“I will never forget how intensely uncomfortable I felt sitting in a restaurant with a friend one day, as she pointed to her young son and daughter sitting in the booth next to her and casually asked me, “Tell me the truth, which one of them do you think is more beautiful?”
I couldn’t believe the question! How could a parent ask someone to compare her children in such a crass way, especially right in front of them. It seemed so foolish to me that I thought I must have misunderstood. So, I actually turned back to her and asked her to repeat the question. And she did!
So there I was with two lovely children who were watching me, eagerly wondering which of them I would pick as the “most beautiful.” Of course I said the only thing possible at the time, which was that both of them were beautiful and wonderful children in their own unique ways and she must be very proud of them both.
But it got me thinking about how much importance so many parents place on the external attributes of their children and how important it was to find ways of teaching parents to value the intrinsic, often less visible qualities that their children contribute to the world.
It’s much harder to see a child’s heart and soul than it is the length of her hair or the cuteness of her smile. As parents we too often reward the extrinsic and obvious socially acceptable traits and accomplishments and take for granted or ignore those behaviors which more accurately reflect the values that we really want to teach our children.
For example, what is expected is that parents praise their children for getting good grades, winning races on the playground or being the best debater on the debate team. What is less obvious is how important it is for parents to praise their children for taking the time to help a friend with his homework, or taking out the garbage without being asked, or returning a lost item to someone at school.
Beauty, talent, cuteness, charm are all such subjective qualities that it allows every parent to make his or her own judgements, for good or bad. As the conversation I had with my friend demonstrates, some parents see one child as more beautiful and another as less, one child as talented and the second as not.
Weighing your children as if there is an absolute scale of value or worth will dampen their inner glow quicker than any other means known to parents.
When you praise one child while not praising the other, the second child inevitably experiences the praise for the first as a reflection of his or her own personal failure.
Parents need to let go of comparisons. Among the most painful sounds that a child’s ears can hear are the words, “Why can’t you be more like…” I remember my parents asking me once why I couldn’t be more like Jimmy (a childhood friend), and get better grades. I remember how much those words stung and how upset I got at being compared to another person. I heard the comparison as clearly says there was something definitely wrong with me. Otherwise why else would they want me to be like someone else?
Now the funny thing is that my parents didn’t generally make such comparisons and this could have been the only time in my entire life that my mother ever said such a thing – yet it stayed with me forever.
I share this story simply to remind you how powerful your words are that you say to your children. Something that you say in the heat of a moment and then forget was even said your children often carry as a small chip in their hearts throughout their lives. Always remember the same lessons that you wish to teach your children – that what you say matters. Measure your words and make certain that you are communicating the positive messages that will empower and inspire your children to be the best that lies within them.
Remember as a parent looking at your children that what is hard for one may be easy for another. What one does quickly the next does slowly and deliberately. Parents too often judge their children in-relation to other children and not on their own merit, on their own terms, for their own inherent value.
I am certain that in your heart you know that each human is unique, each child is precious, each different and valued for their own special one-ness. Therefore choose your criticisms carefully, for your words can either be knives that pierce the tender souls of your children or sustenance that nourishes and allows them to flourish as the brilliant sunflower on a summer’s day.
Don’t become blinded by the accomplishments of others, whether adult or child. Foolishly fawning over celebrity, or physical beauty or external talent drives children to despair.
Seek out the qualities truly worth emulating. You have the power to inspire. Lead your children to their inner worth and inner light, by keeping far from the trivial and embracing that which has true and lasting meaning in life. Teach your children that they have power, that they matter, that they can make a difference in the world. Live the message and the message will live outside you in your children as well.
Remind your children each day of their value to you, to themselves and to others. They have greatness within if they are courageous enough to look for it and let it come out. That is your challenge as well – to discover the greatness within yourself and use it to model the simple act of being that which you can be.
Be yourself and your children will strive to do the same. Be true to yourself and your children will be given permission to be true to their own inner dreams.