By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | December 3, 2014
After reading the post, Great (and Not So Great) Expectations from two weeks ago, I received a comment from a reader that had a childhood not unlike many of us. I was so touched that I would like to share that with you.
“It makes me remember how I would have loved to be constantly told that I’m worth it. That everything will happen for me. I guess I need to start saying these to myself.” ~Anonymous
One year at a Parents Anonymous conference, I took part in a workshop in which the speaker talked about several aspects of parenting and then led us into an activity that forever changed how I thought about things we say to our children.
To begin the exercise, she dimmed the lights and asked everyone to close their eyes and relax.
She first asked us to imagine the place where we lived as a child: the furniture, the curtains, the lighting and so on.
There’s my bed, my desk and dresser – ugh, and those awful curtains! It’s curious how we remember so much with such vivid detail.
Next she asked us to imagine our parents standing in front of us: what they were wearing, how they smelled, their faces and so on.
Mom wears shorts in the garden and Tabu perfume, Dad likes Old Spice and dresses in work clothes. Their faces depended on whether or not I was in trouble.
The workshop speaker asked us to think about things our parents said us when we were kids.
Dad was not verbally abusive but Mom said several things that are burned into my memory: “Just look at her and she cries,” “Good for nothing,” “Lazy,” “Useless,” “Like tits on a boar,” “It’s just alligator tears.” My mother had her own baggage left over from her own childhood, I’m sure, and she could never let go of that.
Then the speaker said for each of us to imagine the things we would have liked for our parents to say to us.
You could have heard a pin drop.
In a few seconds, you could hear people – mothers and fathers – begin to sniffle. Many of us wiped at our faces and blew our noses. Being overwhelmed with emotion was embarrassing but the exercise showed those of us in the audience that most of us do not get the support and attention we wanted and need as children. I would like to say that I did not cry but I did. If I could have seen this coming I would have excused myself and left the room long before it got started.
My parents were cold and distant. My mother turned me away when I asked for help; the abuse I was experiencing from my older brother was never stopped or punished. That told me loud and clear that I had no value; I was worthless and anyone was more important than I.
What I would have wanted to hear is something that turns over in my mind often: “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong to whip you,” “I should have listened and protected you,” “You are just as important to me as your brothers.”
We know how situations like this play out in life: low self-esteem kids tend to allow others to abuse them as well. We feel somehow as if we asked for abuse and trouble always came our way. I remind you of this, not to gain sympathy, but to show you how important it is for parents and others to guard and nurture children’s self-esteem.
What can you do at this stage in your parenting career?
Parents can not only show their children how important and loved they are, but to tell them. Hearing those words from parents is giving them the very gift kids want and need most. If you think, ‘I show my child they are loved,’ I am here to tell you that children still need to hear the words. And I don’t think it matters how old the kids are.
People around children, like relatives and school teachers, can use words to tell a child that they matter, that they are as important as any other child, including the ‘class pet.’
Many parents like me who grew up with parents who were not affectionate, may not be comfortable expressing those feelings. I understand and sympathize with that. But more important than our being comfortable is our kids need to hear those words to validate that emotion. Start small, practice saying the words while you are alone. Work up to something simple like, ‘You are the coolest kid’ or ‘You are so special.’ When parents feel more at ease then begin with language that has more impact like, ‘I love you more than million bucks’ or ‘I need you to know how much you are loved.’
When my mother died in 1996, we looked through her home for things we wanted or could use. I was looking for something special, an envelope perhaps. I searched her dresser drawers and in her file box.
An odd relative, one we rarely ever saw, was watching me and finally, “You seem to be looking for something; what are you looking for?”
I told the truth, “A box, maybe an envelope; I am looking for the love and respect that I never got while she was alive.”
Chins dropped and glances shot back and forth but I did not care. Those people on the outside never knew or could imagine what I went through with her as my mother. I would have been the happiest human being alive if I had found that envelope, the one that no doubt never existed.
We all need to hear positive messages and even more importantly, that we need to give those messages to others, especially our children. Positive messages are not flattery or empty praise; they are heartfelt and genuine. It takes courage to admit something like that to the world, that we have needs and worthiness, but we all do – every single one of us.
Recently I put a poster on Facebook… “Behind every child with low self-esteem stands a parent with low self-esteem.” ~Tinker
The idea of a pen name always intrigued me – I am Tinker. As a child I wrote poetry on various topics as Tinker: love, animals, God and even racism. I put those poems together in a little notebook. My mother threw all of my writings away; to her they had no value either.
In the 17 years I lived at home there was not a single hug or kiss from my mother. Because children do remember the smallest details for a very long time, do not delay another minute. Children need to hear from the most important person in their lives, just how important and loved they truly are. Do it.
Note: I apologize for any repetition in themes but please be patient with the damaged, imperfect human being that I am and know that my #1 goal here, is to prevent more of people like me.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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