Parents must be careful about the way they handle the instinct to shelter their children from criticism, from—in your face, no way of denying it—failure, and from being confronted by the successes of friends and siblings. Yes, it’s cruel and cheap to cultivate a brutal culture of vying for the parent’s approval or to force them into competitions for love, but a certain amount of natural, robust competition is healthy and honest. If nothing else its refusal to accommodate itself to their young egos helps them to have a sane estimate of themselves and their abilities and, like the ‘wounds of the faithful friend’ in the book of Proverbs, steps on the proud egg-shells of that pathetic egalitarian jealousy, which is incubated in the ‘loveless and self-imprisoned’ souls of so-called ‘democratically’ grown children who really do believe that ‘all men are equal’. In short it prepares them for many ‘meetings with the universe’ that are ahead of them.
Equally valued and loved by God? Yes. And when it comes to government and law the dictum is useful for hospitals, parliaments and courtrooms. But how can it be true in that other sense when genetics, environment and the accidents of culture all conspire to deal very different hands of cards to every single child on the planet? To assume such equality is in fact cruel and does not allow for the complications of extra time and assistance or the special consideration, for example, that a visually-impaired child might require.
To attempt to manage these challenges and complications of love by dumbing everything down and doling out indulgent, scripted love-speak to every child is just plain lazy and a frontal assault on trust, honesty and respect: a disgraceful kind of condescension, like the emperor’s new clothes. But in this case, the emperor (the child) never asked to be a part of the deal. Children are not fools, they will know when mum and dad are not being on-the-level with them.
One of the greatest compliments a parent can pay their child is to be graciously transparent with them about their weaknesses and thereby assist them to manage these vulnerabilities and perhaps even grow through them and overcome them, and failing that, to at least have a sane and honest estimate of themselves. This gracious transparency applies not only to the child’s expectations of themselves but also to their expectations of the universe we live in, a universe that has spawned hundreds of proverbial sayings to prepare us to meet it. Make sure you teach some of them to your child: * life’s not fair * fortune favours the bold * the boy who will never risk being laughed at will never be a man * We can’t make you do anything but we sure can make you wish you had (US Army quoted by Ambrose in Band of Brothers) * The business of the universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one and learn to be wise.(George MacDonald speaking via Raven in Lilith)
In the end, if the child never receives any painful feedback from a parent, they have no alternative than to conclude that this is a dishonest relationship, and respect becomes a casualty. On the other hand, if you grasp the process nettle, you as a parent will gain their respect and probably deepen in your respect for yourself as you honestly face where some of this is coming from in your own soul: deep wounds for example.
That leaves you with the challenge of how this can be best communicated. Such things are usually processed via a long, slow, intermittent conversation that might last two weeks or ten years, and the beginning point is usually only found when you decide to forget about looking for the perfect moment to ‘have the big talk’ and instead are happy to just waste time sitting on your child’s bed talking about whatever. Yes, you are approaching volcanic territory and you will need all your wits about you and there may be quite a few of these times of sitting and hanging out for random ten minutes, but this is not a time for something that feels like a ‘serious appointment’ this is a time for allowing your own helplessness and love to meet in a place of curiosity and grace. Both of you are heading into uncharted territory, so—because explorer’s are interested in everything—try to get over your concerned, fear-injecting, laser-beamed intentionality and begin like an explorer meeting another explorer (your child) and go from there. And don’t forget to invite the Paraclete to join you both on the journey.
It was probably Jung who said that ‘the greatest liability a child can have is a fearful parent’ and it was George MacDonald who said, ‘The quickest way to make a child bad is to try to make them good.’