Children, teens, young adults, even fully grown adults are incredibly perceptive about what their parents think of them. When we're little, we think our parents are all-knowing and all-powerful, so their opinion of us shapes our own beliefs about ourselves. We live up to their expectations or down to their judgments in many ways.
When children hear us talk about them in judging ways, it is especially devastating, but even when they never hear us name specific judgments they sense them. Partly, they sense them through that amazing kid-radar that is so attuned to us that they read our emotions and thoughts more clearly than we read ourselves. And partly they sense them because even when we don't name judgments explicitly, we imply them in our words and actions.
Are you skeptical that this really happens with your child? Consider if there's something about you that disappointed or worried your mom or dad. Can you think of something, either in childhood or adolescence? If so, how do you know? I remember my mom clucking her tongue about how I dressed or had my hair cut. She didn't directly tell me that she wanted me to get it together and look nicer, but it was clear. It was a small thing, but had an impact. We all probably carry deeper and more personal feelings baggage related to our parents' judgment or disappointment in us.
Remembering old stuff from our parents can help us to excavate the stuff we may be sending our kids. Are there things that bug or worry you about your child? Ways you're afraid for them or wish they handled things differently? Of course there are, right? We all have some of these things. How do you think your child interprets the things you say or do that relate to them? What might their story be about how you feel and what you think? Is there a way to send them a message that's more consistent with what you want them to learn from you?
As a mom (to 2 teenage sons), wife, and person in the world, I have been on a long imperfect journey. I have made many mistakes, but with mindfulness, emotional reflection, and lots of support I have learned enormously from those mistakes.