These past few weeks, I like many of you have been shocked, rocked, and somewhat horrified by the college admissions scandal in which parents paid a college consultant to falsify their children’s records, bribe test administrators and college coaches, and cheat on entrance exams so that their children could gain admission to elite universities.
Although I in no way condone what these parents did, I do have empathy for any child who is being told directly or indirectly that who they are is not good enough to take a college exam or to apply to college on their own merits. Although it is easy to judge these parents who are accused of committing a crime, our personal growth does not come by judging others. Our evolution comes by using the situation to take a deeper look inside of ourselves - asking ourselves questions such as “How we are like the people we judge?” and “How can we learn from this situation?”
Being a perfectionist/overachiever, there is no question that, in the name of “wanting what was best for my children,” I helped them, pushed them, and tried to steer them in directions which I believed would lead to their “success.” Whether it was bringing them the homework they forgot at home so they wouldn’t get an incomplete mark, proofreading an essay, or, when they were young, doing their art projects for them.
I can now see how my actions potentially crossed that line of too much parental involvement and could have communicated to my children “Mommy is doing it because I am not smart enough, responsible enough, just plain…not good enough.”
It was actually not until I got into this work that I realized how my insecurities, fears, and shadows were driving my parenting and impacting my children’s sense of self. Here are some of my “ahas” that radically shifted my parenting style.
Find Peace With Your Parental Projections
Our shadows are made up of the qualities that we don’t like, judge as negative, or disown in ourselves. They are the parts of ourselves we want to hide, manage, and tend to overcompensate for so no one will ever find out that these characteristics reside inside of us. That is why the people who have shame about being irresponsible often become the ultra-responsible or those who think it is bad to be selfish can never set any boundaries or say “NO.” They never want to feel the pain or shame of being the quality they hate.
But here’s the thing. Hating and judging these qualities does not stop with just ourselves. The qualities we judge as bad or negative in ourselves are the ones we judge as bad or negative in others. Simply put, what we can't be with in ourselves we can’t be with in others. This is especially true when it comes to our children since they are the ones who most of us, consciously or unconsciously, feel are the most profound extension of who we are. So, any quality we judge and make wrong in ourselves we will judge in our children. And just like we will push ourselves, we will push our children to get rid of, overcome, hide, or manage the existence of these traits.
For example, if you have shame around being left out or not belonging, chances are you will push your child to be popular or create scenarios where they are always having social plans. If you were embarrassed about being chubby as a kid, chances are you will push your child to not be overweight.
If, like in my case, you had a need to be special, you might project your need to be perfect and an “A student” on your children which results in them feeling anxious about coming home with any grade other than an A.
It was not until I started learning about the shadow, projection, and the concept of wholeness that I could make peace with the parts of myself that I judged as wrong. When I could see that the gift of stupid is that it gave me a huge appetite for learning or that the gift of failure was that it allowed me to let go of situations that no longer served me, then I could embrace these traits that I hated for so long. And the blessing for my children was that not only could I embrace them in myself but also in my children. As I stepped into owning that I was smart and stupid, perfect and flawed, exciting and boring, extrovert and introvert, responsible and irresponsible, I gave them the space to own and be all of who they are!
Uncovering Your Parental Meaning-Making Machine
We are all meaning-making machines. Anytime something happens in our lives, whether we had control over it or not, we attach a meaning to it. Generally, the meaning comes back to being that we did something wrong or right, good or bad, which then reinforces or diminishes our sense of self.
After working with thousands of people, I can safely say that most of us truly want to be “good parents.” We have hopes and dreams for the lives we want our children to live and the quality of the person they will become. We have expectations of who we will be as parents and believe that who we are as parents will influence the “success” of our children.
Conversely, our inner parental meaning-making machine also tells us that our children’s “successes” or “failures” are a result of how “good” or “bad” we are as a parent. So, if our child gets into a good college, is cast as the lead in a play, lands a high-paying job, or is always complimented for being, “beautiful, poised, witty, smart, compassionate…” not only did we do we kvell with pride but we also make it mean that we succeeded and did something right as a parent. Not only do our children’s accomplishments serve as our badge of honor but they also act as a statement to ourselves and the world that we did something right… that we are a good parent!
Ultimately, we need to uncover and bust open our parental meaning-making machine. The fact is that the meanings we make from any given situation are just interpretations. They are not the truth. Having your child lose a chess competition, not get elected to a class officer, or not gain admission to an Ivy League college might be the best thing that ever happened to them! But chances are a positive will never come from a loss, rejection, or disappointment if you are not open to seeing that.
Bottom line, it all comes down to…Faith and Surrender!
As a mother, one of the most challenging lessons I and so many other parents I know have had to learn is the process of faith and surrender when it comes to our children. As much as our instinct is to be a "good parent" and try to protect and probably control our children's journey, do we really know what is ultimately in their highest? This is why we need to have faith in our children, ourselves, and the Universe. There is a reason that their souls joined with your soul in this lifetime. Cultivating faith serves as the wind beneath our wings which allows us to surrender.
Just as there is a divine design and plan to our lives, the same is true for our children.
Every experience our children have is part of their evolutionary development. Ultimately, it is part of our job as a parent to let go and get out of the way. When we stop holding on and trying to control so tightly, that is where the magic happens since we truly have no idea about why something is happening or what is possible!
So this week I invite you to join me in re-examining your parenting style. If you are not a parent then join in looking at how your shadows impact your relationships.
Transformational Action Steps
1) Make Peace With Your Parental Projections: Make a list of the qualities that you judge as negative or don’t like in yourself. Allow yourself to see how you project and judge these traits on to others. What are the traits that you can’t be with in yourself that you can’t be with in others, especially your children? Become aware of the cost of your judgments. What is the impact on yourself, your children, and the people around you as a result of your judgments. To make peace with these qualities, allow yourself to see how these qualities could actually serve you. What would you have more of or be able to do different if you could embrace being selfish, irresponsible, imperfect, etc.?
2) Uncover Your Parental Meaning-Making Machine: Start noticing the magnitude and impact of your meaning-making machine. Start writing down situations that happened and the meanings you created around them. For those of you who are parents, really pay attention to the events that happen involving your children. Then ask yourself:
● What did I make this mean about me?
● What did I make this mean about my children, others, or the world?
Next, start poking holes in your meaning-making machine. Ask yourself, “Is my meaning the truth or my interpretation?” Since none of the meanings are true, see if you can replace the old disempowering meaning with one that empowers you.
3) Cultivate Faith and Surrender: To aid you in strengthening your faith and having the courage to surrender, start looking back at your own life. Journal about the “divine design” of your life. How do you see that one situation or person lead you to or prepared you for the next? Like a person on a treasure hunt, be in awe of what you see!
If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of living in integrity, I urge you to read The Integrity Advantage as it will help you navigate even more transformational action steps to overcoming your shadow and living from a state of wholeness. If you have any questions, feel free to submit them in the “Ask Kelley” section at the bottom pages of my website and they will be answered in future blog posts and/or on social media.