Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim
Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.
—Carl Gustav Jung
What is the greatest gift a parent can bestow upon their children? I cannot think of a more relevant and important question every parent can ask him or her self. A great majority might say love, even unconditional love, is the greatest gift since this is at the heart of being wanted, belonging and bonded with another human being. A great number would mention building a deep and abiding relationship with religion, Divinity and Spirit. Others would cite the providing of adequate or, better still, outstanding health, safety and opportunities to grow. Still other people would forward modeling and promoting respect, responsibility and accountability to the family, community, country and world. All of these are honorable and good-hearted gifts a parent can bring their offspring. At the same time I suggest that none of these are actually the greatest blessing, at least psychologically speaking.
With a long experience in the field of psychology and in full-time private practice for over three decades, I am humanly confronted with the wreckage of poor parenting on a daily and hourly basis. What went awry you might ask. Actually the list of “what happened” is endless, everything from challenging circumstances and hard times, to the selfishness, poor judgment and psychological baggage of one or both parents, to incomplete traumas coming out of abuse, neglect and willful cruelty. Not a very pretty list to say the least. Most of all, “what happened” was the parent’s ignorance or unawareness or simply being asleep to the short-range and long-range consequences of their actions. What we don’t know can hurt others and us very badly and ignorance is actually the opening to tremendous harm.
While safety, love, respect and responsibility create a core context of fine parenting, there is more, much more. Here are several cuts into the pie of the greatest gift a parent can bestow upon their child. Embodying or living the keystone value of honesty, synonymous with integrity, being trustworthy, sincere, and authentic, is one answer. Another angle is to lead by example and inhabit being a human being that you would want to meet, know, be a friend to and have as apart of your inner circle. Still another slice into this pie is to bring a dream that contributes to humankind and take daily actions to manifest it. Including all of these, and in some ways transcending them, is to have genuinely developed and matured into being yourself, what Carl Gustav Jung called the process of individuation or becoming yourself, your own individual. The hallmark of such an individuated, actualized being is his or her natural expression of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment in their moment-by-moment daily life.
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Notice the quote by Carl Gustav Jung that heads this article and see for yourself the deep, broad and profound impact a parent’s “unlived life” has upon his or her children. Until the age of reason at approximately age nine, children see their parents as all-knowing gods that can do no wrong, at least not intentionally. Even after this age and into puberty, adolescence, young adulthood and beyond, no other humans have anything close to the influence our parents have upon our lives for good or ill. Daily I help my clients see the survival decisions, core beliefs and mistaken identities created in their relationships with parents and the continuing impact upon the quality of their lives. To the degree a parent has an unlived life with abandoned dreams, unrequited love and incomplete realization of their life vision, the children will take on this torch to fulfillment in their lives, whether on a conscious or unconscious basis.
It’s like children are so heavily invested in their parent’s well being, happiness and healing that they will do just about anything to “make it so.” I see the adult children who are still sacrificing themselves on the crucible of their parent’s unlived lives, whether in the form of dashed dreams, unrealized values, dissatisfactions, unhappiness and outright despair, misery and suffering. It is so profoundly sad that it regularly brings a tear to my eye. I can only imagine the depth of heartache Our Beloved feels over all of this going back the one to two million years that human beings have been in modern form. If this is the 99.99% probability for all humans since the beginning of our human journey on this planet, then what is available to manifest that the 0.01% have realized and embodied?
Simply put, the greatest gift any parent can bestow upon their children is to be a happy, fulfilled whole person in their own right since it is this singular achievement recreated moment-by-moment every day that sets our children free from having to be caregivers and healers of us and simultaneously be free to be themselves. Here is embodied true empowerment—being your own authority! Doing this is neither selfish nor selfless, neither ego-filled nor ego-denying, neither a vanity project nor altruistic. In fact, doing this transcends all the ego-mind’s worldly polarities in the dualistic world of subjects and objects. Being a happy, fulfilled and whole person is being yourself, who you truly are, and it has no opposite. In this respect we enter the Absolute realm that has no opposites, only absence. Love, Truth, Reality, Being and the One have no opposites, only an absence of This. Inhabiting a natural happiness, wholeness and fulfillment as a human being is the greatest blessing anyone can live and model since it serves as a most powerful inspiration for everyone who knows you to do the very same in their lives given directly seeing that it is possible and all the sweet bountiful fruits that issue forth from this way of being.
How remarkable, inspiring and empowering to be the living example of one who has come to know, value and bring into full creative self-expression who one truly is—the True Self! Many parents would do just about anything for their children. Clearly children do just about anything for their parents. How authentically happy, fulfilled and whole can you stand for your life to be, especially given the depthless sustaining impact it undeniably will have upon your children? Your life is the living answer.
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