Vail Family Matters: Parent’s words stick for a lifetime
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –As I was sitting in the park the other day in the Vail Valley, a little girl came up to me. She was struggling with a kite. It was tangled and she was concentrating diligently on a solution. She finally realized her problem would be solved by turning the kite over and untying the strings at the source.
“You’re smart”, I remarked. “No, my sister’s the smart one, I’m clumsy and I never stop talking.”
I was shaken at this small thing’s opinion of herself. It was so disheartening to hear her make self-deprecating remarks – she couldn’t have been more than eight. When I asked why she said these things, she replied, “My mom tells everyone that.”
In the mere 30 minutes I sat and chatted with her, this perky third grader told me she was “always late,” “never tidy” and “no good at reading.” These ideas, already firmly planted in her pretty, tousled, blonde head, seemed dangerous to me. I told her I loved her curly hair and that she was exactly the kind of girl my daughter would have liked to hang out with at her age. She beamed, but there was a spark of doubt there.
Why this bothered me so much, I couldn’t say. It was the last day of school for my kiddos and I was feeling quite elated and summery. It takes a lot to disturb my happiness when the weather is warm and clear. I love the summer like I love NFL football and guacamole, like I love when the bathroom scale cooperates, like I love having the house to myself for 30 minutes after never being alone for 22 years.
I wanted to rescue this little girl and bring her home with me, but I reminded myself I could be charged with a crime for that, so I resisted.-
In the hopes of saving our children from years of therapy, I think we should be very careful about the daily messages we send out. Hearing such negative input when we’re young, which in fairness to many parents is often said half-seriously or in jest, sticks. These kids may grow up to say to themselves, “I’m just not qualified,” “I’m just not good enough,” etc. Or, they may just turn to martinis for friendship, which, I’ve heard, in quantity seems to help.
One of the best things we can do for our kids is to arm them with self-esteem. I’m not one who subscribes to the silly parenting theory (sorry, but it is) that you should tell your kids they’re utterly fantastic at everything they pursue. I once knew people who insisted their child was brilliant at the violin but wore earplugs while walking around the house. Instead, I believe we should be giving them positive messages that reaffirm their value and instill a belief that they can do almost anything with enough effort on their part.
Telling my son he’s unfortunately inherited my headaches is probably alright, but I can’t say I’ve never planted negative seeds myself. I know I’ve jokingly told my daughter certain body parts of mine have been passed on to her. We even called my smallest son “Boozer,” not the best nickname for a 2-year old. My dad told me I should rub brandy on his gums while he was a teething toddler, he absolutely loved the taste and cried for more.
These missteps are hopefully harmless, but the little girl I met had been given an earful. As I was leaving the park my new friend stood up. “Cute shorts,” I said.
“I don’t like them ’cause they show my legs and I have my mom’s chubby gene,” she replied.
“Did your mom tell you that,” I asked.
“No, grandma did.”
I certainly don’t have all the answers, I have my issues – I fear small spaces and cottage cheese – but confining our negative remarks is just responsible, whether they’re about our own families or others. Patterns are passed on from generation to generation.
Kids sift through enough negativity during their schooldays. When they come home, they should feel they’re in a haven of support. I hope my little park friend finds that.
Jill Marchione Papangelis is a freelance writer and mother of four. She lives in Edwards with her family. Send column suggestions or comments to email@example.com.