Many people, when they think about their childhood, can recall times when their wishes, dreams, or aspirations were ignored, laughed at, or dismissed by someone whose role was to nurture and care for them.
One woman told me how, when she said she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, her father looked at her and said, "Well, you won’t have much chance of that."
The intention of a statement like that is probably not to crush a child’s dreams and leave them with memories that still upset them many years later. More likely, parents and other adults say and do these things out of a misplaced desire to be helpful. It may be that they genuinely think they are helping. They want the best—but they want "the best" as seen from their point of view. So they try to steer their children’s lives in a direction that they think is right.
But we should not mistake good intentions for good actions.
Authentic parenting is different. It starts with the belief that each person is unique in what they bring to the world. Authentic parents do their best to care for and nurture their children so that they develop to their full potential, like an acorn that has the potential to grow into an oak tree if it receives the right amounts of sunlight and nutrients.
To do this, we have to listen carefully to children, understand their point of view, be aware of their wishes and desires, and do our best not to control and direct their lives. Instead we should empower and free them to grow in their own direction. Rather than mold our children into a desired shape, we should try to bring out and nurture what is already there.
There are three things that authentic parents do well—and that we can all learn:
1. They show interest.
Many parents misunderstand what it means to show interest and instead push their interests onto their children. Showing interest in your children is not telling them about your record collection or pushing them to play the sports that you liked as a child. It's about finding out what interests them and being interested in their world. Authentic parents ask their children questions about what they think and feel. Part of showing interest is really listening. Authentic parents listen to their children to find out what interests them. They want to understand what it is like to be them, and then support them in developing their interests.
2. They value individuality.
Authentic parents do not try to force their children to fit their expectations. They are curious and excited to meet an original person. They assure their children that they are loved for who they are, and just as they are. They give their children the freedom to be themselves.
3. They let their children find their own path in life.
This does not imply passively looking on at all that they do, but getting involved practically, offering advice, and being emotionally available. Authentic parents understand that their children’s world is not their world. They try to get to know their children’s world, but they don’t try to enter it themselves. They know that the world of their children may be vastly different from their own childhood world, and that their children need to develop the skills to navigate the world of the future, not yesterday's
Parenting is hard, and no one gets it right all of the time, but these tips may make it easier for you, and your child. Learn more in my new book, Authentic: How to be yourself and why it matters.