You Do Not Know Your Child Better Than They Know Themselves
And trust me, you don’t want to.
We wear that phrase like a badge of honor:
“I know you better than you know yourself.”
We gleam with pride when we have the opportunity to say I told you so. We love the feeling of a child coming to the same conclusion we told them from the very start. It makes us feel like real parents when we make a prediction about our child and it turns out to be true.
But it comes at a price. A fairly large one, if you’re the child. Not to mention, you are completely misguided in thinking that your correct predictions say anything about knowing your child better than they know themselves.
The truth is, you know about being human better than they do. As you should. You’ve been one for a significantly longer period of time. So of course you are better at predicting human behavior, when you’ve been human for a while and your child is just starting out. But you’ve seriously mistaken knowing how to be human with knowing your child. And in your quest to be right, your child may very well lose their identity.
Here’s an example: Your child wants to study for a test with friends. You think it’s a terrible idea because they’ll just end up hanging out and not studying. You either (a) tell them no and that’s the end of it, or (b) give in but make it known that you predict they will not adequately study for the test… and it turns out, you’re right — very little studying got done and it is reflected by a poor grade on the test.
In scenario (a) you made an assumption. You assumed your child was going to do poorly on the test without your guidance. You protected them from a low grade by stepping in, but unfortunately you robbed them of the opportunity to learn more about themselves. They have yet another example of how they need you in order to live their lives. We know humans need to feel competent at making decisions in order to be happy, so in this scenario you’ve made yourself into an obstacle in the way of their happiness.
In scenario (b) you made a prediction. You allowed your child to study with friends but you predicted it would not be successful. When making the prediction, you created a you vs. your child situation where things are either right or wrong — win or lose. If they failed to make an accurate prediction about themselves, they lose the battle of knowing themselves. Congrats, you win. But your child now believes that being wrong on they journey towards knowing yourself means losing and you should be ashamed.
So, are you saying I should just let them study with friends and fail the test?
Basically, yes. Let them learn about themselves. Whether it be how they best study, what activities they enjoy, or what personality they have. I’m a big fan of letting kids quit and start things whenever they want. This terrifies parents. But in the long run, it better helps them learn who they are. The best part is, you just get to enjoy the ride. You don’t have to be the obstacle, you can be the comforter when things don’t go well, the cheerleader when they do, and you have a lot more time for simply being in awe of your child as they navigate life.
Well then, why do parents make predictions and assumptions? Why do we take pride in winning a battle that harms our children and makes our relationship with them more difficult?
Short answer: because it was done to us. I find that many times while working with clients, the reason behind the predictions and assumptions we make about our kids is that predictions and assumptions were made about us. We are still following a blind truth that was told about us, and we are trying to “help” our children the same way we were “helped”.
We were told mistakes equal failure, and failure deserves shame. But if we believed mistakes were an essential part to learning who we are, would we be as likely to jump in and make those assumptions and predictions? Would it seem as vital then?
So many of us believe we don’t know ourselves. Then we meet our children, and they seem much easier to know. So we pour all of our focus into knowing them, because we are a lost cause. And the whole cycles starts all over again.
Instead, let’s turn our focus to knowing ourselves. Going back to that kid that everyone made predictions and assumptions about, and rethink those mistakes. Let’s start trusting our intuition about ourselves, and looking at our children with empathy as they try to do the same.