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When Parents Lie to Children – Excerpt from Original Faith by Paul M. Martin

May 15, 2009

This is the last in the recent parenting and book-themed posts that I’ve found myself doing lately. Today’s post is a guest post in the form of an excerpt from the book Original Faith: What Your Life is Trying to Tell You, by Paul M. Martin. Although between here and BellaOnline I’ve gotten myself a bit backed up in the book department, and haven’t been able to read Original Faith yet, I’ve been enjoying the discussions about spirituality on Paul’s blog, which I was introduced to by mutual friend Jan at Awake is Good.

Paul is a certified elementary school counselor with over twenty years experience in the public schools and has master’s degrees in religious studies and counseling. He has had a fascinating personal journey, including years of spiritual doubt, a spontaneous meditative experience that served as the genesis for Original Faith, and the onset of a debilitating condition that has currently left him homebound. You can read more about his story and his message here.

The following excerpt from Original Faith, entitled When Parents Lie to Children, discusses the fundamental spiritual misdirection that occurs when parents are only able to offer their children ‘conditional love’ – love dependent upon fulfilling the parent’s own ego needs.


A parent or other primary caretaker either does not love us or, far more often, does not express it clearly and consistently enough for us to be sure of it. An experienced lack of love from a parent is the fundamental source of the wounds that so many of us receive in childhood.

When this occurs, it is because our parent is somewhat ambivalent about his or her feelings for us. The parent doesn’t completely accept something about our real nature. We may not be smart enough or talented enough. We may be too physically rugged or assertive for a girl or too small and quiet for a boy. We may be too inhibited or not self-disciplined enough.

Our interests and aspirations may be wrong. We may not like working with our hands enough—or with our intellects. We may like music too much and not take enough interest in sports, or the other way around.

The real problem, of course, is that we are not sufficiently like our parents or their aspirations to satisfy their ego. Many of us spend years of our adult lives coming out from under the burden of this unnecessary baggage. As parents, this is a burden we can and should avoid passing on to our own children.

The Lie

Having preconceived notions of what our children must be like in order to be fully acceptable to us is the equivalent of telling them a terrible lie. What our children hear is that they are not good enough – that something is wrong with or lacking in their very being.

Though it’s a lie, children readily believe it. With little or no knowledge of the outside world as a potential source of acceptance and approval, young children are in no position to realize, “This is only my parent’s hang-up. No reflection on me!”  They believe the lie in the act of hearing it.

Viewing the abilities of our children as a means to satisfy our ego desires is unhealthy for parents as well as children. Indeed, outgrowing egoism is a good two-word summary of our primary developmental task as adults. And clearly it helps our children develop trust, confidence and self love when they see themselves with eyes unclouded by the illusion that that they were put on earth to be made in our image. It even becomes that much easier for them to take first steps toward standing in right relation to the greater truth that embraces us all.

By Paul Martin

The big sky smiled so wide!
“Why don’t you smile too?”
It seemed to say.
But Jessica was crying.
“I’m blue – don’t you even get it?”
“So am I” said Sky.
“I am the blue that’s light.”
And Jessica saw that Sky was right
And really was light-blue,
Like that half-unraveled crayon
She liked to use when she was drawing sky.
So she kicked off both her shoes
Right there on the grass
To feel another kind of blue.

– Excerpted from Original Faith: What Your Life is Trying to Tell You, by Paul M. Martin

17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2009 1:01 am

    We’ve been doing this for generations–living through our children. We simply don’t know how to raise children with presence.

  2. May 16, 2009 1:17 am

    I’ve always thought that parents use their kids a bit like a drug, because living vicariously through them allows the parents to escape their own realities… their own sense of failure, or of a life not fully lived.

    I believe it is possible to break the cycle, though. At least I hope it is. The only thing I want for my son is for him to be happy. None of the other stuff matters. I don’t think that counts as “conditional love” though, because I’d love him even if he wasn’t.

    Thank you for sharing this, Lisa! Have a great weekend! 🙂

  3. May 16, 2009 2:24 am

    Paul Martin offers astute observations. Every human being is living a dream within infinite dreams, realities within realities forever. The notion of limited human time makes the scenario hard to fathom. Sometimes this is compared to living vicariously through someone else. People often feel the need to fragment an experience in order to understand it. The thing is, as one learns to let go, to stop trying to control and define or explain, the energy keeps flowing. The experiences continue and soul emerges.

  4. May 16, 2009 1:06 pm

    What a sweet poem.

    Yes, I know so many parents like this. Sometimes I think it’s a basic trait of being human. I think perhaps the idea of chidren as very seperate individuals is very Western, and contemporary.
    Unfortunately though, we are so damaged. That what may be natural is expressed from wounds, to create further wounds -or Shadowds 🙂 – in our children.

  5. May 16, 2009 3:11 pm

    I’m sure you’ve read Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. If you haven’t, she was the first person to really articulate that the very pedagogy of how we raise children in the West is abusive. She was actually thrown out of some professional organization for speaking this truth.

    One of my parents laughed at me when I spoke to them (as an adult) of unconditional love; they told me I lived in a fairy tale.

    I don’t tell that story to elicit sympathy but to illustrate how far gone we are.

  6. May 16, 2009 3:38 pm

    Lisa, thank you for posting my excerpt and thanks to all for these thoughtful comments.

    Lisis’ hope for her son to be happy seems to me to point in the right direction. Similarly, a high general expectation for our children to do their best at school helps orient them toward finding their own most promising paths.

    But if we want our child’s happiness to consist specifically of growing up to be wealthy or expect him or her to specifically become, for example, a lawyer or a doctor… it seems to me that in general the more specific our ideas, the more carefully we need to look at our own motives.

  7. mommymystic permalink*
    May 16, 2009 8:33 pm

    Thanks to everyone for their comments (and thanks BlissChick for the book recommendation, I have not read it yet.) It is interesting to me how many different forms parents living through their children can take, and how hard it is to break this cycle. It is hard not only on the children but also on the parents – for example, I know when my children are acting out, there is a tendency for me to take it as a personal failure – when I am trying to practice peace in my own mind and life, how can I have children that act so harshly at times? This is a theme that has come up on many of the mindful parenting and ‘parenting with presence’ blogs and forums that I have read. Seems even the effort to do things differently, to parent with mindfulness and acceptance, can lead to self-judgment and judgment of our children (which go together.) To Mon’s point, this cycle may just be part of being human, of having an ego at all, to some extent.

    So this got me thinking that the other theme here is self-acceptance, which of course leads to self-love, and that is a stepping stone on the path to universal love, as Paul mentions. When a parent wants their children to live out their own dreams, or be a certain way, it means they have not accepted some aspect of themselves or their own life. So we can’t accept our children until we have truly accepted ourselves.

    I’m not sure if this relationship to our children is just a Western phenomenon though – I spent time in Japan, and the generational pressure there to live up to certain standards is if anything even worse. And of course the whole idea of ‘parenting’ as something you need to think much about, or even have a philosophy of, is pretty new. So sometimes I think thinking about it too much can make it worse! Although that is often true of spirituality also. Finding the right balance is walking the razors’ edge, as they say…

  8. May 17, 2009 12:16 am

    Thanks for visiting here, Paul. I really appreciate the perspective you share here. As I read your post, several people came to mind–and their children– which bear out exactly what you’ve noted. Unfortunately, I am now seeing the results of the parents’ ego-based motives—children who are disempowered, hesitant, and so much more. How important it is for each of us to do “the work of self.” How else can we raise conscious, conscientious, caring children who are excited about life, and who believe in their potential?

  9. May 17, 2009 6:18 am

    another kind of blue

    this poem of Paul’s is delightful
    thanx for sharing it

  10. mommymystic permalink*
    May 17, 2009 3:10 pm

    Jan – thanks for visiting, as always, and for your insightful comment.

    Kel – yes, isn’t that poem lovely? Paul wrote a little about the young girl that inspired it on his blog – click through if you haven’t already on the Paul’s blog link in the post or from his comment. Thanks for visiting!

  11. May 18, 2009 2:24 pm

    Great thoughts.

    I meant the idea of them as SEPARATE. Because yes, most other cultures expect children to follow the parent or the family line. For the child to be viewed as so complete, so ‘other’ seems to be a more contemporary idea.

  12. mommymystic permalink*
    May 18, 2009 8:03 pm

    Mon – Yes, I’ve been thinking about this idea of separateness too, in relation to ‘self-esteem’ and the messages I find in so much parenting stuff about building children’s self-esteem. Actually I find it in lots of extracurricular marketing in my area (and I think the U.S. is probably crazy in regards to this stuff) – karate studios, dance studies, library story times, preschools – you name it, everybody is saying ‘we’ll help build your kid’s self-esteem.’ So I started thinking more about what that actually means…maybe a future post, would love to see you post on it too sometime if you are interested…For me, I relate it to some of the issues I have with ‘self-help’ marketing too, as distinct from ‘spirituality’ (and I don’t like either word, but they’re all I have!) Self, self, self…

  13. May 18, 2009 11:00 pm

    I remember coming across something several years ago about a study finding that, contrary to conventional wisdom, bullies tend to have high and not low self-esteem.

    I have the feeling the concept of self-esteem could use refining. To use an example from adult life, qualities as different as, say, arrogance on the one hand and an understanding/appreciation of one’s particular gifts and limitations on the other, could each conceivably be involved with “self-esteem.”

  14. May 19, 2009 1:28 am

    I am certainly hoping to bring my kids up in an environment that is more loving, assuring and caring; as compared to what I grew up in. I would like to do things differently. Still, I must say that it is not easy to be consciously aware 24/7 or to break old habits of thinking and behavior. But I try to do my best. I’m certainly feeling that it is harder being both a parent and one who wishes to grow spiritually at the same time.

    My kids are being sent to a few classes but I believe that these classes are essential (like swimming for instance). I am not sure if a swimming or a karate class can really help to build self esteem. A skill yes, but sense of self worth???

  15. May 19, 2009 3:58 am

    Evelyn, I see what you mean. While those sorts of skills help increase, hmm… “social self confidence” – ? – and while that’s important, it seems to me that a sense of self worth goes deeper and is easiest to develop with at least one parent who expresses the sort of unconditional love discussed on this thread.

    Being a parent and growing spiritually at the same time are hard… but then you pretty much have to grow spiritually while doing something else at the same time that makes it hard!

    Example: remaining childless and growing spiritually at the same time.

  16. mommymystic permalink*
    May 19, 2009 6:20 am

    Paul – I think your distinction between arrogance vs. understanding one’s own gifts is a great one, and seeing the difference is really what developing self-esteem in children should be about. And Evelyn, yes that is what I think too – that these classes are about skills, and maybe confidence, but self-esteem? A true sense of self-worth is something else, and comes from love, not the accumulation of skills. So it is interesting the message that this kind of marketing is sending.

  17. September 4, 2012 6:55 pm

    A few months

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