A friend posted a graphic of this quote on her facebook wall. In a days time hundreds of people had "liked" it, and a few hundred had taken the time to share it on their own walls. It's not uncommon to hear adults talking about living authentically, discovering and following their dreams and passions, and not changing to please other people. There are blogs, books, life coaches and therapists available as resources, ready and willing to take your money in exchange for helping you live more authentically, and to support you in rediscovering what brings you joy and leaves you feeling fulfilled.
How it is that we are in our 30's or 40's or beyond and we don't have a clue what it is we want to do with our lives or who we really are or why we feel out of balance, discouraged and out of touch with ourselves? Why do we need outside help in order to discover what was inside of us all along? The answer can be found in how we were treated by adults when we were children.
When you were a child were you treated with respect and unconditional love? Or were you molded to be the person your parents wanted you to be? Were your passions encouraged or frowned upon? When you were in school were the things that brought you joy emphasized? Did your teachers recognize who you were and what you were good at and did they support you in developing those talents that were uniquely your own?
In school children are told to sit still, be quiet and learn what is required, when who they are is laughter and jokes, dancing and singing, drawing and painting, video games and technology, and so many variations and combinations of personalities and passions. Parents send their children the very clear message that love and approval must be earned with chores, completed homework, and "good behavior." If a child fails to earn that love they are sent away to sit in time out until they apologize for being who they are, or at least who they were in that moment of transgression. In so many ways, none of them insignificant to the child, children are bombarded with messages to be good, do what they are told, make mommy happy, make good choices (which really means to make the only choice that is considered the right choice by the adult in the situation), get good grades, be nice, be quiet, and to take who they really are and squash that wonderful amazing person into a little tiny corner inside, while they show the world the person that the adults around them demand that they be in order to be lovable.
Think about it: most parenting books focus on how to get a child to change their behavior, offering rewards or punishments based on a child's ability and willingness to modify who they are to fit parental expectations and requirements. Parenting books are purchased because parents want to control their children, change a child's behavior, change their child's sleep patters, get a child to complete their (often boring, irrelevant, too hard or too easy) homework without complaining, or do more chores around the house with less nagging and effort on the part of the parent. Parenting books are written to meet the desires of the parents, who want parenting to be easier, they are not written to meet the needs of children. Generally these books aren't written to show parents how to support their children in blossoming into the amazing person they were born to be, and they generally do the opposite, they instruct parents in how to create children who will some day be 40 and have no clue what it is they love to do. Children who will see a quote on facebook that says, "Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you," and the words will speak to that part of them that was squashed down and hidden away 30 plus years before. Chances are as much as a small voice inside of then says, "Yes, that!" Another small voice will be saying, "But what if I show the world who I am and no one loves the real me?" And that small voice is the child who was shut down, who learned to do what they were told and to be who they were supposed to be,so that they were worthy of love, the child who was told that drawing, dancing, taking apart a motor, or playing a video game was a waste of time. That is the voice of the child who became an expert at being who the adults in their life wanted them to be so that they didn't get in trouble and they didn't disappoint. Or maybe they did get in trouble and they did disappoint. Perhaps they were labeled a problem child, strong willed, or perhaps even given a diagnosis and medication to make them be who their parents or the school system wanted them to be. Maybe they lived their childhood feeling ashamed, angry, or misunderstood.
"Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you."
Imagine saying this to a child, every child. Imagine living this ideal as a parent, being the right person who loves the "real you" inside your child. When we are feeling frustrated, disappointed, or angry with a child it might help to step back, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves what it is we are expecting of the child, and to consider that our expectation might not be in line with that very real child who just wants to be loved for who they are.
Originally published at With The Family, March 3, 2012.