The validation that every child needs to hear from their parent

We all know that parents have a huge impact on how kids feel about themselves. After all, we are all somebody’s children, and we can see how our own parents shaped who we are today. 

This is why it can be helpful to think about what we wish we had received from our parents and to listen when other adults talk about what it was like to be their parents’ children. Here are the answers adults gave to the question “What do you wish your parents had told you?”

1. You are loved

All of us long to be loved and to feel worthy of love just for the simple fact that we exist in the world. And the most important love of all – at least while we are children – comes from our parents. Our parents should love us for the simple reason that we are their children.

Many of us grew up in families that assumed love was implied, but it was rarely explicitly spoken. But children long to hear words about how loved and special they are. There is no risk of over-loving our kids. We don’t need to hold off on telling them we love them for any reason. 

Here is what adults wish their parents had said to them when they were children:

  • I love you just as you are.
  • You are worthy of my time and interest, putting extra effort for, and supporting.
  • I am here for you. 
  • I know who you are and I accept you as you are.
  • Your emotions are not too much for me, they’re not trouble.
  • I am here, you’re safe, I won’t go away no matter how big your feelings get.

2. You don’t have to be perfect

Some parents believe that their children should behave a certain way or get certain grades or play a certain sport. To reinforce achievement goals, these parents may withdraw affection or criticize their children when they do not perform well. These parents are not monsters – they are operating under the assumption that we must push and drive our children to succeed. 

Children cannot separate their performance from who they are as people. As a result, children who believe they must perform a certain way tend to become perfectionists, which sets them up for eating disorders and can ironically hold them back from achieving. The more a child fears letting a parent down, the fewer risks that child will take. This negatively impacts all aspects of their ability to achieve in life.

Here is what adults wish their parents had said to them when they were children:

  • Mistakes are just a sign that you’re trying. They are not a sign that you can’t do it!
  • Screwing up is OK and doesn’t make you less lovable.
  • It’s OK not to be perfect, it won’t affect how I feel about you or ruin the whole family.
  • You acted out because you were in so much pain, not because you’re a bad person.
  • I love you no matter what … it isn’t contingent on making good grades, or doing this “right.”

3. Your body is fine

Some parents believe that “good parents” control and manage their children’s food and bodies. Our society, driven by powerful food and diet companies, have sent many messages to parents suggesting that they are “bad” parents if they don’t worry about and try to influence their child’s diets. Parents worry they will be criticized if a child gains weight or lives on the higher end of the weight scale. And, unfortunately, this is not an incorrect assumption – we do live in diet culture, after all. 

Children cannot separate their body from who they think they are as a person. Parents who focus on their child’s appearance and criticize or feel badly about their children’s bodies pass along a deep sense of unease and discomfort that is fertile ground for eating disorders. Even if the parent never says anything out loud, children can sense parental disapproval and will feel bad about their bodies and themselves.

Here’s what adults wish their parents had said to them when they were children. These comments are especially common when speaking with adults who have or had an eating disorder:

  • Your body is good the way it is.
  • I love you exactly as you are.
  • You are worthy of love regardless of the shape of your body.
  • Your weight doesn’t determine the love you receive. 
  • You can be healthy at any size.
  • What you eat does not determine your worth.
  • You don’t need to change your body to be loved.
  • Your body has to gain weight to grow, especially during puberty. It is not a sign that something is wrong.

These statements consistently come up as things adults wish their parents had said to them. They come up in therapy, support groups, and informal conversations between friends. They are universal and common to us all. All of us wish we had been told these things by our parents. Very few of us were told these things by our parents.

That doesn’t mean we weren’t loved by our parents, it just means that they didn’t know that they could and should say these things out loud. It wasn’t something that people were talking about. 

But now people are talking, and they keep saying they wish they’d heard these things from their parents. And as long as our children are alive, we have the opportunity to say those things. We can fulfill their wishes with these simple words.

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