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Stop blaming yourself for your kids’ challenges

by Alex in |

Today’s practice: Focus on healing your kids, not on figuring out how you’ve damaged them.

In the past year a number of very important and dear people in our lives have started or grown their families in a way not everybody knows is possible: by adopting kids who have been living in foster care. In fact, our friends and family now include at least five families with kids who have spent some part of their lives in foster care.

Watching our friends welcome their new kids into their homes and lives, I’m struck by how much of the parenthood journey is absolutely identical to what we experienced when we started our family by hatching our babies from giant eggs, and also, by some significant differences.

One of those differences involves the basic paradigm and level of self-criticism we bring to our role as parents. I constantly worry about how I may be screwing up my kids, how other people may think I’m screwing up my kids, or how I may yet screw them up in the future. My friends who have adopted older kids, on the other hand, focus less on how they are going to screw up their kids and more on how they are going to heal them.

This strikes me as a useful lens that any parent can effectively use. Instead of worrying about how we might be damaging our kids, we can make the painful but safe assumption that they are or will be damaged, or at least hurt in some way — because life is a hard journey, and we can’t bubble wrap our kids. (Thanks to whomever it was that spoke with me recently about the bubble wrap metaphor.)

So start with the assumption that your kids need to be healed. Approach them not with the fantasy of sheltering them, or moulding them, or turning them into specific kinds of people with specific skills. Stop worrying about the specific ways in which you are somehow falling short in that effort. Instead, think of them as people who are living this human journey through suffering and fear, and do what you can to help heal them on their way.

And if you have a few minutes to spare from the job of healing your kids, think about how you can help heal all the other pained people you see around you — on- and offline.

First posted on April 13,2012

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