A long time ago, a friend of mine told me that she and her husband were taking a parenting course. In my opinion, they were already great parents, so I couldn’t figure out what they possibly had to gain from a course. When I asked her what parenting skills they were acquiring, she answered that they were learning to validate their child’s feelings. I am reasonably sure that I rolled my eyes at that; but who knows, maybe I should have taken that course too.
Fast forward a bunch of years, and I admit that I still have some skepticism about validation. It’s not that I question its value, because I don’t. Everyone needs validation. I understand now, much more than I did when my kids were younger, the importance of validating their feelings. The thing is, I wonder whether giving constant validation to your kids’ feelings undermines their ability to deal with adversity. Life doesn’t play fair; and in my experience, life doesn’t take feelings into account. If a person is used to having his/her feelings constantly validated, is s/he properly equipped to face hardship and challenges in the “real world”? I have no answers here, people, I am just asking questions.
When it comes to myself, I subscribe to the “suck it up” philosophy of life. I come by it honestly. My father, who was my whole world, died suddenly when I was 13. Ten years later, I watched as ALS ravaged my mother. By the time that I was 27, I had struggled through losing both of my parents. As hard as it was losing my father so unexpectedly at such a young age, the residual effects of watching my mother suffer throughout her illness created a whole different level of grief fallout for me after she died.
To me, there was no viable choice other than to push beyond the adversity. Life was not fair to me, but I am somehow hardwired to suck it up, it’s just who I am. And thank G-d for that; because if I were a different person, I would not have survived the hardest blow of my life, my daughter’s vicious eating disorder. I shouldn’t say survived, because it’s not in the past, but 8 years in and I am still standing, despite intense difficulty, so that’s definitely something.
It makes sense that my parenting style would reflect my own life experiences, but maybe that’s not fair to my kids. Maybe I have been too tough of a parent, maybe I haven’t given due consideration to the fact that my kids have their own temperaments and were raised in a different environment and culture than I was. The approach that I have adopted in my own life is to let go of what you can’t fix and focus on what you can. However wild the pitch is, don’t let it knock you down; but if it does, for G-d’s sake, get back up again. It’s okay to be down, but not out. No matter what, find a way to just keep swimming. For the most part, following this approach has kept my head above the water, even if only barely at times.
Honestly, I am not sure how validation fits into my life. It’s not a concept that I grew up with, and I am not fully comfortable with it. Sometimes it seems to cross the line into pity, and I hate pity. Therefore, as a parent, I will admit that sometimes it’s hard for me to properly validate my kids’ feelings. If I’m being honest here, it’s hard for me most of the time. In fact, it’s probably the hardest part of parenting for me, because it’s really a conflict between my deepest inner self and between my struggle to be the best mother that I can be to my kids. No matter how old they get, they still need validation, maybe even more now than when they were younger.
I know that as a mother I am flawed, that I don’t always come through for my kids on the validation and empathy front. I try, but I still fail more often than I would like to admit. Sometimes I lecture more than I listen.
I find myself constantly struggling for that balance between validating my kids’ feelings and making sure they are equipped to deal with the realities of life, including hardship, adversity, and failure. Life can be so incredibly difficult, and all I want as a mother is to give my kids the best odds of getting through the rough times. I am not sure that validating their feelings all of the time is in their best interests. So if I espouse a “suck it up” mentality a little too strongly, I hope my kids realize that it’s because I care so much and not because I care so little.