Dear 25 year old Nathan
Regarding your daughter: think twice about validating her feelings.
This sounds terrible, I know.
It evokes images of a shirtless dad in overalls on a dust swept farm. He is burying Ol’ Rover with a broken shovel and growling “Don’t you cry now!” to a sobbing little girl wearing one shoe. I don’t mean be like him.
What I mean is you will live in a weird cultural moment where validating feelings is not only the highest parenting value it is also the most misunderstood one. You could be caught up in this if you don’t think carefully.
Let me try to clear it up for you so you don’t mistake validating her feelings for:
- assuring her every emotion she has is appropriate
- dropping everything to pay attention to her when she acts up
- the absence of consequences
- not making her do things she doesn’t feel like doing
That’s not validating feelings. That is intentionally doing things which stunt her emotional development in the name of being a good dad. Think again.
Validating feelings means teaching her which feelings are valid, when those feelings are valid, and even how to validly express those feelings.
This has nothing to do suppression or denial. It has to do with nurture. It has to do with the wise cultivation of maturity. It is simply understanding there are many feelings she will get and not all of them will be valid.
- she doesn’t feel like getting potty trained
- she doesn’t feel like eating her veggies
- she doesn’t feel like going to church
- she doesn’t feel like studying
- she doesn’t feel like being polite
- she doesn’t feel like forgiving
- she doesn’t feel like saving money
- she doesn’t feel like being kind to the unpopular kid
- she doesn’t feel like working on her marriage
- she doesn’t feel like being patient with your grandkids
In fact, one of the most important gifts you can give her is to train her to learn to happily do the things which are best; regardless of how she may feel about it.
This gift doesn’t stifle her – it empowers her.
Now, I know you well enough to know you seriously doubt your own ability to model healthy emotional responses. That’s why I wrote you this earlier.