A few months before the release of my book, Perfect Pain, one of my best friends asked if I was concerned that my three young daughters would have so much insight into my past. He was worried about them knowing that I had been sexually abused for a year of my life. He was also worried about them knowing about my battle with depression and the massive drug and alcohol addiction that followed. He couldn’t understand why I was okay with my girls knowing all these ugly truths about me.
My answer to him was simple: Exactly.
I wanted my daughters to know everything about my past because I wanted to “free” them. Knowing that their dad is the furthest thing from perfect will allow them to never feel the need to be perfect. It frees them from the fear of experimenting with their own emotions and thoughts. I simply want them to be exactly who they choose to be.
I also wanted my children to know the truth about me, just as I am – not some lie or half-truth. I see this all the time: parents who want their kids to think of them as perfect or different from who they actually are. This is risky for so many reasons, but the most obvious is that if you hide your true self, you risk being a hypocrite once your children grow up and discover the disconnect between who you portrayed yourself to be and the real you.
This very thing happened with my parents and me. As poor immigrants from Iran, my parents had a lot of pride. They always made things seem more perfect than they really were, when in fact my parents were terrified and insecure. Over time, I figured this out and felt very disconnected from them. I felt like they lied to me. Trust is so important in relationships, especially between parents and children. How can you build trust with someone who lies about who they are, or who behaves as though being one’s true self is something to be ashamed of?
Children grow best when they are allowed to be fully themselves, to create their own unique “brand.” In order for them to be true to their own “brand,” children must trust that their parents have unconditionally accepted them exactly as they are. Then the child can feel the array of emotions they need to feel without fear of judgment or repercussion. Children need to know that it is okay to feel scared, and it is okay to be angry. But, most of all, it is okay to be imperfect.
Perfection is a manmade ideal – it doesn’t really exist. Parents often place the burden of perfection on their children because they have not dealt with their own insecurities, their own traumas, or their own perceived shortcomings. They see their children as their “second chance” to right the wrongs of their own lives. This is how parents – usually without even realizing it – limit their kids’ development because their children are too afraid to be themselves. When this happens, children will wrongfully, and sometimes tragically, pursue becoming the “brand” that their parents want them to be. This will only leave them feeling empty and disconnected. The healthiest children have a solid sense of who they actually are. Their identity is not misaligned with an identity projected by their parents.
To me, parenting is simple (really!). I have three goals every single day I wake up as father. First: to unconditionally love my children. This is easier said than done, because of course, raising kids can be extremely challenging. Children will push boundaries and make mistakes, but that’s all part of growing up. It is just as important – maybe even more important – to show them love in these challenging moments as it is during easier times. I want my children to know that I love and accept them, always, just as they are.
My second goal is to protect my kids in the most basic ways by providing shelter, food, and safety. With these needs met, they can feel secure enough to develop their own life skills and eventually become self-sufficient adults. This is where the helicopter parents go astray. They confuse protection and development with a narcissistic desire for their children to be “successful” at everything. Helicopter parents do not allow their children to be imperfect, to make mistakes and learn from them, and so their children never have the freedom to discover and be who they really are.
My final goal is to create a household culture in which my children can freely build their own “brands.” That means I watch, listen, and observe who they are and do not dictate who they “should” be. I believe it’s important to empathize with my three daughters individually and focus on the fact that each has her own set of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. To that end, I make an effort to spend one-on-one time with each of my daughters. We go on special outings or “Daddy/Daughter” trips together, and we do things they like to do. I always learn a lot about who they are during these moments. It fills me with so much joy to watch them simply being themselves.
As parents, we are often tempted to withhold the “bad” stuff from our children and only shed light on the good stuff. I wholeheartedly believe that sharing my rocky past with my daughters will contribute to their growth and development. After all, when we withhold the “bad” stuff, we are in essence creating a false narrative about the world and about ourselves. I want my children to see the world as it is – beautiful and imperfect, just like us.
Are you standing in the way of your own happiness? Take my Self-Sabotage Assessment at www.perfectpain.com/quiz.