I had plans to write a different post today but, like many folks in my age bracket, the passing of Robin Williams on Monday rattled my cage. His death follows pretty closely on the heels of the suicides of three folks in my immediate circle of friends over the past year and a half, so maybe it’s hitting a little close to home. Whatever the reason, I’m a little sideways from all the reflection and thinking. Chances are pretty good that you are too. As evidence of exactly where my head is at, this post has already gone through three title revisions and I haven’t even finished the first paragraph.
I started out with “What I Want My Kids to Know.” It was going to be an inspirational list of life lessons that I plan on passing on to The Monkey and to any offspring of our own making that might one day happen on the scene. It was going to be a list of things for them to remember when the darkness seeped into their souls that would maybe, just maybe, cause them to reach for the phone instead of for a belt. Or a gun. Or a bottle of pills.
Then I expanded the title to “What I Want *All* Kids to Know,” because only a selfish prick would be concerned about just his own kids. The fact of the matter is that far too many kids have very little in the way of positive influences in their lives. Moms and dads who ignore them, or don’t have time for them, or who learned how to be dicks at the hands of their own parents and are just passing it along to the next generation. I wanted those kids to have the list, too.
And then I realized that my list really only had one thing on it. Only one item that I want all kids to know, no matter who they are or where they were born or what they grow up to be. Only one message:
Some of you will be protesting at this point. “That’s so selfish!!” you say. “I want my children to love other people, not just themselves.” To you I say this: if you teach your kids to truly, deeply love themselves and that they are worthy of loving themselves by the very act of being born, you won’t have to worry about them demonstrating love for others. It will be second nature to them, and words and acts of love will flow from them like water from a bottomless well. They’ll be a blessing to everyone they meet.
Still others will be screaming that I’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid of the “self-esteem” movement and that I’m enabling the “pussification of America’s kids.” To you I say this: go fuck yourselves. You seriously want to bitch that a bunch of five-year-olds got medals for playing soccer, even though they didn’t win, as if feeling good about playing is some kind of mortal sin if you didn’t earn it by winning the game? Yeah, you might be exactly what’s wrong with “kids these days.”
If you ask me, the “self-esteem” movement doesn’t go far enough, mostly because they focus on things that are external to the child (medals, awards, grades, etc.), instead of on teaching kids that they’re worthy just because they are. No need for external validation because, while it’s sometimes nice to have, it’s always temporary. Loving yourself should be a forever relationship, 24/7/365 until the day you die.
It’s no mystery why most people don’t feel that way about themselves. From the second we came into the world, most of us were were greeted by a family that did everything in their power to get us to conform. They weren’t being malicious; they were doing what they believed to be in our best interest: teaching us to comply, to not make waves, to fit in so that we would be acceptable to the people around us.
How can you learn to love yourself when you’re taught from the very beginning that you need to change who you are in order to be acceptable?
Before you think I’m advocating a “no-discipline” policy, please understand me: I’m not talking here about your child’s behavior. Children absolutely need to know acceptable from unacceptable behavior. They need to learn about when certain behaviors are approriate and when they’re not (check out the article “We Don’t Play With Our Vulvas at the Table” for some great tips on that subject - http://www.scarymommy.com/dont-play-vulvas-table/).
But they also need to learn that they are not their behaviors, that even when they do something unacceptable or socially inappropriate, they are still worthy of loving themselves. And that’s your job, mom and dad. That’s your job, stepparents. That’s your job, grandma and grandpa and aunt and uncle and teacher and neighbor and family friend. Don’t fuck it up.
I know it’s hard for a lot of us because we haven’t figured out how to love ourselves yet, let alone how to teach our kids to do it. But does the fact that you don’t know how to play the piano mean that you shouldn’t encourage your kids to pursue playing the piano if they have a knack for it? Or does the fact that you’re not good at math mean that you should tell your kids that math is stupid, even if they have a talent for it?
Most kids come into the world with a leaning towards self-love. It’s their natural state, a seed planted in each of them. All the seed needs is a little coaxing, a little encouragement, a little tending and watering. Before long, it will grow into a beautiful, strong tree at the core of their being, a tree that will bear fruit in the form of loving words and deeds.
In loving memory of Mork from Ork, the guy who taught me that it was okay to be a weirdo. Na-Nu Na-Nu.