The Three Most Important Words To Tell Your Kids (And They're Not 'I Love You')
There was a time not long ago when my 13-year-old HSP daughter was feeling particularly sensitive to anything on television that unsettled her in the slightest.
This included the news, high-action movies, or television dramas with any kind of depiction of violence or trauma.
With two older brothers in the house -- both partial to action-packed thrillers of any kind -- it became increasingly difficult to find something suitable for everyone to watch. The traditional Friday movie night would see us spending hours scrolling through Netflix, arguing back and forth over what to watch until eventually my daughter insisted she was happy to just read a book in her bedroom so others could watch what they wanted.
There were a few times this happened; each time I would go to her room and tell her she didn’t need to read in her bedroom alone and we would find something everyone could watch together. She continued to insist she was fine with this arrangement. But I knew her better than that -- this tenderhearted peacemaker daughter of mine who often sacrificed her own desires for that of others; so much like her mother.
I knew what she really wanted was to be with the rest of the family; to know she was important enough to have her needs considered. To know she was wanted enough for others to make sacrifices and compromises that would allow her to be included, even if they didn’t necessarily understand how her sensitivity made it difficult for her to watch movies they saw no issue with.
I knew this, because this had once been me -- except, I’d had no one to advocate for my needs, and had instead grown up with a sense of isolation and exclusion from the rest of my family; left feeling unvalued and unseen. And it wasn’t until I said this to her one night as she read alone in her room: “It’s okay, I see you,” that her pretense of fine collapsed and she was able to tearfully admit that which I already knew.
I realised that day the importance of those three words. I see you. That to be seen is something we all crave; perhaps even more than to be loved. To be understood. For our true selves to be known by those who love us. That when we exist inside this place of being fully seen, here we find our safety; our greatest place of acceptance and belonging.
I recently read The Good People by Hannah Kent, and was reminded again of this with these words, “How frightened we are of being known, and yet how desperately we long for it.” There is something transformative in being seen -- both in our weaknesses and strengths, our struggles and triumphs. To be seen in the whole person; the entirety of our flawed yet perfect humanity.
As parents, we tend to focus on the I love you; to remind our children of this as often as we can, which is, of course, vital and necessary to their lives and development.
However, being loved and seen aren’t necessarily synonymous and while our children may know they are loved by us, if they don’t have a sense of also being seen, they may never feel completely understood, accepted and safe to flourish into their truest selves.
This is especially important for this generation of children whose identities are being developed inside such a virtual world -- where they may have hundreds of friends online and yet still have a fundamental sense of loneliness and isolation in feeling as though they aren’t seen or understood by those around them.
We know this of ourselves; the innate need for human embrace; to be heard, to be accepted as we are, to be understood, to feel we are worthy enough to have someone show interest in our lives; more so, in who we are. There is a connection felt in those moments our own hearts crave -- how much more the hearts of our children as they seek to find their identity and sense of worth in this hectic world.
As school holidays come to a close, I find myself journeying through the usual emotions -- relief to once again return to some semblance of routine and work, coupled with guilt that I did not do enough with my children over summer -- that I did not give them enough experiences and memories, that I had all this time with them, yet unsure whether anything valuable was gained from that, or not.
However, I don’t believe the measure for being a good parent is found in how many hours we spend with our children, but more in the ways we show up for them in the time we do have with them. We aren’t always going to get it right or be the perfect parent; we too have our own shortcomings and limitations. Likewise, we aren’t always going to have the amount time with them we often desire; life all too easily gets in the way.
But showing up and being aware, present and engaged is where it matters. Taking the time to see -- really see -- our children, knowing if we cannot fully see another person, we can never fully love them; only ever our own version of who we believe them to be. And in doing so, fail to give our children what they so desperately need from us the most.