I have had the incredible good fortune to listen to thousands of people tell me their most heartfelt thoughts on a whole range of topics. Those insights are ones I like to share with others. It makes them “go viral,” in a way. And I hope they enrich your life as they have enriched mine.
One of the insights comes from having listened to men and women talk about their fathers and mothers (and grandmothers and grandfathers). They often tell me about their careers and interests, but that never rises to the level of the most important information they want to share with me about them.
Without exception, the most important information men and women share with me about their fathers and mothers is whether they were convinced beyond any doubt that they were loved by them. They talk about whether their parents showed up for them in various ways. Yes, they remember—even decades later—whether their parents attended their games and performances and teacher conferences. But they also remember whether they were listened to by them, whether they were hugged by them, whether they were made to feel worthy by them, whether they were allowed to develop into the people they were truly meant to be by them.
Notably absent from the heart of what my clients have conveyed to me during these 27 years working with them are reflections on whether their parents made lots of money or had prestigious jobs. Those turn out to be mere footnotes in their minds. Sure, they will remember—sometimes with sadness—if their parent suffered devastating financial reversals that impacted their lives dramatically. Yet, even when sharing those traumatic circumstances with me, they will note whether a foundation built from the certainty that they were loved saw them through it.
I mean for this insight to be reassuring. I mean for it to be clarifying. If you love your kids deeply, they will know that. I promise you. If you picked them up and held them when they skinned their knees, they will forgive you lots of stumbles. If you asked them their opinions as they grew up, they will let it slide when you are sometimes rash in your judgments. If you made them feel sure that all they would need to do is to call you and that you would drop everything in a crisis for them, they will never forget.
In the end, what people register most deeply about their parents—years later or decades later—is one thing: Love. Did they feel it from you or not? That’s a pretty good argument to let yourself tell them you love them and show them you love them. Sometimes, that’s harder than at other times. But it is always worth the effort.
By the way, expressing love turns out to be the currency of greatest value in lots of other situations, too—in connecting with friends, in sharing with partners why you love the business you’ve created together, in letting employees or coworkers know why you love what you do, in imbuing your artistic work with the absolute best you can summon from your core, in expressing your heartfelt views about this world we live in together.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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