Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you. ~Robert Fulghum
As parents, we know that our children pay more attention to what we do than what we say. They are quick to notice when our actions do not match up with what we are saying to them. They learn what we model for them. If we model unhealthy coping skills, then those are what they are going to use in their own lives.
For most of my daughter’s life, I modeled unhealthy life skills. Through my actions, I taught her how to avoid dealing with situations, and people. I have shown her how to become paralyzed by fear and anxiety. She learned – from me – how to swallow her own needs and wants, and not have a sense of her own self worth. Consequently, as I have become more emotionally and mentally healthy, I have been concerned about how she would handle challenges in her life. I came to the conclusion that – because of what I modeled – she would probably encounter many of the same difficulties in life that I have faced. As her mother, this has made me incredibly sad for her. I have often wished that I could have a “do over”, and show her a different way to manage stress, anxiety, and emotions. I want her to have a better life than I have had. One that is not filled with fears, and depression.
What I had not taken into account when I came to that conclusion, is the impact that depression treatment has made on me. I forgot that just like she watched and learned from all my unhealthy behaviors, she has been watching me struggle to get better. She has been a first hand witness to how I have shifted from a negative outlook on life, to someone who embraces and enjoys all the experiences life has to offer. She has seen me transform into a fully functioning adult, who has healthy coping skills. She has been there when I have faced my fears and anxieties, and overcome them. She has paid attention, and noticed that I have gone from a woman who had no self worth, to one that understands her value, and speaks up for herself.
Sunday, I faced an extreme fear of mine, by driving way outside of my safety zone. My daughter was in the car with me as I did this. She watched as I faced that fear, and achieved a victory. This week I watched her do the same. My daughter has an extreme fear of heights. She has had this fear since she was very little. On Monday, I saw her face that fear, and achieve her own great victory, by climbing into an attic . I cannot put into words how proud of her I am. Later on that day, she told me that even though she will never enjoy heights, at least she knows that if she needs to, she can successfully face that fear.
As she has watched me learn how to speak up for myself, she has learned to do the same. This week, she brought something up to me that had been bothering her. While we were working in the garage, I made an off hand remark about how it would have been nice to have my son there to help us. I did not think anything about it. I did not realize that what I said upset my daughter. When we were by ourselves later on in the day, she let me know that my comment bothered her and why. She expressed to me that for many years she felt that she could not live up to the standards that her brother had set. She said he was good at everything. He was good at sports, and school work came easy to him. She has often felt inadequate compared to him. When she heard me make my comment, she felt as if I was implying that her brother could have done a better job than she was doing. It was a moment of clarity for me. I had often felt the same way about my own brother when I was growing up. I thought that I had not set up the same set of circumstances that had caused me to feel that way. I was wrong. Some how despite my best efforts, I had created an environment where my daughter felt the same way I had when I was growing up. The only difference between the two of us is how we each managed our emotions. Instead of waiting until she was an adult before she shared how she felt with me, she did it at 14. By letting me know how she felt, I was able to talk to her and let her know how proud I am of her, and point out a few of the many wonderful things she can do. I hope that I was able to help her work though some of those feelings, so she does not have to carry them around – like a burden – for most of her life.
I have seen – first hand – the disastrous effects a mental illness can have on a family. I know how damaging it can be for a child to have a parent who has unhealthy coping skills. I have also had the joy of seeing how a parent getting emotionally and mentally healthy can dramatically improve a child’s life. As I have changed, and grown, she has as well. As I have let go of negativity, I have seen her do the same. She has put aside many of her fears, worries, and anxieties. I have been filled with joy when I have seen her go from a shy child – with low self confidence and self worth – to one who values herself. My daughter has learned to speak up for herself, and expresses her wants and needs. She has become a strong, young woman, who knows what she wants and is not afraid to express it. I think what we have ended up with is better than a “do over”. She has the benefit of seeing what life is like when someone has unhealthy coping skills and can compare it to how much better life can be when they learn a healthier way to manage their life.