By, Katherine Lycke, M.Ed/Ed.S, Marriage and Family Therapy Intern
This time of year is notoriously known to be a very chaotic one for families as parents and children acclimate back to the school routine. Gone are the warm, lazy days of summer. They have been replaced with a harsh unload of stress and anxiety.
Stress and the pressure to succeed
Except now, the start of school brings some new flavors of stress. Active shootings are a real epidemic in our society presently; to the point where some schools show mandatory “school shooting” videos to all their students. The pressure of “success” seemingly tightens its grip every school year as our “outer image” becomes more and more highlighted. Something has happened to our society and it’s haunting our youth like a monster under the bed we can’t hide from under the covers.
The pressure to “succeed” has morphed into this cloud of un-descriptive qualifiers our youth “have” to meet to be deemed worthy. Worthiness has been snatched, ripped apart, and thrown upon this mountain that all of the sudden is completely unreachable. Our children are tortured by the mindset that they must earn their worthiness for forgiveness, something that used to be an inherent expectation of childhood and being human. So, this begs the question: what makes someone worthy of forgiveness for a mistake?
Parents feel the pressure too
I know in my bones children are not the only ones impacted by this “success” monster. Imagine making a mistake at work. Or you said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. Or you forgot to do that one thing that really had to get done that day. Instead of mentally slapping yourself on the wrist for your human mistake, you find yourself mentally breaking all of your fingers, beating the tar out of yourself for the rest of the day. Now imagine being 10 and putting yourself though the same beating for a mistake. Ouch right?
Here is some harsh truth: our children are watching us. ALWAYS. Not just in the ways we act or react, but in the ways that we talk to ourselves. We cannot hide a single thing about ourselves to our kiddos because they are born with this superpower to inherently read our vibe better than we usually can. Your child is typically spot on to your mood, your self-talk, your processing of experiences. However, their superpower falls short because they cannot read minds. To make up for this, they will fill in their own blanks. Often, they will assume some sort of responsibility for whatever vibe they catch from you. Good or bad. You can thank the developmental timeline of egocentrism they are currently existing in.
How our worthiness plays a part
I think it’s time to take back our worthiness from this unforgiving “success” monster and restore it to something that is owed and part of every single human. Children are inherently worthy and worthy of forgiveness just due to the simple fact their main role in life is learning. How can we expect any living, breathing, feeling soul to learn without trial and error? So what if a child falls asleep in class once? So what if they broke your favorite lamp? So what if they got a D on a test? This “success” monster is taking away worthiness when mistakes happen instead of warming embracing them as they learn through the process. Why?
Adults this is where our self-talk and processing of our own experiences comes into play. We may not be explicitly talking to our children about this, but they see our own ways of learning through mistakes. The pressure is on to be that perfect parent, spouse, employ, daughter, son, grandma, you name it. We have a lot of spinning plates we never get a break from. We have our own mental health we usually don’t nourish as often. I hear you. Adulting is hard.
It’s time to bring those elephants into the room. The elephants of self-doubt, feeling unworthy, questioning our competency, loving ourselves through our mistakes. I really appreciate the desire to shield our children from these hard topics, there is a lot of love in that. The sad truth however is our children are already there. Our youth, even down to elementary age are already swimming in the sea of feeling unworthy, feeling unwaveringly loveable. We’ve got to check in with our youngsters while meeting them with our own transparency. Sitting on the bed with your ten year old saying “man I made a mistake at work today and I’ve felt really lousy about it all day, what about you?” invites a safe space for your child to take a breath and face this “success” monster head on by saying “hey me too.”.
Some words of encouragement as the school year begins
So here is my encouragement this new school year. Acknowledge those elephants. Recognize the “success” monster doesn’t just live under our beds but surrounds us, all of us, constantly and consistently. This pressure of unreachable success can spur feelings of self-doubt, unworthiness, burnout, depression, anxiety, poor sleep habits, difficulty focusing, and avoidance in every human, even our youngest humans. Model bravery, courage, and transparency with your loved ones, because this will equip our kiddos with the safe spaces they need to navigate their school year.