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Posts Tagged ‘self-esteem’

From my earliest memories, I always wanted to be a mother. I had a bevy of babies that I would wrap up, feed bottles to, change diapers, and talk to, including my actual baby doll, Jill, three Cabbage Patch kids, and an assortment of stuffed animals. They are some of the very few things that I saved from my childhood. I loved playing mommy, it was always in me, and I looked forward to the day when I would have my own real babies.

When those real babies began arriving, I was exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed or irritated, but totally and completely in love. I still am, even though they’re all bigger than me now. My job was very simple to me: I was entrusted with these new souls, these helpless little squishy beings that I brought into the world and depended on me for everything. It was my job to protect and nurture them into becoming caring and wonderful adults one day. Did I and do I continue to make mistakes? Oh, yes, indeed. There are things about raising them that I would go back and do differently if I could, times when I let adult problems overwhelm me and I would lose focus, times when I was just too tired to play or I didn’t listen properly. But I will tell you this: I tried my best to make sure that they knew that they were loved and wanted, no matter what. I hope they felt that way, I hope they still do, because I wouldn’t trade them, or the experience of raising them, for the world

That being said, I know that not all women are geared that way and I get that. I have dear friends who have always loved on my kids and the kids of other friends and family, but are very content not having any of their own. I admire that, because, let’s face it: there’s a lot of pressure for not only women, but people in general, to have children. Kids are a humongous life change and commitment, but society pressures couples to have them anyway. Women especially, who choose to remain childless, are often called selfish or unnatural if they choose to not have kids, a totally unfair judgement. Society doesn’t make it easy to make those decisions permanent, either. Women of childbearing age who seek out voluntary sterilization are often turned down by doctors, told that one day they may change their minds. How insulting! Sterilization is a pretty intense operation for a woman, I seriously doubt that anyone would go through that on a whim, not to mention that it is incredibly condescending to question a decision like that, but I digress.

So, why am I writing about this? I read an article the other day that infuriated me about parents who regret being parents, which again, I understand that someone could feel that way.  In a perfect world, every baby would be wanted and born into a loving environment where all of their needs are met. Unfortunately, not every child brought into this world is wanted or loved. People have children sometimes because they feel like they are supposed to, because of restrictive birth control issues, or because it’s expected, rather than having a real desire to parent. It would be a terribly difficult situation to be in, one that isn’t true for me, but I definitely have sympathy for those who find themselves there.

No, my beef isn’t with parents who regret having children, it’s with the parents who regret having children and then publicly tell the world about it at the expense of the feelings and well-being of those children. That second part is definitely not okay.

There have been several articles written in the past few years by both women and men who regret having children and then decide to write about it, using their own names and stories, such as in the case of Corinne Maier, author of No Kids: 40 Reasons Not To Have Children.  Google it, it’s amazing how many sources there are. As much as I think that those feelings of regret are legit for a lot of people, is it really ethical to air those grievances when those very children will very likely hear or read them one day? Simple answer: No! No, it isn’t. It’s never okay for a child to hear that they should never have been born.

To be fair, many of these articles contain comments from parents who are remaining anonymous or who are using pseudonyms. There are even closed Facebook groups for parents who regret having kids, with the idea that it is a support group. Again, I understand that those feelings are real, even among parents who initially wanted children, and having an outlet to discuss those feelings with others could definitely be therapeutic. In fact, I think that therapy is an excellent idea in general. But it was shocking to me to see how many parents did not bother to conceal their identities, who openly stated that their lives would have been better if they had never had their kids.

Normally, I’m all about being open to ideas and feelings, truly I am. I draw the line, though, when airing those ideas and feelings can only serve to hurt innocent people, especially kids. Kids can’t fight for themselves, they need adults to stand up and do it for them. If your own parent doesn’t accept you, how does that shape your self-worth in relation to the rest of the world? Articles and statements like that are extremely damaging.

Children have no choice about whether they are born or not. They come into this world as innocents, helpless and needy. Part of parenting is to not only fulfill their physical needs, but their mental and emotional ones. When those needs are not met, the emotional damage is extreme and lasts a lifetime. I’m no psychologist, but I’ve had the very eye-opening experience of working with children who were victims of abuse and neglect for most of their lives. Underneath the exterior of violent outbursts and abusive speech, they were still children, desperately looking for someone to trust, for someone to love them. The child who had cussed me out right and left and tore my room apart one day would come into my classroom the next day, lay his head on my shoulder for the entire lesson, tell me that I was the best teacher ever, and let me mother him a little. As damaged as they were, that instinct to be taken care of, to feel that someone out there gives a damn, was still present, as it is in all children.

Children not only want, but need to feel loved and accepted by their parents; it’s a basic life necessity. Sadly, it doesn’t always happen. Families can be dysfunctional. There are so many world problems that it can be difficult to be present with kids and to give them everything they need. But what purpose does it serve to tell a child that if you had to do it over again, you wouldn’t have had them, that they should never have been born, that they should not exist? It’s selfish and destructive, no good can come from it. I can’t even imagine it’s cathartic for the person saying it. What comes next after that moment? What do you say when your child reads in an article or a book that your life has been dismal since he or she came along? How would you ever repair that? I don’t know if you could.

We live in a society where everything is overshared. Social media provides an easy platform for us to get things off our chests and say things online in the heat of the moment, especially when we’re angry or frustrated. I know that I’ve been guilty of that, especially when social media first started becoming a thing. Opening up about things, speaking one’s mind, and speaking truth are all very trendy, but I firmly believe that there are some things that should not be publicly shared. Telling your kids that you regret having them is one of those things.

So, what to do then with those feelings if one has them? Again, therapy is GREAT. I should know, I’ve been in it long enough. There could also be underlying problems that a therapist could diagnose that might be contributing to those feelings, such as depression or anxiety. From what I’ve read in these articles (I tended to be a bit obsessed once I started reading), there are also support groups where one can talk about these feelings without hurting the children involvedHopefully, actively addressing those feelings and having a support system instead of taking them out on kids will help temper the angst into something more manageable.

A wise neighbor once told me that with children, the days can be long, but the years are short. As parents, we only have so much time with our kids, especially when they’re little. We think the sleepless nights will never end, the diapers will never end, baseball season will never end (oops, maybe that one’s just me), but it all will and one day, they’ll be gone and the house will be empty. Depending on who you are, this might make you happy, or, in my case, you will tear up every time they leave after a visit home. Whatever the case, a parent’s job is to turn out grown kids who are prepared to be a contributing member of society. If a child believes that he or she should never have been here, what motivation will they have to believe in themselves, to be joyful, to have a happy life?

To wrap it all up, parents have good days, parents have bad days. It’s a parent’s job to raise the children they have to the best of their ability, whether they regret having them or not. It can be a tough racket at times, mistakes will be made, but if you brought them into the world, you owe it to them to give them every possible chance at having a successful life. That starts at home, in the heart.

Until next time.

 

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One of the things that I look forward to during the holiday season (now that Thanksgiving has passed and it has officially begun) is when It’s a Wonderful Life plays on television. For those who have never seen the film, which takes place in the 1930s and 40s, here it is in a nutshell. It’s kind of a big nutshell, since this is a three hour movie, but it is sooooo worth it.

Small-town Bedford Falls man, George Bailey, unwillingly inherits the Bailey Building and Loan when his father suddenly dies. Instead of studying to be an architect and seeing the world, George is suddenly trapped in the responsibility of carrying on the family business and taking care of his mother while his younger brother, Harry, is able to go off to college to follow his dreams. George marries a local girl, Mary, and they soon have four children. (“George Bailey lassos stork!”) The going is tough, but for a while, he seems to accept his fate. He’s a family man who becomes a pillar of the community. Because he is excluded from the draft for World War II on account of his being deaf in one ear, he helps out on the home front, leading scrap drives, rubber drives, and air raid drills. All the while, faithful Mary is at his side helping with the business and raising the four children. His nemesis, a miser named Mr. Potter, owns most of the town and has schemed to get the Bailey Building and Loan for years, but George always manages to stay one step ahead of him. Of course, this infuriates Mr. Potter, leaving him a “warped, frustrated, old man”.

One Christmas Eve, just when his brother has received the Congressional Medal of Honor from the President of the United States, George’s Uncle Billy, a lovable alcoholic, takes a deposit of $8000 to the bank. Upon arriving, he can’t resist taunting Mr. Potter with Harry’s success, and mistakenly gives him a newspaper with the money wrapped inside. Once at the bank window, he can’t find the money and panic ensues. Meanwhile, Mr. Potter opens the paper, realizes the mistake, but does nothing to give the money back. At last, it seems, he holds the key to the Baileys’ undoing. Of course, this is also the day that the bank examiner has arrived to go over the books, making the Baileys’ situation seem hopeless.

George certainly thinks so and soon his world is crashing down around his ears. He goes to Mr. Potter for help only to be told that he’s worth more dead than alive. He gets drunk and drives (this is the 1940s, remember) to a high bridge over a river and contemplates jumping in to end it all. At the last minute, an angel (second class) named Clarence jumps in the churning water himself, forcing George to rescue him and thereby saving himself. Clarence is trying to earn his wings and sees George as the perfect way to do it. In order to prove to George that his life means something, Clarence, with permission from Heaven, grants George the gift of being able to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. George returns to town to find out that Bedford Falls is now Potterville. Strip clubs, gambling dens, and chaos now reign in the formerly family-friendly streets. No one knows who George is, including his wife, Mary who is now a spinster librarian. (Why are librarians always spinsters in old movies?) Even George’s own mother has no idea who he is and turns him away. By the time George understands what an impact he has made on so many people, Clarence in tow, he is desperate for his old life back. He manages to cause a scene in town and ends up being shot at before running back to the bridge and praying for God to make him live again. Miraculously, he does, everyone knows him, and he’s soon back at home where the bank examiner and the sheriff are waiting to arrest him for Uncle Billy’s mistake. George is so happy at being back that he doesn’t care. Moments later, the house is flooded with townspeople who George has helped over the years, all contributing money to make up for that $8000 deficit, including the sour-puss bank examiner, and telling George exactly what he means to them. To top it all off, Harry-the-war-hero comes in, having flown through a snowstorm to get there and declares his brother, George, “the richest man in town”, followed by everyone singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Auld Lang Syne”. During the excitement of it all, a bell ornament on the Christmas tree rings and George and Mary’s daughter, Zuzu, says, “Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel get his wings!”, which means that Clarence has accomplished his goal of earning his wings, thorough George. Mr. Potter’s is defeated yet again and tears ensue, as always.

Of course there’s much more to it, a lot that I’ve left out, but you’ll have to watch the movie for that. I saw bits and pieces of it growing up, but couldn’t be bothered to sit through the whole thing until after I attended an It’s a Wonderful Life-themed Christmas party at my boss’s house, almost twenty years ago. I remember being floored, absolutely floored by the message. If you follow this blog, you know that I struggle with self-image and self-esteem, just like many other people. There have been times in my life when I have thought that it would have been better if I had never been born, especially after I make a wrong choice that ends up hurting someone, as we all do from time to time. When I feel that way, a quote from Clarence always hits home. “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It’s very true, akin to the butterfly effect. Think about it. What would the world be like if you had never been born, if you received the George Bailey gift and had the opportunity to see the world as he did? What seemingly small events in your life would have never happened, perhaps changing the world for the worse, or preventing a particularly wonderful thing from happening?

If you have children, they wouldn’t exist. Wow. Let that sink in for a minute. You would not be a child of your parents. Would that have changed their lives in some way? Most definitely. Parents rearrange their entire lives, usually for the better, for their kids and without you, what track might they have taken? Have you helped anyone along the way? Did you let someone in your lane during heavy traffic? Maybe that person arrived on time for an appointment that changed his or her life. Did you make a point to be kind to someone? Maybe that made all the difference in that person’s day and enabled them to pass kindness on to others who needed it. Our lives are so very meshed with countless others, many that we don’t even realize and never will, which is the message, and the beauty, of the film. This isn’t a film about rich, powerful, or beautiful people, it’s about us, the normal everyday folks who struggle with lost dreams and self-doubt all the time.

When it begins to dawn on George that he is, indeed, in a world where he was never born, Clarence tells him that he has been given a wonderful gift, a chance to see what the world would be like without him. George sees all of the people in his life that he has touched and what would have happened had he not been there as a husband, an understanding loan manager, a loving son, a supportive brother. It shows us that no matter how small or insignificant we feel, especially when we compare ourselves to our friends and relatives that appear to lead big, exciting lives (Sam Wainwright, Harry Bailey), we do make a difference, especially to the people who matter most. It’s a message that sometimes gets lost in the crush of ambition.

Do yourself a favor this Christmas season; watch it’s a Wonderful Life in its entirety, whether it’s on television or downloaded from Netflix. Be open to the message. Have the tissues ready. Merry Christmas.

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