Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | February 7, 2013

Inner voice

I’m struck by the number of parenting books and parenting “experts” there are on the market. It is utterly confusing to know what is reputable with the myriad of choices. I’m often asked to give a recommendation on a parenting subject, and my standard line is: “well, you can probably find an answer to any question to support any strategy you want to use, whether it’ll work or not, but what’s your gut tell you? You can find an expert on anything, but the only expert on your child is you.” Much of the work that I do is helping parents get in touch with their instincts, and learning how to trust them. We spend alot of time worrying about “messing up” our kids, doing or saying the wrong thing, when in reality, it would have to take a mountain of mess-ups on a daily basis, over the course of years, to really do damage (unless you are talking about child abuse, which is an entirely different topic. Mostly, I’m talking about the garden-variety neurotic parenting that many of us engage in with our kids). However, I do think that a parent’s confidence level and sense of competence in parenting has a major effect on a child. Kids take cues from their parents all the time. If you parent from a place of ambivalence and anxiety, never trusting yourself, it leaves kids less confident and unsure. Kids can sense and react to extremes – extreme anger, extreme ambivalence, and even extreme anxiety and worry. If a parent feels incompetent and does not trust himself, and excessively worries, the child will know this and lose faith in his own abilities. Because, if “my parent worries so much about me, there must be something wrong with me.” Sometimes I think parents need to be given permission to make a mistake. If you parent in good faith, and with love, and approach the decision with confidence and it turns out to be the wrong one, your child will be ok. You can always repair a mistake, and make a different decision the next time. The mere act of telling your child you were wrong and you are sorry will be a monumental life lesson for him, and will show him the integrity you have in raising him. It is much harder to undo a childhood laced with anxiety and ambivalence than it is to say you are sorry a few times here and there.

Where did this inability to not trust our instincts begin, I often wonder. I see it all the time in my work, especially as it affects parenting, relationships, and career choices, among others. I would venture to say this “lost voice theme” starts in childhood. When a child’s reality is not validated by a grown-up, she learns not to trust her inner voice. There is a disconnect between the “little voice” that’s inside and the “big voice” that’s talking down at her. When this happens continually over time, a child loses the ability to trust not only others, but herself. By adulthood, this little girl is now grown, and has no idea what to believe or who to trust. For example, little Johnny sees his mom and dad fighting and arguing and asks, “why are you fighting?” Dad says, “we are not fighting, (in a harsh voice), go to your room, we are just having a disagreement.” Little Johnny proceeds to go to his room where he hears continual yelling….and now he’s confused…..and there’s no one to help him figure out his feelings let alone the truth. 6-year old Betty sees her mommy crying, staring over a glass of liquor. She asks, “what’s wrong, mommy?” To which mom replies, “Nothing is wrong, just leave me alone and go play.” Betty is left alone in silence, feeling lost and not really understanding why, and doubting the truth she just witnessed. She knows her mom is sad, and this 6-year old will likely think she is the cause. Or it can be something as simple as 3-year old Jane falls down and hurts her knee, sees blood, and screams in fear, and Mom says, “oh, you’re ok, it doesn’t hurt that bad.” Well, she probably is ok, but for a 3-year old in that moment, she’s terrified, in pain, and needs some validation and comfort. This validation only takes a few seconds, but those seconds count. Just a few brief moments of validating the reality, naming the feeling, and moving on is all a kid needs to feel understood and have her reality maintained.

I spend much of my time with people validating their feelings and experiences and helping them get in touch with their instincts. Our bodies are wonderful at telling us what we need, if only we would listen. So many of the people I see never had a trusted grown-up validate their reality and honor their feelings, and so they grew up in a constant state of denial or confusion, or a mixture of both. To add to that, we are now living in a world where we are deluged with a plethora of information about everything. Our bodies are taking in massive amounts of stimuli constantly, and we are often in a state of overdrive. So, combine this over-stimulation with a person who came into adulthood already doubting herself, and what you have left is a person who is in a constant state of questioning. It’s no wonder people are always doubting themselves, their decisions, their choices. They are second-guessing the big and small decisions, and never quite feeling confident in anything.

I think that may be why as parents we are always so unsure of ourselves in how we raise our kids. We come into parenting with all the unanswered questions of our childhood, and our kids challenge us to answer their questions while we are still trying to figure out our own. Kids provide us with an amazing opportunity for growth. The hard part is figuring out who needs to do the most learning, us or them. Reflecting on and understanding who you are and what you believe in, and then trusting your inner voice, will give a person great confidence in parenting as well as all other aspects of one’s life. When you are able to be quiet enough to listen to what your body and soul is telling you, often the answer is already known.

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