I was at the playground the other day with my kids and my 7 year old was reaching for the third rung of the monkey bars, which is still just beyond her reach. As I watched, I could feel myself tense up and in an effort to “help,” I heard myself thinking about all the things she could do to “improve her performance.” But I said nothing. In fact, I had to turn away because I had a sense that she was looking to me for approval that she was “doing it right.” I didn’t trust myself not to express my own frustration, although well meaning, which would come through as judgement. I started reading the book I had with me: Days of Deepening Friendship by Vinita Hampton Wright:
The child who experiences primarily judgment and punishment — at home, in school, in church or neighborhood — will not be free in anything she does. She will get upset at every mistake, and she will worry that the end result will bring anger and ridicule. And she definitely won’t experiment — no, she will ask the teacher repeatedly what the rules are and ask if she’s “doing it right.”
Exactly. “Keep trying!” I yelled over to the monkey bars.
How many of us are pleasers or perfectionists? How many of us do things to seek the approval of our peers? Or, overextend ourselves physically and emotionally because we just can’t say “no?” How many of us base our choices out of obligation/guilt/fear of rejection/fear of failure?
My hand is SO UP!!! And I know there are at least a handful of you mommies that are with me… because we’ve talked about it, live and in person! I know what happens to those little girls who want to be perfect and just want everyone around them to be happy (especially with them): they give themselves away. That’s what I did. I looked outside of me for approval and jumped when someone said “Jump!” or “You should…” or “You need to…” If, as my friend Gail says, there are 86,400 seconds in a day and you spend 80,000 of them doing things that aren’t really about you, where are YOU in your life?
The child who experiences acceptance and forgiveness will be free to make mistakes, try something new, play as she works, and even enjoy what the other kids are making.
Those children will grow up and eventually have children of their own. Those who learned judgment will worry over her kids and turn them toward worry, toward anxiety about failure and doing everything right. The parent who learned forgiveness will help create an atmosphere in which her children can discover who they truly are and become the gifted people they are meant to be.
And when the one you need to forgive is yourself? A friend of mine says that we call to us the relationships or circumstances that reflect our internal dialogue. Aren’t we our own worse critics? So if you will recall the emotional tantrum I had last week… I realize now that the external trigger called attention to my inner work. What about me is a liar and a fake? ZM was so right on! It really was the LIAR in me that I get to forgive. I get to forgive the me that was so afraid of rejection and “not belonging” that I betrayed myself for so many years… giving myself away out of obligation, guilt, fear, love for others, wanting to please, and make everyone happy.
Yes, forgiveness is pivotal to how we get along in the world. Without it, we will never be free. With it, we live in freedom and also free others to live well.
I get to forgive the little girl who grew up to be me… right now on the playground with my kids. I get to break the cycle and free myself and my children from a pattern of well-meaning criticism.
I went to Dotdotdash for a little retail therapy and bought myself a new dress. It wasn’t the one I intended to buy but it was the only one in my size and I loved it. My friend pointed out that this line has a personal mantra sewn into each sleeve. “Let’s see what your mantra is…” She said. “Forgiveness.” Of course it is!
What’s your personal mantra?
Practical Mommy is Ria Sharon. Click the links for Practical Mommy’s recommendations for pregnancy and exercise, travel car seats, affordable and fun diaper bags (skip hop bag), and the best-selling crib brand, Da Vinci Crib.