There is an unspoken fear that seems to go hand-in-hand with having a Narcissist’s influence on your children. There are several women who have written to me expressing concern about their children showing Narcissistic traits or that they are simply afraid of their children following in the Narcissistic parent’s footsteps. I think that with anything, the mind can run wild with “what if’s” and a fear of the unknown. Before I understood Narcissism, I had many of those same fears and thoughts.
Children are faced with lots of pressure in school to excel in sports and academics. Having a narcissist parent only intensifies those pressures. I cringed two years ago when I heard my X asking my daughter about her annual March-A-Thon. She was dead-set on winning and ran 18 laps without stopping for water. She kept telling me didn’t want water because she wanted to win. I discussed with her the importance of hydration and that she didn’t need to “win” at everything. I told her that the March-A-Thon was a fun event and not a race. I was cheering for her this year as she ran laps but stopped to laugh and play in the sprinklers with her friends along the way. My goal is to cheer my daughters on in everything that they do but to teach them to have fun along the way.
While I can’t speak for anyone else, I can discuss my personal experience with this topic. In the beginning years of being a mother, I looked up to my X in-laws for advice on parenting. I had “drank the kool-aid” so to speak and believed that they were the ideal parents who valued education and were focused on family values. As the years progressed, I discovered that they were people who trained their children to feel superior and entitled while teaching them to hide dark family secrets.
The main advice that I was given from my X in-laws was to continually praise my daughters for their intelligence. I learned to brag about how smart my daughter was and about how many signs (baby sign language) that she knew at the age of one. I took pleasure in how early she could recognize letters and how early that she learned to read. I was instructed to never compliment her on looks- only on intelligence. They were enrolled in the top private school (preschool) in the County before I had even given birth to them. They were to believe that they were special and I saw this play out in my X’s family. His family believed that they were superior and extremely intelligent in everything that they did.
What I have personally learned through common sense, motherly instinct and working with therapists (mine and my daughters):
Children in today’s society (in general) need healthy role models. They need to have boundaries and see their parents operating with boundaries. They need praise for being good, kind people- not just for being smart or special. Children need to understand that actions have consequences and they need to be guided with love, compassion and empathy.
Regardless of whether a child has a Narcissist for a parent, I feel that today’s world revolves around superficial things such as who has the nicest clothing or the best designer handbag. My daughters know that they are beautiful inside and out. They are also taught that everyone is different and that differences make people beautiful. Telling your child that he/she is beautiful is a wonderful thing when delivered in the right context. I compliment my daughters on things that they do that are “kind” much more than I compliment them on looks or intelligence.
It is our goal as parents to provide opportunities for our children to be outwardly focused. There are tools that can be used in everyday life to accomplish this. Talk to your children about the homeless when you see a man holding up a sign and asking for change. Better yet, take your children to deliver cookies or other treats to the less fortunate. If you see a “Lost Dog” sign on a fencepost, this is the perfect opportunity to discuss feelings—the doggie must be scared and the family must be very sad about their lost doggie. Look for the hidden opportunities in everyday life. My church offers little “care packages” for the homeless filled with basic necessities. Some of my most rewarding moments as a mother has been watching my daughters get excited when we hand one out the window to someone in need. I often ask them, “What do you think that we can do to help (blank) feel better?” when we know that a friend or family member is sad or hurting.
Talk to your children about boundaries. This is an invaluable life tool for children and adults everywhere. Helping my daughters to find their voice and to express “right from wrong” using their words has been incredibly rewarding to watch. This life skill can be used on the playground, with friends or with family members. Children are sponges and will soak up every single life skill and experience that you give them.
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