You’re a parent even if you don’t realize it. A parent to friends, coworkers, others’ children, maybe even your own children. A parent to your own inner child, even. I wish someone (anyone, really) had been a better parent for me—including myself. I say and do things that aren’t the least bit flattering to observers. I berate myself for small mistakes, I don’t give myself even the slightest leeway in creative or physical pursuits, I am unable to be a hundred percent present. All of which might understandably give someone the impression that I’m an angry and uncompromising person one-hundred percent of the time, which isn’t always true.
There are an incalculable number of things I wish I could have done to make things better, a huge number of lessons I wish I could have imparted on the people I’ve met throughout my life. Allowing the children you see to have a sense of mastery and purpose, fostering a sense of purpose, granting them the space to explore themselves and their surroundings, uninhibited, in the inseparable interests of discovery and growth.
Let them have the opportunity and space to fail. They’ll ask for help when they need it. They’ll surprise you as they learn to do what may have taken you years to learn, and you might even surprise yourself. I wish I could have discovered earlier that what drives my criticism of other people is the intense criticism I hold for myself. Failure was either too expensive or criticized ruthlessly by parents or peers.
Grant them the courage to ask the hard questions and speak on their difficult and thorny truths. The worst that you can do to them is to stifle their ability to tell you how they feel by making them feel unsafe. I wish I would have had the space to be able to say “you make me angry because you live such a small life and it doesn’t seem like you really try”.
Don’t just be a bystander–be involved. They’re in your life for a reason, and it’s your job to figure out what that reason is. Similarly, you’re in their life for a reason–and it’s your job to help them find their joy and to be present with them in it. I’ve had to struggle with the fact that I never had someone involved in the things I was interested in or anyone to encourage me growing up. Having to find my own motivation for things and struggling with finding validation outside of myself instead of having my own validation and a sense of fulfillment.
In short: be the person that you would have wanted others to be. Be the parent that you’d wished you’d had. Be the friend that others see you as.