Monday, October 25

perfect child

shadow work has evolved for me after becoming a mama. i'm now interested in how us parents are helping create a particular Shadow in our own children.

i recently wrote about a Shadow that wants perfection of ourselves - because we grew up believing that our parents' love was conditional.

'i'll love you when or if you do....'

understanding how i might be triggering a Shadow for my child not only helps me be a better mother, it also helps me heal my own Shadows. but because we can't, and don't seek to, be perfect parents, we will pass some Shadow stuff to our children. it's about parenting consciously and making more choices from love than from our fears.

a parent with the Arrogance Shadow will seek perfection from their child. they'll ask too much from them - considering the child's age, capabilities, or inherent childness.

my mother had this Shadow and I developed it too. if i had my girl 10 years ago i would have likely passed it on to her. as it is, i have worked with this Shadow and have done much healing.

i was the perfectly behaved child. when we visited friends i sat quietly, spoke when i was spoken to, if i played it was politely. my mother was concerned with keeping up appearances. if i was upset or fearful, it came second to how other people perceived us. her children had to appear well behaved above all else. as well as one day achieve status. first by doing well in school, and later by aiming for top careers, my mother's choice for me was doctor.

as a typical Libran child, i wanted to be loved and get on with others. as a sensitive child i could pick up on unspoken disapproval.

i carried this need to be perfect throughout my life. and so i gave up on so many dreams and ideas because, why write the book if my writing didn't measure up to other writers? instead of following my dream of going to Africa and helping children, i chose a degree in psychology.

when we demand perfection from our children, or that they don't disappoint us, we shut down their voice. we stamp upon their personality. and we deny their childness. we ask that a 2 yr-old sit quietly, that a 4 yr-old not play rough, that a 6 yr-old be popular.

i will not stir any more

i have a child that is boisterous, loves to say 'no', is often loud, and isn't particularly co-operative.

i love that.

is it tiring, annoying, or hair-pulling exasperating sometimes? sure!

but the reason i love that she's this way, is that it's a sign that she isn't afraid of me. she isn't afraid that 'bad' behaviour will change how i feel about her.
she has a perfect trust in the power of her 'no' - something i'm more than willing to support, in a girl especially.

i do encourage certain behaviours.... and she understands concepts like being quiet, but this is approached as a game rather than something she's forced to do.

if she fidgets or protests to do something we need to do, i accept that she's 2.5 yrs-old and acknowledge how she feels. she might still have to do what she doesn't like, but i don't chastise her for having emotions and opinions.

and when she does something that i find helpful or pleasing, she's not acted from a place of fear. she knows that i approve, but she doesn't seek approval - because she trusts that i'll love her regardless.

some children are naturally quiet. but i do wonder. are they naturally quiet or are they afraid to make their parents angry? which translates as, afraid to lose their love, even for a moment. and i'm not suggesting a child that is constantly tantruming or being aggressive is happy and secure.

a child that has an innate need to be liked will likely be a well-behaved child. she'll likely develop into an adult that forever seeks approval and represses her voice. whose choices won't come from the heart, but from what will best gain acceptance. a child fortunate enough to have parents who encourage a dream, will still find disapproval or lack of praise from others as deeply discouraging.

a child that has a strong need for freedom or expression will behave for a time and then rebel. she will spend her life in a tug-of-war between gaining achievements and status or following her heart. she'll take more risks than the first child, but will often end up going in circles.

both will live with an unconscious anxiety that they won't be loved for being themselves. for being or doing less than perfect.

my girl is not compliant or 'well-behaved'.

i'm thankful for that.


  1. Ah f-word. I both hate and love these posts. When you describe your mother, you are describing my mother. When you describe your upbringing, you are describing mine. Unfortunately, with the exception of declaring, "I will not be like my mother.", I have not made the strides you have in recognizing and correcting my parenting. Though, unlike my mother, my son knows that my love for his is unconditional. I force myself to remind him every, single day, multiple times a day. And I show him. And I also have to force myself to rid certain sentences from my vocabulary or surpress boiling anger when he refuses to be a performing monkey for our weekly Skype chats with my parents. I am learning to accept that he has a right NOT to want to talk to his grandparents when they call. That he doesn't understand that because they live so far away, they hang on his every word. I have made the mistake of getting angry with him before, "Nanny and Papa are calling to speak with you. Now get over here and say hi or Mommy will get angry." He should WANT to speak with them, he shouldn't be punished into doing so. And if he doesn't want to speak with them and more creative ways to get him engaged don't work, well, that's his right.
    This is just one example of how I have channeled my own mother to the detriment of my son's spirit. My son already fears our disapproval, "Mommy, are you still angry?" I have created this by some lazy parenting moments, ie. not consciously parenting, which is what one needs to do when their default setting is less-than-ideal. This post is a harsh reminder to me to be more vigilant in protecting his spirit. To think before I react on auto-pilot and to work towards changing my default settings. My child is loud, generally outgoing, friendly and loving. He has never had a tantrum in the obvious sense. So should I be happy about this or sad because maybe I've failed him? I guess this goes to the nature vs. nurture debate. all of this expressed, I want my child to be empowered, not be a slave to approval. But at the same time, I don't want him to be so empowered that he can't see how his actions could hurt others, lack empathy, compassion, etc. cont.

  2. cont. Children need boundaries and rules, do they not? I'm not suggesting this post says they don't. Now, I'm thinking out loud. For example, my child should be free to run around the park but needs to know that he can't run out into the road. My child should be free to be angry at another child but needs to know that it's not ok to lash out and hit that child out of anger. My child should be able to choose what he wants to eat for dinner but needs to know that chocolate or chips are not an option. My child may not want to have a bath but he will have to anyway. I don't want my child playing so rough with other children that it's an accident waiting to happen. when do we intervene? I don't want to be so afraid of producing an arrogant shadow in my child that I go "the other way" and contribute to creating a personality that has no self stop button, no fear of consequences, no regard for the feelings of others. No concept of "right and wrong" or develops health issues as a result. When does the child lead and to what extent and when does the parent lead and to what extent? I refuse to sit back and say, "Oh that's just Joe. He'll stop hitting his head against the wall and smashing my china to smithereens when he feels like it. He's just expressing himself right now. Isn't it beautiful?" There are situations in life where children need to be quiet, need to stay next to Mommy and Daddy and/or need to be gentle. I don't think the answer lies in not exposing them to such situations or exposing them and letting them run wild. As you can plainly see, I am all over the place here. This post brings up a lot in me. I am glad to have the reminder that I always need about my arrogance shadow and the effect it has on my son but at the same time, I am confused about exactly how to handle it. Help...

  3. Nice post. I feel like I've got "shadow work" on the brain 24/7, some days. It's so important to be aware though of what & why we are "expecting" things from our children. Is it for their own good, security & safety. Or is it b/c we fear their actions are a reflection on us ... and how will others judge us? So good to be aware. Your daughter is getting so big! She's a cutie :)

  4. this was so important for me to read. i have three little girls......and i know i sometimes have disapproval written all over my face. it might drip out of my voice, too. i don't want them to behave or eat well just to please me......but i don't always have the patience to watch them come to it on their own,....or not. i need to cultivate that right now, the patience. i felt this *dread* after reading your previous post about the arrogance shadow....but put it out of my mind, thinking, she can't mean that i should reconsider how i respond to my kids. but, well, you are very blatant here -- i can't misinterpret your intentions. i needed to read this. did you write it just for me? ah, for us all. thank you so much.

  5. phew! lol

    Jenn you bring up so many wonderful thoughts that they're worth a whole 'nother post from me!

    Firstly, words like 'fail' towards yourself are hurtful - towards yourself.
    We can only parent with what we know, with the Shadows we own ourselves, with our upbringing, etc etc.

    I have had days I've screamed at her. I'm no zen mother, but I work towards that. :)

    The calling the grandparents scenario is one I've seen with my hubby. Plenty of times she hasn't wanted to talk on skype to them.

    He doesn't freak out, but he does get a little anxious about her 'performing'. Recently, a male friend we know suggested a kiss, and she has never kissed anyone but us, and couple of other little people. She looked at me 'mama?' Her instincts said 'no'. (not b/c there was anything wrong with this man, just not in her comfort zone).

    Hubby encourgaed her and I deflected tactfully. I brought it up later.
    What do we want for her? To follow her gut, or to perform?

    Your questions on where to draw the line with guidance/discipline, etc, deserve a whole post, but..

    you hit it on the nail with this...
    "I want my child to be empowered"

    Thing is, there are many differeing views on how to discipline, including none at all. Only you know what's right for you and your family.

    What I'm discussing here is empowering them, honouring their spirit.

    You can easily split your examples up between essentials and non-essentials.
    Safety, health, respect of others, I would class as essential.

    We have one very strict 'rule' in our house. No hitting. It's not okay and so we've decided to stand firm with that.
    I don't think it has anything to do with being well-behaved. It's about safety and respect.

    I would say that running across the road full of cars is a safety issue.

    Putting a halt to either doesn't, imho, stamp on their spirit.

    However, I don't expect my girl to suddenly stop hitting. And the road is my responsibility until she's old enough (5, 6, 7?) to fully grasp the danger. If she runs out, it's my fault, not hers.

    Food - unschoolers will say, they can have what they like and they learn what is good for them.
    I'm middle of the road. I don't deny junk but it's just not on the menu for dinner. :)
    Not a harsh stance, just - this is what's available, what would you like?

    Likewise it's not okay she throws hard objects across the room, or purposefully break things.

    But when it comes to her innate personality, this is very different to the specifics we've mentioned.

    Generally, I let natural consequences teach her. She doesn't want to wear a hat. Fine. When squinting gets on her nerves she'll ask for it. She now will ask for a hat more than not. She fully grasps what it does for her.

    She doesn't want to do this or that. I ask myself - how important is it that she does it? is it truly a NEED?

    She doesn't want to sit or be quiet at a restaurant/church/museum/library? Then we leave, or I step outside for her to run around. She's a child.

    And the stuff I would like to let her know about, because socially they're useful, I bring to her as fun stuff as much as I can. Rather than - do this because.
    Like being quiet. It's a game.

    Finally, we need to be as gentle on ourselves as we are on them. We carry our own child within.
    Parenting is THE toughest role.

  6. Erin
    "Or is it b/c we fear their actions are a reflection on us ... and how will others judge us?"

    Exactly. You summed it up better than me. :)
    That's a great way to judge ourselves - do I want her to do X because if not she'll be hurt/etc, or because it looks bad on me?

    I think that so many parents feel such anxiety, just at differing intensities.

    I see it all the time where a parent is telling a child to say hello/kiss/hug so-and-so. And the kid is clearly distressed and doesn't want to. And the parent is fighting their child. For what? Obviously because they fear that this refelcts on their parenting.

  7. sarah, oh, I argue with patience too. I mean, for pete's sake, will the child put her clothes on already!

    Most days there are deep breathes at one point or another. :)
    On the days I need her to dress b/c we're going out, I try to keep in mind that she's a child and has no concept of this 'important' adult thing I need to do.

    And I didn't write it thinking of you! lol

  8. What great timing for me Mon as I've been thinking about these things a lot lately. There are days where I wonder how much my shadow is playing into my parenting (who am I's always there.) And then there are days where I fear that I've already damaged him and I just want to cry.

    You said...
    "a child that has an innate need to be liked will likely be a well-behaved child. she'll likely develop into an adult that forever seeks approval and represses her voice."

    This was my whole childhood...and much of my adulthood. Only in the last few years have I said, "the hell with what everyone thinks. This is who I am...and you like me or you don't. Your loss."

    It is incredibly hard not to act from that place when it's all you know but doing that work is so important. I feel I've made great strides in the last few years and of course when I look at my boy running about and singing at the top of his lungs, running around in a store and tearing things apart, I remember he is a child (who is also highly sensitive and so it's probably time to leave when things like this start to happen)but I also recognize he isn't afraid of me. He isn't afraid of punishment. Man, that's the best feeling. I feel like I've made some big mistakes - but the fact that he feels comfortable being WHO he is proves to me that I haven't screwed up too bad yet. And everyday I become a little more concious and find a little more patience. Patience...that's the tough one for me. BUT - I refuse to sacrifice my child's spirit for the sake of pleasing anyone else. No way. I'm a grown adult and what people think of me doesn't matter any more. The only thing that matters is my sweet boy growing up WHOLE. Thanks for this, Mon. Very insightful, as usual. xoxo - Debbie

  9. ps - My in-laws are always trying to get Isaac to talk on the phone to relatives he's never met; or to kiss and snuggle strangers. I put my food down. He looks at me for guidance and I say up front, "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do, sweetheart. You do what feels right to you." Of course he always says, "I don't want to." And that is the end of it. Hubby's parents always seem put out but again, i don't care. Their feelings are not my concern. My boy is the only concern I have. xoxo

  10. hi debbie,
    "when I look at my boy running about and singing at the top of his lungs, running around in a store and tearing things apart, I remember he is a child

    love it.

    lol, i ought to have titled my post
    badly behaved child = good parenting

    the best parent we can manage equation:
    mindfulness + saving funds for their future therapy.


    what's with adults making kids speak to unknown relatives? hubby recalls a lot of that in his childhood.

  11. heh, i know you didn't write it *just for me* -- but you know how when you read something you really connect with? it *feels* like its been sent to you, you know? anyway, i greatly appreciate your words.

  12. What a great post coming at a perfect time for me. I've been working on my shadow/dark sides lately yet haven't given much thought about how these sides could actually affect my child. Thx for the push! It's very important for me not to forget about my own childhood and how I felt about certain things. And I also constantly remind myself that my child is not my toy or property but a little individual with personality, preferences, likes and dislikes. I will try hard to find a compromise in every situation.

  13. I love this post. Sometimes I get caught up or busy and forget to let my sweet little boy be himself. I always need a reminder about this as I was raised where like you I had to be 'well behaved'. My child has oppinions and wants to speak his mind already and I don't want to quiet it.

  14. This post really hits home for me. I would very likely have passed this shadow onto my son if I hadn't read the words of so many mindful parents over the last few years. As I've become aware of this shadow, it's helped me recognize the issues I have with my own mother and begin overcoming it.

    I find I have the need to balance things. I want to teach my son to mindful of others. I discourage him from screaming in the house and I have a no-shoes-on-the-furniture rule, for example. However, he doesn't get punished for breaking rules--I never withdraw my love for him. I sometimes get upset by something he's done, but he knows that no matter how upset I may get, he's ALWAYS welcome in my arms. He knows my love for him is unconditional.

    I do get a little concerned over my husband's parenting sometimes, though. It's a subtle difference, but I wonder if it may be enough to cause this shadow in our son. I sometimes think our son will feel more comfortable and confident around me, but end up feeling like he needs to prove himself to his dad. I'm not sure, though.

  15. Whew, great post and so many great comments. I feel like I went through a process just reading them! Well I've said before I recognize this shadow, and I've been trying to work through it a lot in my parenting. I can relate to almost everything others have written here, including the stuff about finding the balance with empowering their voice while also instilling a respect for others etc. I think I will put badly behaved child = good parenting on my regrigerator, lol.

    The added challenge of course, for those of us with kids in school, is that the message there is almost entirely in line with this shadow. Although it's not about the giving/seeking of love, but other rewards - approval, teacher recognition, eventually grades, etc. So this has been one of the toughest things for me to navigate re: school in many respects. I am still trying to figure out exactly how I want to work with this one, i.e. how to keep my kids from thinking they are 'good' or 'bad' depending on how well they conform to other's rules. Mostly I am focused on providing a framework for them of what's involved in being in a group, and that the 'rules' are mostly about safety and respect in a group. But that's not entirely true. So then I think I should just say 'some of the rules are silly in my opinion, but each teacher has the right to their own rules, just like each parent does in their own home', as they are already used to the idea that grandma doesn't let them wear shoes in the house or auntie doesn't allow running etc.

    A bit of a tangent I realize, but also not...most institutions are based on shutting down individual voices to some extent, so this shadow is enforced in many different places, not just that's another part of parenting, especially as they get older - helping them navigate that balance 'out there' too...

  16. Now how do I teach my incredibly loving but cynical husband about shadows and how I can see him building his very own shadow in our precious little boy?

  17. Hi everyone.

    Lisa C, it does often happen that a child will form a Shadow because of the relationship with one parent.

    But we can send ourselves batty if we try to control things. A child that will grow up with zero Shadows will be the next messiah. lol
    Really, we all have them and everyone of our children will ahve something.

    I will mention things to Husband, but I have to allow the core way of relating that is uniquely his to be what it is. What matetrs is that her spirit isn't crushed and her she's allowed a voice.

    Some level of impatience seems to be part of her innate personality, for example. I will help her with that, but it's mostly out of my control. She'll grow up with some issue or another. As long as she grows up alive inside.


    Oh yes, school. I think that if the home environment supports their personality and voice, it has to make a huge difference. No matter where they go, they will have that core belief in their worth.

    However, some children are naturally very compliant, and these run the risk of being easily stifled in school. Audience seekers can also run a risk, of reward seeking.

    I think you're right about them understanding differences. Like at home we do this but UAntie has X rule, which is fine. Likewise, school isn't the universe and and X is a School Rule.
    That sounds good to me - School Rules v Life 'Rules'.

  18. Amanda, perhaps use the term 'behaviour patterns', which is true, rather than Shadows.

    A behaviour pattern of, for example, dissaproving looks/words when your child voices an opinion you don't like, has the potential to produce a child who becomes insecure of the worth of their opinions..... low self-worth.

    Fact is, what some of us do/say as parents, we would never tolerate from others towards us. Would it make US feel bad if we were given dissaproving looks for having an opinion? Imagine how a child still forming their idea of their Selves would feel.

  19. "I'd love you if . . . " really are four of the saddest words spoken. My love for my daughter truly was - and is - without condition, and she knows it. With two grandchildren on the same property (different houses) it remains unconditional for all of them, and my wife. Not that I'm perfect - I'm not. But my love for my family IS unconditional - I know it is possible in the human condition.

    - David

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  20. She is sooo gorgeous. I love that photo and what she said.

    This is all good stuff Mon.
    I have no doubt that I'm passing on some form of crap that I'm not aware of. At the same time I am absolutey sure our children know they have our unconditional love and can be who they are which is a damn sight improvement on what I/we grew up with. And this is why I think we have a lot of hard times with our kids! They are given so much freedom to be who they are. At least now I tend to roll my eyes at all the "no" and "noes" and think, 'ok, you are 3 (or 5), or you are you and you can say no, but it's a fricking pain in the arse right now! and carry on...'

    But despite the harder moments, I/we do attempt to have clarity on everything that we do, on our behaviours especially and to be honest with ourselves, to each other and to our children if we have treated them poorly.

    I love what you replied to Lisa about school too. Ultimately homelife and how they are treated there will have the biggest bearing on who they are.

  21. love this quote especially

    "understanding how i might be triggering a Shadow for my child not only helps me be a better mother, it also helps me heal my own Shadows."

    I so intuitively knew this even before having kids yet I had no idea the healing journey that awaited me.

    "but because we can't, and don't seek to, be perfect parents, we will pass some Shadow stuff to our children."

    It took me a long time to come to terms with what shadows I am passing to my children, or even more specifically, how my own shadows can impinge their autonomy and the great responsibility that lies with that knowledge. I am still coming to full acceptance with that, but more so than ever before.

    And I will meditate on this bit... "it's about parenting consciously and making more choices from love than from our fears."

    thank you <3

    {and thank you, too, for linking your joy pockets!!}



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