Authenticity is a subject that has come up a lot in my household lately. There has been a shift in our schooling of the older boys toward larger amounts of writing and public speaking, and that process has brought questions on what makes someone’s voice not only unique, but authentic and real. I have been writing, to some extent, since I was a child. I have stacks and stacks of journals that were on my bedside table, newspapers I created in my basement, books I wrote and loved, and eventually articles and blog posts that are out in the world. Every time I hit the publish button on something, I have a moment of fear if my voice, my perspective was truly my own. In this world of social media it feels so easy to write, say or do something simply because it will be viewed more often, or pinned more regularly, or shared all around the globe. There are numbers to look at, or page rankings to consider, or any number of factors that at times, frankly, feels so draining and odd. On the flip side of that, there is an amazing community of writers, parents, teachers and artists that are out there, everyday, sharing a piece of themselves in the hopes that their authentic voice will be heard and that their opinion will matter and make a difference.
It isn’t an easy task to teach children to find their authentic selves. We all remember what it was like to be a young kid, to want desperately to fit in, to have our friends like us, to walk into school or onto the field, or into the dance studio and feel accepted. It is easier that way, in reality. However, in the long run giving our children permission to be authentic does set them up to be able to take a stand later in life. We need strong youth, the world shows us that every single day. We need our children to grow up and not only know who they are and what they truly believe, but to be able to convey those feelings and opinions without hesitation. When I read an article, an essay, a book, or hear a talk from someone who is speaking with their authentic voice, I am compelled to act, to listen, to take in and truly asses what they are saying. Even in my relationships, the more authentic, the more they impact me. Our children need to find those books, or movies, or relationships and interactions. The younger the better.
As my own kids are embarking on this journey, or at least the first steps of it, I am reminded that it is my actions they look to emulate. That scares me more than I can say, because I am on my own path, and I make a lot of mistakes along the way. They remind me that they are watching what kinds of relationships I value, who I let into my life, and what comes out of my mouth. They want to see how I treat others, what kind of friend I am, and what I value as important. If this is not the most important time to be authentic, I have no idea when it will be.
The process of authenticity is an always evolving one. We are constantly becoming better versions of ourselves as we grow and age. I think that one of the biggest obstacles in authenticity that I have faced is not in accepting others, but truly accepting myself. I feel like I am getting to know myself deeply now, something that has come with time and patience. I don’t wake up and wish that I was someone else, no matter how beautiful or deeply inspiring their lives may look. That isn’t to say that I love every aspect of who I am, more that I am grateful for the things that I bring to the table, to the discussion, to the world. How can I teach my kids to value their own opinions if I can not value mine? How can I teach them to be soft and gentle with themselves, to see their talents and their benefit, if I can not acknowledge mine?
As these kids of mine grow (oh so fast), they remind me that parenting is so much more about our actions than our words. It is the value of modeling that they learn most from. They need to see that we take seriously creating relationships that are based on meaning, that we create value by being authentic and honest, and that we value that in others as well. They need to have open discussions with us that have ample space for asking questions, and sharing their own opinions. They need to hear that those opinions are of value, even if we do not agree with them, and most importantly they need to be encouraged to figure out what they believe and think. Our society asks our children to conform in so many ways, on so many subjects. Society is a collective group of people and conformity to some extent will always occur. However, as parents we want to cultivate the unique, the individual, the authentic that is our child. If we can do that, if we can even give that to them even in small doses, we just may succeed in this thing we all call parenting.