(from the P.E.T. book, 2019 revised edition)
Parenthood in our society is considered more a way to influence the growth and development of children than the growth and development of parents. Too often parenthood means “raising” kids; they are the ones to adjust to parents. There are problem kids, but not problem parents. Supposedly there aren’t even problem parent-child relationships.
Yet every parent knows that in his relationships with a spouse, a friend, a relative, a boss, or a coworker there are times when he must change in order to prevent serious conflicts or maintain the health of the relationship. Everyone has had the experience of changing his own attitude about someone else’s behavior—becoming more accepting of another person’s ways by changing his own attitude about the other’s behavior.
You may have been very upset over a friend’s habitual tendency to be late for appointments. Over the years you begin to accept it, maybe chuckle about it, and kid your friend about it. Now you no longer get upset over it; you accept it as one of your friend’s characteristics. His behavior has not changed. Your attitude about his behavior has. You have adjusted. You have changed.
Parents, too, can change attitudes about the behavior of children.
Dana’s mother became more accepting of her daughter’s need to color her hair with multiple colors, when she thought back on the period in her own life when she slavishly followed the style of miniskirts and knee boots to the dismay of her own mother.
Ricky’s father became more accepting of his three-year-old son’s hyperactivity after he heard in a discussion group with other parents that this kind of behavior was very typical of boys at that age.
A parent would be wise to realize, then, that he can reduce the number of behaviors he finds unacceptable by modifying himself so he becomes more accepting of the behavior of his child or children in general.
This is not as difficult as it may seem. Many parents become far more accepting of children’s behavior after their first child, and often even more accepting after their second or third. Parents also can become more accepting of children after reading a book about kids or after hearing a lecture on parent education or after an experience as a youth leader. Direct exposure to children, or even learning about children from the experience of others, can markedly alter a parent’s attitude. There are still more significant ways for parents to change so they become more accepting of children.
Can You Become More Accepting of Yourself?
Studies show that a direct relationship exists between how accepting people are of others and how accepting they are of themselves. A person who accepts himself as a person is likely to feel a lot of acceptance for others. People who cannot tolerate a lot of things about themselves usually find it difficult to tolerate a lot in others.
A parent needs to ask himself a penetrating question: “How much do I like who I am?”
If the honest answer indicates a lack of acceptance of himself as a person, that parent needs to reexamine his own life to find ways to become more fulfilled from his own achievements. Persons with high self-acceptance and self-regard are generally productive achievers who are using their own talents, who are actualizing their own potential, who accomplish things, who are doers.
Parents who satisfy their own needs through independent productive effort not only accept themselves but also needn’t seek gratification of their needs from the way their children behave. They don’t need their children to turn out in a particular way. People with high self-esteem, resting on a firm foundation of their own independent achievement, are more accepting of their children and the way they behave.
On the other hand, if a parent has few or no sources of satisfaction and self-esteem from his own life and must depend heavily on getting satisfaction from the way others evaluate his children, he is likely to be unaccepting of his children—especially those behaviors that he fears may make him look like a bad parent.
Relying upon this “indirect self-acceptance,” such a parent will need to have his children behave in certain specified ways. And he is more likely to be unaccepting of them and upset with them when they deviate from his blueprint.
Producing “good children”—high achievers in school, socially successful, competent in athletics, and so on—has become a status symbol for many parents. They “need” to be proud of their children; they need their children to behave in a way that will make them look like good parents to others. In a sense, many parents are using their children to bring them a feeling of self-worth and self-esteem.
If a parent has no other source of self-worth and self-esteem, which is unhappily true of many parents whose lives are limited to raising “good” children, the stage is set for a dependency on children that makes the parent overanxious and severely needful that the children behave in particular ways.