I often observe the struggle between members of a family where each one is desperate to ‘be their authentic selves’ and yet live in harmony with others.
I have even observed it in the play groups – babies seem born to assert their needs/their personalities and this whirlwind of change within the family unit can be exhausting, joyful, changeable!
Authentic means “of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine”.
When it comes to parenting I believe we often get caught up in our children being ‘better copies’ of ourselves. We even encourage it at birth when we say, “oh he looks just like his mother/father’. But these babies are in fact the genuine deal, not copies but an ‘undisputed original’, the combination of two sets of genes that have never before met in the exact same biological and environmental circumstances.
Any parent on the second or third child will tell you that they thought they had this parenting thing sussed after the first, but in actual fact the second, then third were completely different experiences. That’s what I love about my work, unpredictability potentially becomes a joyful engaging new experience with each child.
There has long been an acceptance that attachment plays an important role in the development of babies into adults. Attachment is that definitively special bond between an adult care giver and the new-born.
It can be between a mother and baby, father and baby but also siblings, or foster/adoptive parent(s) – it stems from the fact that we are born completely helpless and survival depends on an older more capable person feeding us, cleaning us, cuddling us.
There are some interesting survival stories of babies being tended to by dogs and wolves, and it is interesting to note that these ‘wild children’ live but have little or no skills to be ‘fully human’.
This week I watched a video that brought together the concept of attachment and authenticity (link below). It was Dr Gabor Mate, speaking about the conflict between remaining true to our attachment figure and becoming our authentic selves. It was a bit of an eye opener for me, an ‘aha moment’.
This of course is a basic potential battlefield, a baby is born ‘genuinely original’, genuinely their own person and yet they are born into a family that consists of humans who need to be authentic too!
No wonder parenting is so exciting but also so exhausting and sometimes troubling! None of us take parenting 101 courses before the birth, it is home schooling that probably lasts from their birth to our own death. But maybe that is the key, remembering that we are all learning all of the time, and our children are a great source of material for us.
Dr Gabe explains that the need for a child to be attached often wins over their own need for authenticity just in practical terms. Babies, toddlers, young people need a roof over their head, food, clothing, hugs and a listening ear. If at any stage the child starts to assert their own authenticity they risk losing the attachment figure, and ultimately the chance of survival.
In our modern world this attached notion of survival has expanded parenting to early twenties, and sometimes even thirty year olds are still very practically dependent on their parents. But do we want our children to be inauthentic just to feel attached? I doubt it, so here are some practical tips drawn from webpages listed below that may help.
Nicole Harris includes the environment we are trying to parent in and writes “Living in a society driven by social media likes and cyber-friends, it’s become increasingly hard to raise confident children.
And it’s even harder to raise authentic kids who act in accordance with their true nature and beliefs rather than being influenced to follow a crowd”. She continues giving details around the following five tips:
1. Make children feel important. When your little one feels valued, s/he’ll be more confident in expressing her/his true self. ...
2. Value your child’s differences. ...
3. Encourage imagination and self-expression. ...
4. Live authentically yourself. ...
5. Buy mindful products.
Meanwhile, an article on raising ‘successful kids’ nicely points out research that shows despite economic status, we can help our children from as young as four years of age, by encouraging talk that involves ‘back and forth’ turn taking. Instead of telling our children what to do, stating what’s happening, research shows using language to give choices and ask opinions really helps.
“….a number of studies have supported the idea that children with stronger communication skills are more likely to have healthier relationships, longer marriages, higher self-esteem and overall satisfaction in life”.
“The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children,” John Gabrieli, the senior author of the study….. “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”
It seems we can help our children feel that they can choose to be themselves. These processes are often unconscious, so we as adults need to be mindful of our own needs and reflect on whether we may accidentally be stopping our children from expressing themselves authentically.
If we model our own authentic selves, we can demonstrate that it is absolutely ok to be you. In using skilled conversation from an early age, we can open up discussion in later life as our children struggle with issues of friendships, sexuality, morals and relationships.
Our own parents may not have navigated this minefield of attachment verses authenticity all that well, but we can consciously make a change and actively create the environment whereby our children can safely discover their authentic selves.