When you reach the end of this message, the goal is that you will feel encouraged and hopeful. You might have a new strategy for supporting another person in your life or you’ll be reassured that what you are doing is just right, just enough. You might also feel released from the expectation that you need to be more to be enough. It is about stepping off the tightrope of life that keeps us trying to find our balance while being told that we constantly need to be more, do more and have more, to be enough.
What’s Stressing Us Out?
When we asked some young people, “What are some of the things that make you feel stressed?” they answered: Homework. Sports. Tests. College applications. Planning meet-ups with friends. Managing the texts and the complications that come up as you try to plan a night out… Or maybe, you aren’t on the text, you aren’t included. So you fill the space with TikTok, Insta, YouTube, staying up late in the night, feeling momentarily relieved of your loneliness and at the same time, more isolated, more separate than ever. Alone, not wanting to be isolated and not feeling that we’re enough. Then, you discover yourself becoming more judgmental and critical of others, and feel more lost and alone.
Parents have similar stress. We parents become personally very invested in our children’s success. It can be tempting to believe that your child’s success in life is a direct result of you, the parent– a reflection on your parenting and on you personally. This causes pressure on everyone. A child might perceive that their hard work and overcoming their challenges is for their parent’s well-being.
Focus on Success = Stress
Here’s the essential part of this message. Focusing on success and achievement is not useful to a solid feeling of wellbeing. Lydia Sicher*, noted Viennese doctor, speaker, and colleague of Alfred Adler said, “What is distressing in American education is the great stress on success…” There is intense competition to prove our worth through our success. This thinking feeds a sense of limited good–it might look like limited spots on the right team, or in the right school, or for the best job. The list doesn’t end. Once you have children, you can be tempted to believe that your child’s success defines you as well. The pressure on parents is intense and our children are carrying this pressure forward. A child might wonder, “How will I measure up to your expectations? I’m never enough for you. My success is fleeting. The bar keeps shifting, I have to keep being more.” Add social media into the mix and the sense of competition increases as we feel surrounded by eyes looking at, watching, judging, and comparing us.
A Shift in Our Focus
How do we change the focus? Here is a subtle shift. What if we focused on four simple principles instead?
The first is connection, belonging. What if you had such a grounded feeling of belonging, you knew that your performance at any given moment couldn’t shake it? What if you knew that you were enough, just as you were, right now? Then, when pressure comes from the outside – from a set-back or through a friend group, you’d be so rooted in a feeling of belonging that you wouldn’t be rocked or susceptible to peer pressure. A simple way to start this today is to notice a strength in your child and share it with them. Share specifically what they do that expresses it and how you see them using it and making a difference for yourself and others. Share gratitude for them.
Second, let them be Capable. When they make a mistake, resist the temptation to rush in and fix it. It is actually anxiety producing for a child when a parent steps in and smooths the way. The rescuer is essentially giving the child a vote of no confidence. The child learns from the overstepping parent that we don’t think they are capable of solving their challenges on their own. Or, that we don’t think they can handle disappointment from something not going their way. Hold onto their strengths and let them hold the responsibility of managing their challenges.
Third, let them know they Count: let them experience their significance. A simple but powerful approach is to give them opportunities to contribute to making the home you share a good place to be (aka: give them chores and responsibilities). This one might surprise you. Often parents are hesitant to ask their kids to do more because they worry they’re already overburdened by homework and extracurriculars. However, letting a child make a difference for you, your home and community is grounding and can be very restorative. A college student shared recently that the side jobs she’s taken on while being at college helps her feel good about herself and she sees she is making her college community better. She also discovered that her jobs are expanding her horizons and introducing her to new people.
So far, all of these ideas are about the parent doing less rescuing and less taking care of. Here’s what we can do more: see their strengths, tell them what you see, let them feed and nourish you a little bit. And together, as you grow more connected and joyful, competent and capable, and significant, you find the fourth step, Courage. You have what it takes to face whatever comes. Together, you realize that your mistakes don’t define you.
You are enough.
*The Collective Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective. Compiled in 1991. (Page 211.) [Lydia Sicher: 1890-1962]
**The Four Crucial Cs: connect, capable, count, and courage were translated by Dr. Amy Lew and Dr. Betty Lou Bettner from Dr. Alfred Adler’s essential needs: belonging, growth, significance, and encouragement.