by Chris Shaw, MAMFT
Lack of love fuels our search for identity. When humans feel valued, they seem to build bonds with those who love them and emulate what they see and hear. However, if an adult is not secure with who they are, they will have a difficult time when their child becomes like them. Social learning theory teaches that we learn by observation. Children are apt to do as their role models do; parents are key role models. Parents and children can easily find themselves in similar situations simultaneously. When we as adults are not valued in our career or in our intimate relationships, how can we provide care and love for our children? How do we identify ourselves as “adults” now and not as the child that we used to be? I believe that it is important for us at each successive stage of life, to revisit the question of who we are in light of our experiences and redetermine which factors we choose to let describe us.
Our identity is our choice. How we interpret the events in our life matters. It is easy to recall our stories and lose sight of the larger narrative that our lives play a part in. Despite our best attempts to base our value off of others' opinions, human lives do not need the approval of others to have value. Our irremovable image of God is the imprint of worth, despite our own perception of what we consider to be “successes” or “failures.” I believe that the life that we live is best lived within this context. Maybe we have made mistakes and we regret our choices. We can feel like we are living under the constant weight of them. Yet these choices are superseded by the love of God. Each of us has certain co-dependent-like tendencies so that unless others love us, we cannot be okay with ourselves. Yet when we are able to experientially know that we are valued by God, we also begin to build bonds with him and become like him. The need for acceptance from others loses importance.
A child will also desire to fit in and gain the acceptance of their peers as well as their adult relationships. They want to know that they have value. Lest I communicate that human love has no worth, it is important that both children and adults experience love from their key caregivers in life. Despite your best efforts to reassure them of their self-worth, children may still be hesitant to believe parents since the draw to be acceptable to their peer has immense importance to them. Children need genuineness from us. They draw much of their identity from caregivers, not only through verbal communication, but also in the way we communicate to them by tone, and non-verbal cues. How do you show with your full self, that your child is important? Unconditional love speaks volumes. Communicating to them their value despite grades, their behavior and your own life struggles, teaches them that negative statements of peers have little meaning.
If we teach our children that they need to be “fixed” in one way or another, they will likely assume that they are inherently flawed. It is challenging to help children develop into themselves rather than molding them into who we desire them to be, or who we think they are. Take the time to care about who your child is and who they are becoming. Instilling in them pride for effort, regardless of outcome tells them that it is the heart which matters. This also shows them that their worth is not based on appearance, achievement or number of friends; not that these things are unimportant, but that they are secondary, not primary. Too often we miss the most important things by focusing on the small things. It is good for us as adults to remember this for ourselves as well. Keeping our own priorities in order models for our children better than words can ever do.