accomplish. I was told over and over by their combination of honesty and acceptance that I am not loved because I perform but because I am me.
And I am not sure it is possible to raise children with a proper sense of self and self-worth without this truthful acceptance. If we continue to inflate their ego, letting them think they are great at everything, without pointing out their shortcomings and then surrounding them with acceptance, our kids will inevitably find their value in their “accomplishments.”
And even more damaging, they will think they have to keep it up to earn our approval. They think we see them as perfect and when they realize they’re not, a fake self appears our of their fear to let us see their imperfections, uncertain whether they will be loved despite their weaknesses.
And let’s be honest. It’s easier to falsely inflate my kid’s ego and make “the world” the villain when his/her bubble gets popped than to be honest with them from the beginning. If you need an excruciating example, watch the first several episodes of every season of American Idol. I shudder at the thought. But acceptance is not pretending, it’s exposing your failures and getting to belong anyway.
And that’s why I tell my son he just isn’t great at some things. Maybe he’ll get better at them, maybe he won’t. Either way, he will always be loved and he will always belong. And that’s the difference between abuse and acceptance.
May our families become places where our weaknesses are exposed, our failures are flaunted, and where love overcomes.