I’ve seen this quote from announcer and coach Jim Valvano floating around the Internet on a few memes lately, and it’s made me stop and think every time: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: He believed in me.”
Every time I read those words, I think about my own father. He wasn’t around all that much and left when I was young, so he never really took the opportunity to believe in me.
I started seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression a few months ago and naturally, we’ve discussed my father. During one session, my therapist gave me a workbook, and just a few chapters in it describes the impact that having an absent parent can have on the emotional state of children. Abuse, neglect, and deprivation can all attribute to a child having low self-esteem. These meetings with my therapist have really helped me better understand myself and how my relationship with my father impacted my life. But it has also made me really look differently at the relationship I’m having with my own children.
I’m a father of three, with my oldest being 9, and I can honestly say that I worry a lot about messing them up. I don’t want them to be chatting with a therapist someday about me and how I wasn’t there, or was too strict, or soft, or whatever. Some days I worry that I’m being too supportive, and other days I worry that I’m not being supportive enough. I wonder if I should be harder on them, perhaps have higher expectations — and other days I wonder if I’m being a little too hard on them, perhaps I need to lighten up.
I think all parents wonder these things, but especially those that came from a broken home. It’s a scary feeling to go into parenting without a good example, and sometimes I tell myself at least I’m there. And other days, that feels like that’s setting the bar far too low.
I’m not going to try and pretend like I have the answer to being the perfect parent, nor do I believe I could grant that information to you in this post, even if I had it. But what I can say is not having a father around as a child has made me compelled to be a pretty active father myself. And what I’ve learned is that one of the best things I can do to help promote my children’s overall happiness and success is to believe in them.
But ultimately, what does that look like?
Well, in the case of my children, it starts with action. It means listening to my children to show them that what they have to say has value. It means walking a fine line between doing things for them and believing in their ability to do things on their own. It means believing that when they fall down, that they can get back up again. It means cheering them on during a particularly troublesome homework assignment even when you really don’t want to because, let’s face it, helping children with homework can be as frustrating for us parents as it is for our children.
It means showing up to a soccer game and not getting pissed off about every play, or feeling let down when your child’s team doesn’t win. Rather, it means cheering them on for their contributions and helping them understand how to be better at their sport in a kind and productive way.
Ultimately, it means knowing in your heart that they can grow up to be happy, productive people, and then granting them enough guidance and enough space to accomplish their own goals.
Believing in your children doesn’t mean putting them on a pedestal and overlooking when they act like jerks, do something bone headed, or blow off basic obligations. Ultimately, believing in them means holding them accountable, because you believe they can perform.
Ultimately, it means being there for your children. It means showing up and making an effort to share in their passions.
A lot of this can become complicated when you realize that sometimes you might not like your children’s passions. I’m not all that much into soccer, or sports in general, but my son is. He digs it, and I believe in him enough to try and figure it out enough so I can help support him. This doesn’t mean that I’ve learned how to be a soccer hero. I learned enough so that I can engage in a conversation with him about soccer. I can give him advice about the game and sportsmanship, and ultimately, I can tell him that I believe in him, using language that he understands.
But you know what? Those of you that are taking the time to read an article like this are probably already doing most of these things. You are probably patient and loving and caring enough as a parent to read the title of this article and decide to read it, because you know just how important it is to believe in your child. But I think the real key here is telling your children that you believe in them.
Sometimes, in all the actions we do as parents, we forget to tell our children, verbally, that we believe in them. And ultimately, I think that’s what Jim Valvano’s getting at. Believing in your children is about both actions and words. It’s about looking your children in the eyes and saying, “I believe in you,” and then having children look at everything you do for them and know that it’s true.More On