“Childhood is over the moment things are no longer astonishing.”
– Eugene Ionesco, Romanian and French playwright and dramatist
“How did it go?”
“Good, I think,” replied Rick’s daughter. “I learned a lot about myself.”
Rick had been waiting for his daughter who was in a counselling session. After much coaxing and arm twisting, she had finally decided to go. Rick had been worried about his girl for some time. A single mom, she had survived a physically and emotionally abusive relationship and was now battling depression. On the drive home, she shared with Rick an assessment by the counselor – essentially, that many of her issues stemmed from a sense of abandonment.
Rick nodded as his daughter spoke. He thought of how her boyfriend had left shortly after the birth of their child and how both mother and baby had moved back home for a time. It had been difficult for all and Rick could understand the sense of abandonment. He was surprised and dismayed, however, to discover that he was the apparent source of his daughter’s issue.
Rick’s daughter had been six years old when he moved his family to a new town. He hadn’t consulted his children about the move. He hadn’t felt it necessary. At the same time, Rick had taken on a challenging new job that saw him working away from home during the week and returning late Friday evenings. Though he made a point to spend the weekend with his children, the family dynamic had changed and that change had a profound effect on his young daughter.
In speaking with his daughter and later his other children, Rick discovered that many of his decisions were perceived as having little regard for their emotional wellbeing. He was astonished to discover that his children often felt frightened and powerless with regard to the decisions that affected the family. The move to a new town meant new friends, a new school and added stress on his wife as the primary caregiver.
As parents, we all try to do our best and we are never going to get it right all the time. Rick was certainly coming from the right place – wanting to provide a better home for his family and give them the best of everything life had to offer – but his choices had long-ranging effects he had not foreseen.
Aware parents must be cognizant of the impact their actions have upon the self-esteem or developing sense of self-worth in their children. The foundation of self-esteem is established early in life. Once people reach adulthood, it’s much harder to make changes to how they see and define themselves. The time to build healthy self-esteem is during childhood.
But a fine line must be walked between two extremes. It is easy to become distracted by work or other ambitions and not put the time into parenting that’s required. But on the other hand, many of us are obsessed with protecting our children from the harsh realities of the world. We believe that ensuring our children always feel good about themselves is the road to healthy self-esteem. Unfortunately, this filtered version of life leads to a distorted view of reality and a sense of entitlement. It is only through a process of success and failure that any of us develops an idea of our own capabilities. Parental involvement (from a place of awareness) is vital to helping kids form accurate and healthy self-perceptions.
I read once that healthy self-esteem is like a child’s armour against the challenges of the world. Children who know their strengths and weaknesses and feel good about themselves are more optimistic and have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. As parents, we must help empower our children so they can fully experience all aspects of life, including failures and disappointments as well as the accomplishments and joys. Perhaps one of the most powerful lessons we can teach our children (and remember as parents) is that we must own our actions and that our actions have consequences.
“Self-esteem is the real magic wand that can form a child’s future,” wrote American best-selling author and motivator, Stephanie Marston. “A child’s self-esteem affects every area of her existence, from friends she chooses, to how well she does academically in school, to what kind of job she gets, to even the person she chooses to marry.”
If you have a job that you enjoy or you’re on a career path to higher ground, that usually means time is in short supply. Maybe it’s more than a job – maybe it’s a calling, a mission, your life’s purpose. When you’ve found what ignites your passion, it becomes hard to pull away.
There will always be those days when work takes priority over family time and conversely, when family time trumps work, and the choice will never be easy. Sometimes, I’d like to spend all of my time with my family. Then of course, I would touch no one else with my work – and probably live in a tent. Neither choice would set a great example for anyone about work ethic, responsibility, service to others or making informed decisions. Hence, you and I continue to struggle.
For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.