I’m thinking about how I can feel lighter in the world. My first thought is to eliminate sources of stress. That seems logical. But the thing is, many of those things are also the sources of joy, growth and contribution in my life. Life would be a lot simpler if I wasn’t blogging and running workshops, for example. But these things give me outlets for my passion and ways to expand & to contribute. To withdraw from stress entirely is to withdraw from life. And what would be the point of a stress-free life? How is the soul to feel fulfilled, learn its lessons and make its impact if we play small?
So the answer may be to, instead, accept the discomfort and stress, rather than resisting it. (I’m talking about those things that, while difficult, we know are also growing us in some way.) In a mindful way, noticing it without losing ourselves to the anxiety of it. I have realised recently that noticing our internal response to things is a great step forward, even if we do nothing more.
Ekhart Tolle tells us that the forms of our lives are “play”. I don’t think that that means they’re not meaningful but that they aren’t me. If something doesn’t go well, it doesn’t mean that I’m no good. Equally, I’m no better when something I’ve turned my hand to does go well.
So, it comes down to our sense of wholeness and worth – really knowing that we are complete and valuable, regardless of what’s going on in our lives. There’s nothing to prove or to avoid. Who we are is perfect and indestructible.
I have written about self-worth a few times on my blog, each time going a little deeper, uncovering a new aspect of it. I guess that’s because it’s been a personal journey of my own to really believe that I am complete and valuable. But I don’t think I’m the only one. This may be the work of our lives – to get to that place where we know that we are whole and worthy at all times and through all things. And to know this about other people too.
I can see worthiness is at the heart of things – of inner peace, confidence and joy. For me, it really is a spiritual matter. If we don’t understand that we of a divine source, extensions of God (or whatever you choose to call it), perhaps our self-worth is always in question. In that case, there’s no choice but to attach it to the outward achievements of this world which are plenty some day and in short supply on others. Our self worth can only be shaky if it depends on things turning out the way we would have them, things we can never have full control over (although we may like to think we do).
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR CHILDREN?
Naturally, we praise our children for their successes to build them up and acknowledge their achievements. And I’m not suggesting we stop doing that. The question is, though, how do we give them a sense of their worth beyond their achievements?
Looking back at my post Giving Our Children A Resilient Sense of Self-Worth, I did write that one way to help our children be resilient when in doubt about their worth is to help them to know themselves as Spirit. This means recognising that they are not their thoughts and feelings and circumstances, through developing their ability to observe themselves through such things a meditation. I guess that’s where I feel a little stuck. I can tell my boys that they are wonderful extensions of God. I can do mindfulness activities with them like the ones I wrote about in my post on meditation. And I do think these things count. But, ultimately, they need to experience their divinity for themselves.
So this is as far as our parenting can reach. Over time, I have come to understand that, as a parent, there is nothing I can make my children do or know. Ultimately, they need to come to things themselves. As they say, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. In a way, it’s an emotional challenge for me because there are things I really want for my boys that I cannot guarantee, and I especially want them to be strong in their own self-worth.
But it’s also a relief. I am not as responsible for my children’s lives as I used to believe I was. Letting go of this need to control things to try and guarantee an unguaranteeable outcome is a stress I can let go of.
Many of my personal inquiries become inquiries into my parenting, as this one did. As I learn things for myself, I start wondering how it might be significant to my boys and how to bring it to them. There are many ways to inquire into ourselves. My favourite is to journal. I imagine some of you thinking, “I don’t have time to inquire”. I get that. I did a lot less of it when my boys were younger and if the choice was between writing my journal and getting to bed a bit earlier, I chose sleep! The more work we do, though, the more conscious we can be as parents. The day that I wrote this, I sat down just to relieve myself of a little stress and it has lead me to all of the realisations I have made here (I have typed them in bold so you can scan back and pick them out). It was worth the time both for myself and my children.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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My first ever blog post was called A Child’s Worth. I still remember writing it, pouring over each word and struggling for hours to create a (rather ugly) website to publish it on.
I opened the post with the following quote –
“When we realise we are worthy, simply because we were born, we no longer look outside of ourselves for validation and approval.” – Emmanuel.
The point I wanted to empasise was that we’re here, so we’re worthy, no question, and my intention since publishing the post has been to pass the knowing of this spiritual truth onto my boys. To give them a sense of worth that they would never have to doubt became the first purpose of Nurturing Little Souls.
Admittedly, my purpose was born of my own pain, the weighty sense of unworthiness I don’t remember not having. As my spiritual journey continues, I am gradually believing more in my own worth but it’s possible that I won’t have fully “got there” in this lifetime. When I wrote that first blog post, I had hoped that I could somehow ensure that my boys would never feel unworthy like I have. That was the gift I wanted to give them.
IS UNSHAKEABLE SELF-WORTH EVEN POSSIBLE?
But now I am starting to wonder if we can give our children an unshakeable sense of worth. Don’t most of us live, to some degree or other, in a constant to-and-fro between fear (ego) and Love (spirit) – perhaps not Jesus, Buddha and Ekhart Tolle, but the majority of us for the majority of our lives? I’m disappointed. I wanted to spare my boys the pain of self-doubt.
I guess that, as I’ve written my blog, I have become far less idealistic. Writing has helped me to get practical about spirituality, parenting and kids. And I do see a beauty in the “mess”. Abraham Hicks points out that, in any situation, the learning is in the contrast. Through experiencing what we don’t want, we become clearer about what we do want. Without the night, we wouldn’t know what daytime was. Without the fear that we might be unloveable and unworthy, perhaps we can’t discover the true depth of our inherent worth? We have to know both to know either – and so do our children.
Not to mention the times I have been the one undermining my children’s worth. I told my son once he was “annoying”. When disciplining them, I have judged them in anger. I have ignored their opinions and wants when it hasn’t been convenient. I’ve done my share of parental ranting. I have provided them with plenty of contrast!
I think I was right when I said in that first blog post that every interaction we have with our children is an opportunity to show them their inherent worth and I listed some ways that parents can do that. Ultimately, my message was that our unconditional love reflects to them their unconditional worth.
However we each go about reflecting our children’s worth to them, though, the component I didn’t address was how to teach our children to cope in those inevitable times of self-doubt. Perhaps they have disappointed themselves or been humiliated in some way. Perhaps a parent has said something regretful to them in the guise of “teaching them a lesson”. At these times, how can we help our children to return to themselves as an inherently worthy soul?
3 Ways to Teach Our Children Resilience When Doubting Their Worth
Be there, loving them, despite their behaviour.
Get their self-talk on-board! Help them to choose thoughts about the situation that support their picture of themselves as inherently worthy.
Eg. Instead of “I missed the goal and let my team down”, “I gave the kick my best shot and tried hard for my team”.
Help them to know themselves as Spirit and that they are not their thoughts & feelings. In this way, their sense of self isn’t tied up in these forms. The key to this is developing our children’s ability to observe themselves. By watching themselves having a thought or feeling, they realise that their real self is the watcher, not the thoughts and feelings themselves. We can teach them to watch through discussion and through teaching them practices such as meditation.
IN SUMMARY – A 2-PRONGED APPROACH TO SELF-WORTH
Trying to give our children pure, unshakeable self-worth is maybe impossible but it is not pointless. I am not giving up, it is a high priority for me and a driving factor in both my parenting and my writing. But I have realised that we need a 2-pronged approach when raising our children, involving these 2 things –
1. Reflecting our children’s worth to them.
2 Enabling our children to return to their sense of self-worth when it has been undermined in some way (resilience).
To finish, I’d like to share my favourite quote of my own from that first blog post –
Much love to you and your little souls,
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When we realise we are worthy simply because we were born, we no longer look outside of ourselves for validation and approval” – Emmanuel
I love the wisdom of this quote.
We are all worthy. Worthy of love. Worthy of respect. Worthy of happiness… We all have something valuable to offer. God put each of us here and He doesn’t mess about, we’re each an important part of his plan, we’re each his child.
It has taken me years to understand and believe in my inherent worth. As a child, I thought I had to earn worth by being a “good girl” and achieving high grades at school and being well-rounded (no amount of physical education was going to give me co-ordination or any interest in sports). I was compliant to the detriment of my own voice, I was a stressed & exhausted teenager, spending too much time studying and I felt humiliated by my short-comings. My sense of unworthiness left me quite powerless in my own life, both as a child and an adult. But I’m not the only one who has felt that way. I grew up in a culture that measures worth by external indicators – achievement, material success, fitting in… But worth doesn’t need measuring, it just is.
So, without a model for it, how do I show my boys their own worth and help them to believe in it? How do I do it while living in a world largely still using the same yard-stick used to measure me? I think I am doing it in small ways already:
I light up when I greet them, I smother them with affection when I say goodnight or goodbye.
My love and affection is unconditional. I’ll tell them “I’m cross with what you did but I know you’re great and I love you”. Cuddles are available even in the middle of a meltdown. Their worth and their behaviour are two separate things.
I apologise. They are worthy of an apology. My age doesn’t let me off the hook.
I stop and look and listen when they have something to say. It tells them that what they have to say is valuable. Manners are still required – “excuse me” etc. (I could be more consistent with this, it’s difficult to give my full attention when I’m in the middle of something.)
I spend time with them throughout the day. Not always the long stretches I’d like to, but time spent together shows I consider them worthy of my time. They are important enough to get a place on the day’s priorities.
I am responsive to their feelings. I’ll say “I’m glad you’re looking forward to going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house” or “I know it’s frustrating that you haven’t finished your Lego building and we have to go”. Validating how they feel shows that their feelings are important, even though the outcome doesn’t always change (eg. There’s not time to finish the Lego project if we’re to get to school on time).
These are small but consistent ways I show my boys their worth. Every interaction I have with them is an opportunity to show the reverence I have for them. As a mother, I am a representative of God’s love. As they get older, life will get more complicated and my boys will be able to think about things in increasing depth. There will be opportunities to go much deeper with them and discuss worth more thoroughly.
Already, though, we have had an experience through which to teach Jake (5) his own worth and that of others. At kindergarten, he had on-going issues with another child who would shout and strike out at him. At first, Jake just took it, he’d never really had to stand up for himself before. My husband and I had to teach him that it wasn’t ok for someone else to be mean to him. We taught him to say “Stop it, I don’t like it” and to get a teacher’s help when he needed it. We also explained that it wasn’t ok to return the boy’s unkind behaviour because then the boy would feel upset and it wasn’t respectful to him. Jake got pretty good at standing up for himself firmly but respectfully. After a while, he labelled the boy “naughty” and “bad”, something I had been avoiding. I told Jake that no one is good all of the time or bad all of the time and that, although the boy did things he shouldn’t have, he wasn’t bad. In time, the boy’s behaviour improved and he and Jake had many fun times together. Jake, rather a wise soul, said to me, “I think I’ve taught him how to be nice”. I was thrilled for him to have realised his own power.
I think I touched on concepts of worth when coaching Jake through that tricky relationship at kindy. Our sense of our own worth and the worth of others steers our behaviour. I don’t think I’ve used the word “worthy” with Jake. I have discussed “respect” often but I’ll try to introduce the word “worthy” when I see a place for it.
There is so much more to this idea of worth, which I hope will unfold as I live and write.
How is showing unconditional love and affection different from giving approval? I don’t want my boys to seek approval but to use their own internal compass to guide their behaviour.
Does showing that I see their worth really help them to see their intrinsic worth when others won’t always treat them in the ways they deserve?
How do I help my boys to see God’s child in everyone, even those whose behaviour is unkind or even abhorrent? (This is closely tied in with non-judgement and compassion.)
Much love to you and your little souls,
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