I read a very brief, but nice article the other day–I think in WaPo online, but I’ll have to track it down again before I’m finished writing.
Here it is: The magic that happens when adults see other people’s kids as three-dimensional humans by Braden Bell
I hope you get a chance to read it. It’s lovely and encouraging to read his words–not simply for the advice they offer, but that this person has shared a difficult, daily struggle that is completely worth the effort for the revolutionary effects it can have in the lives of others.
We all have specific and ongoing experiences as children that shape who we are. Sometimes they seem so insignificant that we don’t, even as adults, consciously see them as parts of ourselves that we still carry around with us.
I was raised to always do my best, especially in academics. As the first-born child and only daughter among four children, I appreciate now more than ever the “high standard” my parents set for me to meet. My Mom would often stress the importance of my studies and how fortunate I was that I had a clear road ahead of me to go to college. When a parent is able to instill in their child a sense of feeling fortunate without laying on a guilt-trip in the process, that is the type of parent to be reckoned with. That is the definition of my Mom. She was not able to go to college herself. Only the boys in her (very large) family had that option–if they chose. Her enthusiasm for the very idea that I could (and would) go to college was infectious. I never, ever questioned that I would attend college and graduate. Even while in college and meeting with some obstacles along the way, I never once considered not graduating. I owed it to her and I owed it to myself. My Mom supported and encouraged me in all the ways a child should hope to be supported and encouraged. She certainly put in an obscene amount of time helping me study throughout the years. She was determined and so was I.
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to share some fond memories from childhood involving my Dad. I remember him reading to me in the evenings and before bedtime. I had certain books I liked best, so we would read and re-read all of my favorites. He had an endless amount of patience for indulging my every whim. I don’t know how many times he had to sit through Fantasia and though he liked to nod off part-way through, he was still there, in the living room, participating by being present. I hear so much today about young(er) parents, dads in particular, who shut themselves off from their family in order to play video games all night or binge-watch shows on Netflix. There are a lot of ways in which parents screw up, but speaking in terms of “screw-ups” that aren’t heinous crimes, video game addiction that results in isolating oneself from one’s spouse and children is surely one of the most pathetic, in my mind. What I want to communicate is that my Dad was the opposite of that, as a parent. He was always present and involved.
My Dad also stressed the importance of academics and excelling in sports. Here is where the linked article above comes into play. My Dad had the habit of drawing comparisons between his children and other people’s. I can’t speak for anything my brothers might have experienced, so I’ll focus solely on my own. I remember from an early age, my Dad saying things to me regularly like: “I bet you’re the smartest kid in your class.” Part of this was very affirming, part of it was very sad. I felt like I was in constant competition with my peers in school. Sometimes I would tell him that Blaise or David was much better and quicker than I was at the timed multiplication tests that stressed me out so much. I was fast too, and I would never miss an answer, but I wasn’t quite as fast as those two. And it was all about how quickly you could complete the tests, which as I said were timed.
My brothers and I had a neighbor kid we liked to hang out with. He was a little on the eccentric side. Only much later after talking with my Mom did I realize that the reason my Dad made denigrating remarks about him (not in front of the boy, but to me and my brothers) was because he acted in a way that seemed “gay.” My Dad didn’t know my classmates well enough to comment on them other than to remind me that I was smarter than them. When it came to our neighbor kids and the kids who played on YMCA sports teams with us, my Dad would often make critical remarks about certain ones–maybe they were the kids who were a bit weird, maybe shy or effeminate, maybe they acted out too much–whatever it was, I always knew his opinions of them.
As an only daughter, it is very powerful to have a Dad who thinks you’re smart, capable, and hard-working, and who reminds you of those things on a frequent basis. But unfortunately these reassurances had to come at the expense of people who were my peers and many who I considered my friends.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was wrong. That, at least, happened before the onset of adulthood. What I wasn’t cured of was my sense of superiority over other people.
To this day, I laugh at work e-mails sent by my supervisors that are riddled with basic errors. There is a horrible part of me that still thinks that anyone in that position doesn’t deserve to have a job if they can’t write a simple e-mail. Just the other day, I took a screenshot of an e-mail I received from one of my superiors and sent it to my boyfriend with the message: “Jason is having a stroke.”
So yeah, I love to make fun of people who can’t write e-mails. And generally speaking, I’ve cut down on my criticisms by a significant degree. I usually justify the teasing I still engage in by only targeting people “above” me in the hierarchy at work, and never telling anyone but my boyfriend. Honestly, I don’t even feel bad about it.
I have plenty of other types of criticism I do regret engaging in. I want to talk about that in my next post. This one is getting a little long.