As parents, many of us would say that one of our deepest desires is to foster an authentic connection with our kids. We want to be a safe space for them to unravel in, a source of guidance, a comfort through tough times. We also want to create an environment where they can thrive and fulfil their highest potential, whatever that may be.
Equipped with the best tools we learned from our families, or various parenting books we’ve read, and the truest of intentions, we then set out to create connection…and we do the opposite! We put up walls between ourselves and our kids. We make them shut down. We push them away.
Why do I say that? Because if you look at the data out there from researchers (and I have, as just one of many examples) it shows that adult parental estrangement is much more prevalent than we think. What does estrangement mean? That adults are somewhere on the spectrum between completely cutting off ties with their families of origin to being very distant with them. They report moving far away, speaking with them less (or not at all), not opening up to them – exactly the scenario that parents are trying to avoid. Moreover, even adults who are in regular contact with their parents, report that it is mostly surface-level: they get together often enough, they care for their parents, but they do not confide or become vulnerable with them, despite having a “good” relationship. This suggests that whatever we’re doing to foster connection with our kids – is not working.
How can we re-examine this?
In my work on revealing our inner Lighthouse Parent, I take parents through the journey of revealing how we de-facto create a wall that blocks us from connecting within ourselves as well as with our kids. They, in turn, grow up to become adults that repeat the cycle of creating walls that prevent them from connecting within themselves and with their own children, and so on and so forth. I then help parents dismantle, brick by brick, the wall we put up that blocks true connection with our kids.
Today I want to introduce you to one such block: labels and judgement.
What we’ve been taught is that children who listen, comply or obey are “good”, “easy”.
Those who don’t listen, don’t comply, don’t fit into our idea of how children “should” be, or don’t show respect – we label them as “bad”, “defiant” or “difficult”, because they make us uncomfortable, they shame us in public, they refuse to bend to our will.
“We’ve been told that kids are SUPPOSED to be compliant, they’re supposed to do what we tell them. “
When they challenge our ways and we label them as “difficult”, they grow up with this notion that something is wrong with them, or that they are not good enough the way they are.
In truth, they just challenge us to think differently about parenting, and that in itself can be our biggest moment of awakening if we choose to see it.
Who told us these things about how kids should be? Maybe our parents/our parents’ parents/past generations in our family… this is part of the institution of parenting. Maybe the culture we grew up in, perhaps you heard “children should be seen not heard” or maybe a grown-up said to you “Because I said so” – we are raised to obey. This is a type of indoctrination, if you will, in which we developed an expectation of kids to BE a certain way, and when they are different, we label and judge them. We then proceed to view everything they do from here on out, through this lens, this filter of the label we put upon them.
Put yourself in these shoes for a moment, and imagine a teacher telling you your child is “too fidgety”, “too chatty”, “restless”, “unfocused” or imagine someone telling you your child has autism, ADHD, not neurotypical. How do you feel in your body? Tight? Constricted? Uncomfortable? If you’re honest with yourself you’ll admit you also feel judged, as if it’s your fault, as if you did something wrong which produced a child who is “too…”.
“When you feel judged, how open are you to being vulnerable? How open are you to connection? Now think how our children must feel when they hear these labels.”
When we label and judge our kids we put them in a category, a box and this box is limiting, as it defines what they can and can’t do and thus suffocates their growth. Kids want us to see them far beyond their behaviours. This is the connection THEY are so thirsty for – but when we label and judge them, we are already shutting down the connection without realising it.
What can we do to change?
- To start, we can make a list of ALL the words we use to describe our kids: stubborn, annoying, difficult, compliant, passive, unfocused, insecure, anxious, smart, funny – whatever words come to your mind, just put it all out on paper.
- When we have our list, we can then write down an experience that we had with our child that made us label them as such. For example, if I had “stubborn” on my list, I’d write down a time that my child was stubborn, which validates my label.
- Now try to go an entire hour without labelling or judging your child (harder than you think!). When they behave a certain way, don’t label it, just observe it and see it as a neutral behaviour. When they step into the room, don’t label them, just see them as they are, in a neutral way.
What this 3 part exercise shows us is that our labels come from experiences, some of them repeated experiences, with our children. Experience, however, is not the same as reality, it’s just a perception. Perceptions can change (which is their beauty). We can change how we experience our kids if we remove the labels and judgements we have for them.
In one of my recent coaching groups, we did this exercise and it was a major eye-opener for many.
I’d love for you to share with me how this lands with you and what shifts you’re experiencing in your daily life!
Rachel Duffy is a Certified Conscious Parenting & Leadership Coach. She helps parents at the intersection between parenting and entrepreneurship, when dealing with stressed, uncooperative, unmotivated kids or work teams. She helps adults and kids shift into self-drive, engagement & success without relying on control, discipline or hierarchy. After serving in the Israeli Military for 3 years, Rachel obtained a Bachelors & Masters degree in Law and worked as a family law litigator. It was in that capacity that she observed how our own upbringing affects our parenting and the way we conduct ourselves in the business world. Today, she works with parents and leaders to help them discover and then reprogram their limiting beliefs, behavioural patterns and conditionings that are preventing them from parenting with less stress and conflict or from creating the relationships in their businesses that will increase their performance