Besides loving, feeding, clothing, and caring for my child, the biggest aspiration that I have as a mother is to really ‘see’ him (see also my blog post on Seeing and Being Seen). Being witnessed in our experiences and acknowledged for who we are is so powerful; and having experienced the power, I want to give this gift to my child.
Jesper Juul, a family therapist and author of ‘Your competent child’, spelled out even more reasons why I want to take the time and make the effort to really ‘see’ my child.
According to Juul, we have to distinguish between self-esteem and self-confidence. Self-esteem is the feeling of being enough and of being valued just because I exist. It acts like a pillar of strength within and can be described as a feeling of being comfortable in one’s skin and as feeling grounded. Self-confidence on the other hand comes more from outside feedback and is linked to what we’re able to do, what we’re good at and what we’re not so good at. When there is self-esteem, self-confidence is generally not a problem. But having self-confidence doesn’t necessarily translate into good self-esteem.
Two examples are given in the book:
A woman decides to learn to play an instrument and she is really struggling. If she has low self-esteem, she might respond with a generalisation of ‘I’m not able to do anything! I’m worthless!’ If her self-esteem is in good shape, she is more likely to respond with a rational ‘I guess playing this instrument is not my thing’, but doesn’t feel any less about herself as a person.
A man who used to be successful in a popular sport is now retired from his career and has been struggling with alcoholism. His therapist is trying to encourage him to coach a youth team in his sport. The man responds with: ‘I’m finished with sports.’ As the therapist explores his resistance, the following emerges. The man originally got into the sport as a child when his parents signed him up because they thought that he lacked self-confidence. Since he showed promise and did gain confidence, they encouraged him, supported him, and were extremely proud when he signed a contract with a team abroad. However, when the man retired from his successful career, the people that he had regarded as his friends lost all interest in him. This left him feeling that they were never really interested in him, but just in what he was able to do (for them). While his success in the sport had raised his self-confidence, it had not fixed the original problem of low self-esteem. And when his career, the source of his self-confidence, ended, the lack of self-esteem became apparent again.
How do we get good self-esteem?
Juul says that self-esteem develops mainly with help of two ingredients: One, if at least one of the people who are meaningful in our life ‘sees’ us and acknowledges us the way we are. Two, when we experience that - just the way we are - we are valuable to others.
Loving our child does not necessarily mean that we ‘see’ our child. Children demand that we ‘see’ them: ‘Look at me, mommy!’ But all too often, we react with admonishment ('Be careful.') or appraisal ('You did that very well.' / 'This is not how you do it.') instead of just witnessing their existence and experience: ‘Yes, I see you!’
This is also the power of coaching: We witness and acknowledge our clients as they are, we see them in all their power and potential (even when they can’t see it themselves) and we stand by their side in their experience of life - be those struggles or successes.
My hope is that I can give the gift of ‘seeing’ not just to my clients, but that I have the awareness in daily life to stop and really ‘see’ my child so that we can share the big and small milestones of life. Hopefully this will instil a healthy amount of self-esteem into this little wonder of life.