The myth of a perfect child…

Maureen Nawer writes about the myth of a ‘perfect child’ that burdens our youth today.

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The relationship between parents and children is often dependent upon the culture they are brought up in. In our culture, children are expected to listen to whatever their parents say. Starting from food habit to their education and aim in life. They are constantly being told that studies are everything in life, and that there is nothing more important than that, comparing them to various other kids (read: nerd) who are more ‘successful’ in life and hence, will have a better earning job when they finish school. The parents often bring their kids up injecting ‘You have to become a doctor/engineer when you grow up’ into their minds. This hampers the originality that the individual comes with but it seldom is cared about. Authoritative parenting was found to be associated with higher self-esteem and satisfaction in different studies.

In our society the idea of parents as provider is deeply rooted. When I say that, I’m referring to the parental mentality of ‘providing’ for their children’s physical needs (i.e. food, clothing, schooling, etc.) but many parents pay scant attention to the personal state or feelings of their children.  They are taught to ‘listen and obey’ since the family system revolves around a patriarchal and hierarchical structure where the authority goes to the elders.

This mentality is slowly changing with easier access to internet. Therefore, research based knowledge on parenting is expanding, but there is still much more work that needs to be done.

If parents want their children to have healthy emotional worlds, they must tend to them.  Time and time again, we find individuals who grew up in an emotional wasteland where their thoughts and feelings were never acknowledged or mirrored.  I should say this isn’t about agreement as it is more about attunement and validation of their feelings.  Without this crucial relational dynamic with their parents, many children in our society are made to think their parents loved them, yet, in their hearts often fail to ‘feel’ the love and hence an emotional disconnect resounds in their souls.

It is commonly understood that adolescence can be a time when teens attempt to reconcile their own desires and needs with the wishes of their parents. While some adolescents get through this period of time without many problems, others tend to experience many negative effects. It is possible that the parent’s role in the relationship may play a part in the development of teenager’s self-esteem and self-satisfaction. Parents often tend to ‘think’ that they are very lenient as parents and want the children to know that they can share anything and everything with them. However, the reality shows something different. Even in this twenty-first century, parents cannot take their children choosing their own life partner. Having a boyfriend or a girlfriend is seen mostly as a sin, which is supposed to be one of the crucial factors where support is expected. There are certain points that parents need to focus beyond their cultural values. The factors that children should not only know but feel in their hearts are remained buried under the culturally-attuned ego of their parents.

Kids need to know their parents can ‘see’ how their inner world is, such as their disappointments or anger. Depression and frustration over life is mostly overlooked and treated with shouting and forcing them to study harder. Studies are the hardest when someone is not satisfied with life, which the parents refuse to understand.

Children need to know they can go to their parents and be soothed in times of emotional or physical distress.  This means a combination of verbal reassurances and physical touch.  In some households, kids get yelled and shamed at for hurting themselves with comments like, ‘Why didn’t you be more careful!’ or ‘What’s wrong with you?!’ These shaming messages communicated to the child as humiliations where s/he may no longer see the parent as a safe harbour in future incidents.

The term, safety, may be a bit abstract but I view safety in terms of how a child’s vulnerable emotions can be shared to the parent figure.  If the child can not share his feelings for fear of being ridiculed, blamed, or denigrated, the child will see the attachment as one that lacks emotional safety.

The next point is security. Secure in this sense refers to an attachment with a parent where the child has consistent loving interactions with the parent.  The child forms what’s known as an ‘internal working model’ or in other words a ‘mental representation’ of the parent figure as one of consistently being able to meet their emotional needs.  I must emphasise meeting the emotional needs of the child is not to be confused or misinterpreted as meeting the child’s material needs. Children will be disappointed, sad, angry, and frustrated with their parents as that is part of life.  But to ensure a secure relationship between the child and the caregiver, those emotions are not only recognised by the parent but the parent gives the child space to process those emotions and validate the feelings as well, even while disagreeing with them.

Other than these crucial points, our parenthood lacks a lot of understanding and tends to get influenced by other people’s thoughts. They tend to worry more about what other people will think when they hear about their child has done so and so, or their child has failed to achieve this and this, which the neighbour’s son have achieved. The need to excel, prove oneself, and be ‘perfect’ is entrenched in the mindset of majority Bengali parents struggling with the shame of perfectionism.

Furthermore, our parents are horribly closed minded. The fact that a child might need a therapist is still associated with being mentally ill. You will have a tough time convincing the parents that their child needs help; or rather they have failed to provide enough help for their child. Important factors like sex education are still a huge no-no. The mention of a natural factor such as menstruation is mostly a taboo in our society. It is treated like some sort of shameful fact that needs to be covered. The mention of drugs is forbidden. It is believed that the more you mention, the more the child learns or becomes curious to ‘try’ it. I failed to explain this to my own parents that once you educate them well on these, it is less likely for them to make a mistake. If you make this sound like a hush-hush, they are going to go try to find out on their own on what this does.

Our generation is quite different to this. I believe when we raise kids, we will keep these points in mind, and be more available to them, more open to their problems, raise them to be less scared to share their thoughts and problems.

While aspiring to perfection is not a bad trait, what does become pathological is this feeling that you must be perfect — perfect child, perfect grades and perfect behaviours.  The healing ironically is learning self-compassion and finding authentic and meaningful relationships that accept you regardless of your imperfections.

 

Maureen Nawer is a student of BRAC University and her motto in life is — imperfection is perfection into a beautiful perspective.

 

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