26 January 2007

Those little voices in our heads start with our parents

My friend Morgan gathered a few people last night to help him brainstorm ideas he's been developing for his life coaching practice, and I was among the lucky participants. One of the questions that came up: Exactly whose are those voices in our heads telling us we're not good enough? Where do those negative, nagging little voices get their authority? Why do we listen to them?

As it happens, I've been reading a book by another life coach, the funny, brilliant Martha Beck, called Finding Your Own North Star. She too talks about those critical little voices, and why they carry so much weight.

In paying attention to the little voices in my head, I've discovered that they are mostly those of my parents. And when I listen closely to what they're saying, it's mostly positive, supportive, and encouraging. I am blessed with parents who have always believed in my intrinsic unique worth, and told me so. Did they also yell at me when they were mad? Yes. Did they exert their authority simply because "they said so?" Yes. Did they spank me? Occasionally. Were they models of self-actualized adulthood? No.

The point is, they weren't perfect. They made all sorts of mistakes, especially by today's parenting standards. But the enduring message they instilled in me was that I was special and that I was loved. I hear it when I hit rough spots and when I get lost. I can be as self-critical as the next person and I also have about five Achilles' heels, but I also know that, on a basic level, I'm ok.

I try to remember this as I raise my own children. The little mistakes will be forgotten, but the big messages I repeat day in, day out, verbally and non-, will persist. Mine will be a major member of chorus of the voices they hear as they move out into the world. That chorus will be made up of the voices of their dad, other family members, friends, mentors, and, regrettably, a few enemies (because who among us doesn't hang onto the harshest criticism we've received?). I try to demonstrate in as many ways as possible that they are Good and they are Loved, just as they are. They must be accountable for their behavior -- "Good" and "good" are two different things in my book -- but hopefully they'll never doubt my belief in them as beautiful, unique beings.

They'll have their challenges to face. We all do. But hopefully, when they do, a little voice will tell them "You're ok."

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Asha, darling, you have no idea how desperately I need to read these words today. An unfortunately short fuse in me today collided with one of my daughter's (many) "test mom's limits" days and I found myself yelling at her not to yell at me. (She's two and a half!) I know I'm Bad Mommy today, but it's nice to read that maybe she won't be permanently damaged. Because day in and day out, I do my best to tell her how wonderful she is, and how much we love her, and I do my best to encourage her unique strengths and personality traits, even when they grate against what I'm trying to accomplish at the moment.

I try to remind my kids that there are good people who want the best for themselves, for the world, for all, and good behavior- the more day to day actions we have. Being a good person does not mean that we always remember to have good behavior.

I also have told them that I will always love them, regardless of their behavior, but I cannot always like them. I've come right out and said "I don't like you right now; I don't play with someone who hits" partly to explain the difference between my love and my liking of them, but also to set an example they can use with misbehaving friends.

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