I never realized how much my emotional health would impact my children–until I had them. I used to think that setting good limits and providing guidance, love, and nurturance would be enough. I’m realizing that it’s a good start but it’s not enough.
You see, I can’t raise healthy children unless I’m healthy. I can say all the right things, read the right books, watch the right shows, etc.; however, I can’t bring my children farther along than I am myself.
I’ve become aware of this after watching my children’s behavior around the issue of competition. You see, I’ve been competitive my whole life. My husband and I laugh at this because I can be competitive about the silliest things…like who touches the other person last or who gets home faster. I can also be competitive about more typical things, such as who wins the tennis, soccer, or board game.
When I was younger I had to be everybody’s “best” friend. As I got older, I had to be every client’s “best” therapist. I wanted to be every boyfriend’s most special girlfriend and my husband’s only “true love.” Ick…I’m not proud of it, just aware of it.
When I had children I swore they were not going to be too competitive. I was conscious of saying all the right things: “It’s not about winning, it’s about having fun.” “Don’t worry if you’re not the best, just do your best.” Then one day I saw it. There was my son being so competitive and comparing everything to “the best,” or the most popular, or you name it. I was dumbfounded. How did this happen? Damn our culture, I thought.
Then I realized it wasn’t just our culture. It was also me. I began to listen to myself speaking to him and my daughter about noncompetitive things. For example, I’d ask them who their “favorite” teacher was, or their “best” friend, or their “favorite” subject. I couldn’t ask a question it seemed without putting a qualifier on it. I couldn’t keep competition out of my home because this was my blind spot.
My edge is competition. I want to be the “best” across the board because to be less than that… well… is to be less. Of course, I know this isn’t true intellectually, but in those moments when I’m being triggered, I’m not so sure that being “okay” is good enough.
As I continue to gain internal strength and confidence in myself rather than in what I do, my children gain a similar strength. It is almost as though I can read my progress through them. This is not to say that I am responsible for everything they do. It is saying, however, that it is important we work our own edges. Because if we don’t, they are likely to become our children’s edges too.
Challenge: Be courageous enough to work your issues. Do you see them being played out in your children? If so, get conscious about your role and pay attention to the subtle ways you are passing it on. Commit to work this edge in yourself and then watch the changes in your children.