ACCEPTING YOUR CHILD AS THEY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
Many years ago, a friend came to me after her son had been “flagged” at school for behaviors that seemed atypical. Following a neuropsychological exam, she was told that her son was on the autistic spectrum. She was devastated when she revealed this to me. We talked for quite a long time and then I asked her this question: “Did you love Simon* yesterday?” She looked startled and stammered, “Yes, of course.” I responded by saying, “He is exactly the same today as he was yesterday. Absolutely nothing has changed. Yesterday, you loved the way he looked when he woke up in the morning. You accepted his ‘quirks’ as part of what made him who he is. You loved and accepted him exactly as he was before he was diagnosed with autism. It’s true that you may need to change his school and make adaptations for specific therapies that he needs but you need to know that fundamentally, he hasn’t changed who he is. You accepted him for who he is yesterday. That doesn’t need to change in the face of this diagnosis.”
So often, when some “new” aspect of our children is revealed to us, we feel shaken. “How could I not know this?” “How can I accept that my kid is ______?” And the answer I gave my friend remains pertinent: whether we’re talking about a diagnosis, either medical or psychological; or an aspect of their personality; or a passion for the arts over sports, or sports over the arts; or even whether they identify as male, female, trans-gender, non-binary, etc., your child hasn’t suddenly changed. They are exactly who they were before this “new” aspect of themselves was revealed to you. You loved and accepted them before the revelation and you should love and accept them equally afterward.
Since I began teaching parenting skills over 25 years ago, I have emphasized the importance of accepting our children for who they are. Every child has inborn traits and qualities that they do not choose and when parents attempt to change the innate aspects of their children it often leads to disaster.
In order for a child to grow up psychologically healthy, confident, responsible, willing to learn from their mistakes, and ultimately happy in life, they must feel good about themselves. So what does that mean? It means that they must have an inner core, an inner voice, that says, “You are fundamentally good. You are loved for who you are.” That inner voice won’t protect them against the stress, sadness, and other challenges that are all normal parts of life, but it will make them resilient in the face of those things. It will give them the ability to pick themselves up and move on when they are confronted with all of the hardships that life brings.
When parents don’t communicate that their children are fundamentally good, that they are loved for who they are, then children must develop that sense on their own. This can be an almost impossible task if their parents - the people they trust and with whom they identify and on whom they count for the most basic of their needs - are not fully accepting of them. And children who don’t feel that they are fundamentally good just the way they are have a higher risk of suicide, addiction, self-harm, violence and eating disorders among other things.
In my last blog, I suggested that when our children don’t fit the fantasy of who we thought they would or should be, we must ask ourselves, “Why is it so important to me that my child be someone who they aren’t?” Now I suggest that when some new aspect of our child is revealed to us, we remind ourselves that they are the exact same person they were when they were babies. We loved them long before their personality emerged. We accepted them before we found out what their passions were. We loved them before we discovered their strengths and weaknesses. We accepted them before their sexual orientation or gender identity was revealed to us. We loved them yesterday. We accepted them yesterday. That doesn’t need to change. In fact, for the safety and well-being of our children, it mustn't.
*all names have been changed as well as identifying details which may include gender, age, geographical information or more.