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The Power Of A Mother’s Words

Happy woman talking to her teenage daughter at home

I woke up this morning to the sound of the ring of one of the most influential women in my life calling me: my mom.

We spoke about the upcoming Bat-Mitvah of my older daughter and about other things. And at some point, my mom told me how proud she was of me, that despite my history I was able to overcome many obstacles and help others who are struggling.

Long story short, my childhood was marked with struggles and lack of a strong mother figure– not because she didn’t want to be there for my siblings and I, but because she was in an abusive controlling relationship, to name just one of many reasons. She didn’t know that not giving us what we needed was instrumental to our developmental both mentally and physically. She simply couldn’t provide us all that we needed — the love, the care, the few words that could have changed a lot for a little child. 

My childhood was an extreme case, but the truth is, we often forget the power we have as moms. The question becomes what can we do as parents to help encourage and support our children so that they don’t grow up feeling a void. Here are 10 things that I think we can all strive to do as parents that will have both short-term and long-term positive effects on our children.

  1. Love your child unconditionally. This sounds simple, but saying it out loud is helpful. This is the most basic thing a parent can do, but it’s something you have to do actively, every single day.
  2. Listen to your child without judgment. Sometimes this is harder than others, but the first thing you should do when your child is speaking is to listen and ask yourself if you are truly listening and being open to what they are actually saying.
  3. Give your child words of encouragement often. This doesn’t mean you have to compliment your child on every tiny thing that is done. However, it is so important to continually give words of support, encouragement, and affirmation in their daily life.
  4. Let you child know that you trust that they will be able to make the right decision —  even if you are not sure. Trust is so important to a child. If you don’t trust your child to make a decision, this breeds indecision, self-consciousness, and insecurity in later years.
  5. Tell your child that you are proud of them — even when they don’t get an A on their test. If your child thinks they are letting you down, it will affect them negatively. You don’t need to praise your child for failing a test, but your child should know that even if they don’t make great grades, you are proud of them as a person.
  6. Pay attention to your child and know what really makes them happy (not what makes you happy). Give special attention to the time you spend with your child. Are you really paying attention or are you on your phone? Figure out what gives them joy during the day. 
  7. When you are going through an emotional event or a trying period, be mindful when you are around your child, and don’t project your thoughts and feelings onto your kid.  If you are feeling emotionally unstable it’s hard to be a strong support system for your kid, but projecting insecurity, fear, anger, and other emotions onto your child can be so damaging. Try to separate your daily life events from your ability to support your child with words of encouragement.
  8. Enjoy as much time as you can with your children when they are young. You will not get these moments back. 
  9. Ask your child how they are feeling and really listen. Don’t wait until your child is much older to have deep conversations about your relationship. If you feel at any point that your relationship with your child is going off course, simply asking your child to talk to you about how they are feeling can go a long way. Ask them what they need from you as a parent. Young children will have trouble articulating their feelings, but as your child gets older they will be able to give you glimpses into what they want you to say — what they need you to say.
  10. Let your child feel emotions. Sometimes as parents, especially if we’ve gone through something difficult, it’s easy to tell our kids they need to be strong. Kids are more fragile than adults. Don’t dismiss any emotion your child is feeling. If they are feeling nervous, anxious, angry, sad, for frustrated, encourage them to talk about it and really identify why they are feeling that way. Don’t encourage your child to cover up their feelings, instead, allow them to open up to you.
Here’s another great website that has “101 words of affirmation that every child wants to hear.” Let’s all take a look at the list and see how many we are incorporating into our daily lives with our kids and make an effort to use more.

The Key To Conscious Parenting

Happy mother and daughter at summer field

For the past 12 years I have had the pleasure of being the mother to three girls, and in that time, I have learned more about myself than I ever expected. I am writing this post because I want to propose that we occupy the role of parenthood in an entirely different way, with a renewed curiosity, a heightened awareness and a fresh sense of commitment.

Our children are facing challenges today that we couldn’t have dreamed of, and evidence suggests they are buckling under the pressure. One in five children in America show signs or symptoms of a psychological disorder, and that is a hair-raising statistic. The use of ADHD drugs is at an exponentially high 274% global increase. UNICEF did a study a few years ago and found American children are the second unhappiest in the world.

Each one of us holds transformative power, and there is real science behind this to show how the parental relationship can affect us as adults not only psychologically, but also biologically. Dr. Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist and one of my favorite authors, talks about how early interactions affect our brains in his book The Whole Brain-Child. I highly recommend the book, but I want to share with you a few key takeaways, one of those being the idea of conscious parenting.

Conscious parenting doesn’t necessarily mean spending every waking hour with your children, rather it means that when you do spend time with your kids, you make it meaningful and make sure you are present in the moment. You can practice the idea of conscious parenting when you help with your children’s homework or spend 10 minutes with them while they get ready in the morning. Listen with empathy and respond to what is said with full awareness. In their essay, called “Recognizing Our Hidden Wounds”, Psychoanalysts Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt discuss “the importance of recognizing when and how we slip into the past.” When we have a problem-causing “automatic, unexamined reaction” to a child’s behavior, that’s an indication that we are approaching the situation from an unresolved childhood wound.

The idea is obviously fairly complex, but simply making an effort not to bring the past, or your stresses and anxieties, into the time you spend with your child will go a long way. Conscious parenting might sound like work, but it can actually be executed rather easily. I found that remembering the acronym “AFTER” works for me when I’m dealing with a situation with one of my children and my first reaction is to be upset.

A-aware (Be aware that you are reacting to what is going on internally for you and not responding to the situation at hand)

F-focus (Focus on what is happening in the moment)

T-time (Take time to count to at least 5 so you can calm down)

E- Empathy (Forgive yourself for what you had done in the past and have empathy for yourself)

R- Re-enter (Re-enter the interaction with a new insight and respond appropriately with empathy)

Until about 10 years ago, I wasn’t sure what being conscious meant, and all I wanted to do was be a mom and to become a psychologist. As the years went by, I realized that I was often busy thinking about the goals I wanted to reach and thinking about my past. When I became a mom, I wasn’t really aware of how my level of consciousness and awareness would affect my children. Being a mom brought up things in me that had nothing to do with my children, but rather made me realize there are some things I’ve carried with me since I was a child. I had a lot of insecurities and there was a part of me that was still that little child who was crying and screaming out for attention, who was hurt and abused and needed guidance and support, and nobody was there. While my children are clearly not in the same situation, they were victims of my insecurities when I projected them through my parenting. Once I became aware that this was happening, as I progressed with my education of child development and mindfulness, I realized how important it is to be a parent and how much attention/responsibility and self-awareness is required on a daily basis.

As a therapist, it is my job to help people explore their inner worlds. After years of clients sharing their stories, it became clear to me that no matter what I would tell them, they weren’t readily accepting what I was saying because they had internalized the voices of their parents. It became so evident how very hard it is to erase that first blueprint as it comes to the way we define ourselves and the air we breathe. As parents, we hold a greater power and an immense responsibility, and our actions and behavior help provide our kids with the strong foundations they need to become competent adults.

Next time your child is asking you a question or telling you something exciting that happened, ask yourself if you are listening. Really listening?