Monday, May 18, 2009

Beautiful Like Me - Inspiration

Okay, here it is! This week's Beautiful Like Me question is In your opinion, what is the best way to build self-esteem?

Like so many of life’s bigger questions, there are more answers, leading to more questions – none of which can be looked at in isolation. Generally, the answer to this question seems to focus on media and culture. I want to explore something else. Something personal and something I believe may be an integral part of finding our way to a better place.

I propose that the best way to build self-esteem is to start with a foundation of respect, unconditional love and support and the recognition that every child is fully human. As a first time parent, I have spent a great deal of time reading all manner of books on the subject of raising children. Despite some significant differences in “expert” opinion about how to do this, there is often a common theme centering on behavior. Specifically, how to get your child(ren) to behave in a way that is acceptable to you as a parent and society in general. I will be the first to admit that a compliant child is a more appealing thought to me than one that might be labeled “strong-willed” but I am increasingly bothered by the means to which we will go to get that compliance. There seems to be very little regard and even less respect for the fact that the child is a human being fully capable of his or her own thoughts and feelings. There is an assumption that they are lesser than; incapable – that they need adults to coerce them about how to feel, how to think, how to behave. I am not saying that children do not require guidance. But I am struggling to accept the ways in which we (parents, adults) try to bend them to our own will. Frequently when it really does not matter all that much.

In case you’re new here, I have triplets. Three little boys who are as different as can be. Three personalities who view the world uniquely, who set out to solve problems in ways that make sense to themselves but not necessarily to each other or their parents. I believe them to be amazing individuals with incredible gifts each their own. But I also need (if I am being really honest it’s more likely that I want) things to run smoothly. Their compliance makes life easier – less challenging – for me. And there is always the underlying fear that if I do not stay on top of it utter chaos will prevail and we will never have any peace again. I’m always outnumbered and having some semblance of order over the situation allows me to feel (as delusional as it may be) like I am in control. But what price are my children paying for my need/want to maintain my comfort zone? How often am I reminding, correcting, nagging and my worst offense that happens entirely too often, yelling at them to obey? What is the message they receive from me, the person they spend most of their time with, the person they look to for guidance and unconditional love? My greatest fear is that what they are hearing from me (never overtly, of course) is that they are not good enough. And I am left to wonder if this is where the breakdown of self esteem begins. And it cracks my heart open with grief because I am only human, I really do try and be the best I can be for them but I am selfish, I am tired, I am overwhelmed.

Two books have challenged me in a way that no other parenting books have and I highly recommend every parent check your local library for copies –

· Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and
· 10 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

I was going to give a little summary of each but coincidentally (or maybe it’s fate??), I just began another this evening and within the first 3 pages I have found myself challenged, moved and inspired. It is completely in sync with the thoughts I am exploring here and so I share this with you now:

Parenting isn’t about molding lumps of formless clay into something virtuous and beautiful. Your child arrived in the world a complete original…Your job as a parent isn’t just to pay for piano lessons, or drive your son to soccer practice – it’s to enable him to explore the full potential of his own personality and intelligence and capacity for love. Parenting doesn’t just mean wiping our kid’s nose and making sure that her socks match; it means throwing kindling on the spark of her potential and ardently fanning the ensuing blaze.

We must not simply police our children, we must inspire them.

If we simply superimpose our will on our children, they will feel coerced... If we bully our children into doing well, instead of bringing out a desire to contribute their unique gifts to the world, they will resent us… We must instead use inspiration so that they become willing participants – enthusiastic ones, even – in their own improvement. Every parent is capable of inspiring their children, and we must now find this talent within ourselves and bring it to the forefront. (from Parenting With Fire,
Shmuley Boteach)

So my answer to this week’s question, in your opinion, what is the best way to build self-esteem, is really a thought I am still developing. One that will ask more questions than it answers but one that I hope I will be mindful of in my journey as a mother. I think the building of self-esteem begins long before the pre-teen years and long before the media and culture at large begin to exert their influences on our kids. I think it begins at home and I think it begins right now.

There are several very talented bloggers participating in this project. Because I am a technical dingbat, I have not figured out how to link everyone here in my post. Check out the Beautiful Like Me Project Home Page for links to all the participants and check them out for more thoughts that will make you think (that sounds funny, but you know what I mean!).


Tricia said...

Danielle, this is so wretchedly true and wonderfully thought provoking. I know that I often require compliance to avoid the ensuing chaos I also fear and that makes for too many gray hair and sighs of exhaustion. I try to remember to make it a respect that my son is figuring out who he is and that I'm his first testing ground, but I know I fail, often. I agree with all that you wrote, and I'm headed to Amazon right now because these are the types of books I know I'll want to palm the pages of for quite some time. Thanks for this post. I love the thought process you're journeying through and although I have NO answers, I am contemplating the same types of questions, and I'm also happy to be doing so.

PS: You are a wonderful mother and I can say that since I've actually seen you in action!

Danielle said...

Tricia, your post about conformity really made me think about these things as well. I don't think any parent wants their child to be a carbon copy of anyone else yet I expect compliane (which can be easily interchanged with conformity at times) without regard to individuality when it's easier for me. I don't think we can have it both ways - and it is scary because I truly fear the loss of control but more than that, I want to inspire them to be everything they are capable of being without concern for what society thinks is "normal" and acceptable...does this make any sense at all? I am still working through it.

And thank you for your kindness. I must say that you have inspired me with your mothering many times.

Amy said...

Danielle, I so agree with you and I really love the way you journeyed through this! You have given me some great reading. Thank you so much!

Lisa P said...

Ha, I'm dumb. I don't know how, but I logged my comment for this post on the "coming soon" post. That takes talent.