Adoption Blogette: Parents as Children's Mirrors

I have been looking for a compact mirror to keep in my bag. I was tickled to find this one in my (adoptive) mother’s belongings. I’m not sure where she got it. It has her name engraved on the front.

It reminds of me one of the foundational concepts I impart to some families when we first start our work together. We are our children’s mirrors. What we reflect back to a child about who they are will become what they believe to be true about themselves.

If we are frequently annoyed by a child and are not self-aware of how this impacts our tone, messages, and body language, they may learn “I am an annoying person.”

“I am a person who makes others angry a lot.”
“I am hard to love.”
“I am unpleasant to listen to.”
“I am a disappointment.”
“I am a troublemaker.”

Internalized self-concepts like these don’t give children insight that their behavior could change. It doesn’t give them a drive to try to do something different. These are resignations to a fate within which they feel perpetually trapped. Especially if they fundamentally believe their caregiver’s perceptions of them are impossible to reverse.

Children are motivated by healthy relationships with a caregiver who shows them unconditional positive regard. Kids can have traumas and disorders (ie ADHD) that make them highly rejection-sensitive or more likely to not absorb positive messages sent their way. Even so, adults are the most responsible party for every parent-child relationship.

Then there are internalized self-concepts not tied to behavior but still very much from what adults reflect back to children.

“My color should be overlooked.”
“My hair is an inconvenience to be tamed.”

I had a world of mirrors growing up that told me I was “too tall,” “too ugly,” “too loud,” “too complicated,” “too emotional,” and “too opinionated.” I was often a veritable firecracker of emotion and obstinance (qualities I have since grown to love).

Although my mother was frequently openly frustrated with me, she did think so ridiculously highly of me to a point I sometimes was embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed by it anymore. I think the internalized self-reflections from adults who openly and unabashedly care for me saved me from myself in my darkest moments.

The smudge on the upper right-hand of the mirror the mirror is her fingerprint. Perhaps she had touched crafting adhesive before handling the mirror.

It’s fitting. I think I will leave it there.

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