Watch out for this major parenting pitfall

Don't expect your offspring to serve as evidence of your intelligence, hard work, or value as a person.

Sooner or later, all kids will assert their autonomy. If your self-esteem is contingent upon your children in any way, or if you fail to acknowledge that your child is an independent being with his or her own preferences and path in life, the growing up process is likely to end up being painful for both of you.

If we need our children to be Mini-Me's or behave according to our standards all the time in order to feel like we are good/smart/worthy people ourselves, we have anchored our self-esteem on shifting sands. We may find ourselves using desperate measures -- threats, punishment, bribes, and guilt trips -- in an attempt to force our children to behave in ways that we think reflect well on us. It will be hard for us to allow them to make the mistakes they can learn so much from, or to explore new possibilities.

We all know parents who have gone to great lengths to either mold their children in their own image or give them the opportunities they didn't have when they were kids. I say: Let's just skip the middleman and mold ourselves. It's never too late to become who we always wanted to be. When we take responsibility for our own lives -- for maximizing our potential, for living our own dreams -- we set a powerful example for our children. And we free them to take charge of their own destiny by pursing their own happiness.

Like sports a lot? Great! Go to the rec center with your buddies. Don't assume that the activities that bring you joy are also fun for your child. Don't volunteer to coach youth soccer unless your son or daughter asks you to. And please don't holler at your kids from the sidelines or coach Little Junior all the way home in the car.

Be careful not to make your love and acceptance of your child conditional -- don't withhold your affection or approval in an attempt to motivate athletic or academic achievement. Our children are wired to build their lives on a deep and abiding foundation of parental love and approval. If we don't provide that for them automatically, they must use precious energy to earn it from us, and don't have as many resources left over to build a skyscraper. Or they end up becoming whatever it takes to earn our approval rather than expressing their true selves.

Base your self-worth on your own behavior, not your child's. Even better, if you can swing it, is to see yourself as valuable simply because you exist, or God created you, or whatever other cool unconditional gig works for you.

In any case, make something of your own life, and let your child do the same. Give freely of your love and approval, with no conditions, and you will give your child the kind of foundation that can support a skyscraper of a life.

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