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Parenting with Acceptance

People are unique.  We all have our own unique eccentricities and perspectives, and some of them may be easier to accept than others.  Our kids’ eccentricities and perspectives are no different.  Here are some basic facts and individual perceptions on parenting with acceptance.

All humans have a basic need to be accepted.  Feeling accepted fosters a sense of bonding.  Parents who wish to meet their kids’ basic psychological needs and foster a sense of bonding with their kids are well advised to parent with acceptance.

However, stories abound on adults who feel disenfranchised by their parents for their parents’ failure to accept them as they are.  These kids typically do not feel close to their parents, visit them infrequently (if at all), and, if taken to an extreme, may have trouble establishing or maintaining healthy relationships in general due to the early failed relationship with parents.  No reasonable parent wants that outcome.

When faced with their kids’ eccentricities and perspectives that run counter to their own eccentricities and perspectives, it can be tempting for parents to be critical of their kids and attempt to bring their kids in line with their own thinking.  After all, it is easiest for people to be associated with others who are like-minded.  However, parents must weigh the importance of changing kids’ thinking, the likelihood of making that change successfully, and the risk of damaging the parent-child connection.

Sam (not his real name) is an artistic man with a spontaneous, in-the-moment way of approaching each and every day.  His parents are very conservative.  They discouraged his “creative flights of fancy”, sent him to college, and pushed him to major in a scientific field of study that was designed to result in his ultimately securing a lucrative, stable job upon college graduation.  Today, he does not work in his field of study.  He is more interested in diversity of experience than maintaining a lucrative, stable job.  Money is not a driver for him.  And as to his parents, he is emotionally and philosophically isolated from them, and he dutifully visits them only on major holidays.   Sam now has two children of his own, and he has vowed not to make them feel so “odd” as he felt when he was young.  He is choosing to parent his own kids differently.  His two kids are thoroughly exposed to both science and art, and Sam encourages each child to develop the skills that interest them.  Sam’s kids, now teenagers, obviously feel close to Sam.  They feel accepted, no matter what.  Sam is particularly proud of that.

Tom (not his real name) was raised by liberal parents.  From the time Tom was young, he seemed to be a very serious person with a “conservative bent”.  His parents used to find humor in how risk-averse he was.  They helped him take things a little less seriously.  In school, Tom loved math and science.  He decided that he wanted to be a medical doctor . . . and a Republican.  In his junior year of high school, he broke the news to his parents.  They told him that they loved him and would support his course of action.  They helped him apply for college grants and loans.  They proudly drove him to the courthouse when he turned 18 and could register to vote.  When topics of discussion turned political, they acknowledged that there were differences of opinion, and they stated that no one knew with certainty what the correct way to govern such a large and complex society as the USA.  In essence, they were validating Tom’s position without betraying their own.  Today, Tom (a successful oncologist and a politically active Republican) recognizes that he and his parents have significant philosophical differences, and he feels deeply grateful to his parents for “giving (him) his wings and helping (him) fly”.

Raised by conservative, Republican, pro-life parents, Jane (not her real name) felt like a “square peg in a round hole”, at least philosophically, in her family by the time she was a teenager.  Jane is an egalitarian feminist who is pro-choice and a registered political independent.  Jane’s parents never criticized her beliefs directly, but Jane heard her mother say to others, time and again, that feminism is the reason that families are “all screwed up today”.   Her mother espoused the belief that, if mothers stayed home to raise their children rather than working while raising their families, society as a whole would be much improved.  Through the years, Jane quietly but unwaveringly maintained her position.  While Jane never felt that her parents validated her position, she was grateful that they did not attempt to criticize her for her beliefs or attempt to change her beliefs.  Today, neither Jane nor her parents have changed their positions, but they have maintained a close and enduring relationship.

Not all eccentricities and perspectives must be accepted, such as in the case of a perspective that is harmful to others, but parents must weigh the importance of changing their kids’ thinking, the likelihood of making that change successfully, and the risk of damaging the parent-child connection.  What we can learn from the experiences of Sam, Tom, and Jane is that parenting with acceptance fosters the parent-child bond.

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