“I got everything I wanted except what I needed.”
It was a breakthrough moment. A therapy client suddenly discovered what he always knew and now could finally identify. By being able to name it, he became a witness to his experience, and could finally begin to feel compassion for himself. No wonder there were tears, in his eyes and mine.
Countless other successful people I’ve counseled have had that same sorrowful feeling that something basic was missing. They got everything they wanted from their parents except what they needed the most: to be seen and valued.
That is the essence of parenting – to see and value your children for who they are, rather than as an extension of yourself or as the means to fulfill your own needs.
I remember as a teenager practicing late one night one of my favorite Mozart sonatas when Dad came into the room and quietly sat down. He had just come home from another long day making screens. As I glanced at him from the piano, I saw how peaceful and happy he looked. When I finished, he turned to me with a twinkle in his eyes and said, “What a good return I’m getting on my investment!” We laughed and I continued playing. It wasn’t what I was playing or how, though because I was fortunate to have lessons since I was four years old, I was admittedly pretty good. It was the way he was beaming that I could tell that he was enjoying me, and it meant the world to me.
In contrast, a colleague told me about a significant dream she had about her mother. Early one morning she awoke to hearing her mother’s distress looking at a stack of photos. “Why aren’t you in any of them?!” My colleague knew that her mother was talking about her. As her mother continued complaining, she finally got out of bed to try to comfort her. “How come you’re not in any of these pictures?!” her mother kept demanding. My colleague gently took the stack and began to look at each photo. She was in every single one. “Look, Mom, there I am! And here! I’m in this one, too!” It was to no avail as her mother kept complaining and blaming her, unable to see her daughter in the images.
When she woke up, my colleague instantly knew what her dream meant. “It encapsulated the essence of my relationship with my mother,” she told me. “She’s never been able to see me. And I’ve always tried to comfort her.”
To be seen by those we love and those we’re dependent on – be they parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers, officials with power over us – is essential to our sense of self and self-worth.
Despite losing his entire family during the Holocaust, or perhaps because of it, my father was a master at seeing people, listening to them wholeheartedly, making each of them feel special and loved.
My brother’s daughter Miriam fondly remembers early mornings they spent together. “Every time we would visit, I would try to wake up before Nagypapa. Yet every single morning, when I tiptoed out into the kitchen, he would be sitting in his white leather armchair, reading the paper. He would just smile and hand me the comics. After reading, we would walk out into the orchard and pick the best-looking oranges and tangerines in order to make freshly squeezed juice for the family. I loved spending mornings with Nagypapa, reading and making orange juice, because they were our special time together. “
“My favorite memory is the famous four kisses story,” my daughter Sophie proudly stated. “Grandpa would pick us up at the airport and the minute he saw us, he smiled and gave each of us hugs and kisses. ‘Mártika! How wonderful it is to see you!’ he would say to my mom, wrapping his arms around her. ‘Jacobka! How are you? I’ve missed you!’ And finally he would turn to me. ‘Sophieka! How many kisses?’ ‘Four!’ I answered enthusiastically, and Grandpa would kiss me on my cheeks, two on one, two on the other. Each visit he would ask the same question and I always replied with the same answer, four. Then one day when Grandpa asked, ‘Sophieka, how many kisses today?’ I thought for a moment and replied, ‘Three!’ Grandpa looked at me with his warm twinkle in the eye, smiled and said, ‘That’s not enough!’ as he began to give me lots more. Every time I relive that story I smile. My Grandpa was a good Grandpa who loved everyone so much and wasn’t afraid to show it.”
Marta Fuchs, a marriage & family therapist and librarian, is the author of Legacy of Rescue: A Daughter’s Tribute (available on amazon.com and blurb.com) and co-author with her brother Henry of the multigenerational extended family memoir, Fragments of a Family: Remembering Hungary, the Holocaust, and Emigration to a New World.