It often happens when I’m sitting in a circle with teenagers. Kids from every walk of life. Kids who do well in school and those who find school the most fearful place to have to survive. Kids who come from clearly dysfunctional homes to those whose homes seem like dreamland compared to others.
It happens when somebody usually says something like, “My mom and dad got divorced when I was three. But it’s okay, ’cause I like my step dad.”
Or. . . “My mom has hissy fits whenever we disagree.”
Or . . .”Dad thinks I’m lazy.”
Or . . .”Mom wants me to be a lawyer.”
Or . . . it can go on and on. It only takes a moment to listen to the beliefs of teenagers to get an inkling of what they are struggling with. I have yet to meet a teenager that did not have some kind of angst regarding one or both parents. It is the developmental feature of teenagers to seek INDEPENDENCE from their parents. One of the best ways to be independent is to believe that you are quite different from your parents, even if you give lip service to their values and expectations.
Now it happens. Here is what I say, “THE TWO MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFETIME ARE YOUR BIOLOGICAL PARENTS.”
Oh my. This brings out the huge billboards of verbal PROTEST! Kids name rock stars, sport stars, movie stars, and for some, in desperation, point out a favorite teacher, grandparent, etc., etc. I wait patiently for the fuss to quiet. Then very carefully, I repeat the above axiom:
“THE TWO MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFETIME ARE YOUR BIOLOGICAL PARENTS.”
Have I placed enough emphasis on this statement for it to stand out and be noticed? I hope so. It is very important to understand the ramifications of this statement.
I believe our human brain is wired to always carry our beliefs about our parents into everything we do.
It does not matter if biological parents are present at infancy or throughout childhood and adolescents for that biological parent to have a key role in forming that child’s belief system about self and others.
Now that I have about half of the readership shaking their heads and forming rebuttals, let me point out that I used the word “influential” on purpose.
Here’s a scenario that might calm points of arguments:
1. A teenager, sitting in our circle disagrees with me by saying, “I’m fine. My dad left when I was six. Mom got married to my step dad when I was eight. I see my dad at Christmas and Spring Break. We have a couple of weeks in the summer together. It’s like I have three parents instead of two. My step dad is just as important as my dad. That’s three influential people in my life.”
“I’m really pleased that you have such a good relationship with all three of your parents. If you ever have children, which parent would you most want to be like?”
“I guess my mom. She really hung in there with me. Well, maybe, kind of like my step dad. He’s sort of a push-over, but he really cares.” After a moment of silence, the teenager adds, “If I should have kids and then split, I’m going to stay in the same city with them. I wouldn’t move away from them. That isn’t fair.”
Which belief do you think will drive this upcoming parent the most? Do you see how INFLUENCE can help sway a thought process into a belief?
Okay, so take a scenario that is not as dramatic as the above:
2. Child grows up in an intact biological family. Both parents work outside the home. Child has a sibling. Everyone has good health and “is above average” in all that they do. And, everyone is not perfect. Dad has a temper at times, Mom has a thing about “eating organic,” one sibling would rather play computer games than do homework (what’s new?) and our focus child is good at every sport in school.
Fast forward fifteen years. Dad still has a bit of a temper. Mom still can’t refrain from her “I told you so comments about organic food,” the sibling is a computer geek who works from home and our sports star is now an overweight history and physical education teacher with bad knees. Here’s what one sibling says to the other at a Thanksgiving dinner at their parent’s house:
“I tried working for Intel and Microsoft, but I couldn’t stand the pressure. It’s a lot better at home. Nobody yelling at me. I can’t stand somebody standing over my desk with a purple face telling me what I should be doing.”
“I know my knees would like me to lose weight, but I just can’t find the willpower to eat . . .you know. . .” he puts his fingers in the air and quotes, “organic greens.” His voice is raised, he grins. His sibling does laughs.
“I know what you mean. Tomorrow I’m having a turkey BLT, with real bacon. You gotta live a little.” Both siblings laugh and return to help their parents get ready for dinner.
Once again, notice how typical these reactions are to what has been experienced in the home? Even a well-intentioned parent can create a belief that is counterproductive to what the parent intended.
(As a parent, I recognize that sometimes the seeds we sow do not produce the harvest we expect. Hmmm, this is a tough one.)
The beliefs we build from our biological parents have much more “staying power” than from the beliefs that originate outside of that parental relationship. It gets really difficult to change early childhood belief systems.
If we take a moment and think about our own belief systems and who INFLUENCED them, my guess will be that you can insert a parent or two in your deepest beliefs. Remember, beliefs can be positive and helpful to us or be negative and detrimental. Some beliefs we are totally aware of, but the struggle continues; and, once in while we actually can insert a healthier belief that overrides the negativity of that early childhood belief.
So, as parents, we need to remember that all of our actions are being directly inserted into the BRAIN of our children. With enough internalized SAFETY and TRUST in our early developmental foundation blocks, some of our blunders will be excused and forgiven. But most of our actions and beliefs will end up INFLUENCING the belief systems of our children.
Whew, no wonder we as a worldly community take a long time to make significant changes in beliefs and behaviors.