Our children are bombarded by toxic messages — from media and television, from peers and perhaps from us — about what’s required in order to be acceptable, in order to be fully loved: be smarter, be thinner, be stronger, be more popular, do more, do better, do your best … It’s an endless stream of prerequisites to feeling worthy. The underbelly of those messages is the unspoken take-away: I’m not enough just as I am. I’m not smart enough, thin enough, strong enough, popular enough, busy enough, successful enough … I’m simply not enough. And as a result, I’m not worthy of love and acceptance.
Assaulted by these messages, it’s a miracle that our children develop a deep belief in their own worthiness. In fact, few do. Few come through with an untarnished sense of being worthy of love and belonging. Most carry within themselves the feeling of shame, the destructive emotion that undermines confidence as it whispers, “I’m not enough.”
While powerless to alter the crazed standards of a hyper-competitive culture, we can ask ourselves whether we’re guilty of conveying our own brand of prerequisites. When our children come into the room, do we greet them with a smile and our undeniable delight in their simple existence? Or are they greeted by words of correction, suggestion, or admonishment? Is their first experience of us in the morning words of complaint or disapproval — “Did you finish your homework?” “Please fix your hair.” “Must you wear that tight sweater?” — or words of acceptance and love? Does our interest in their lives and activities transmit that we value them largely for what they accomplish or how popular they are? Let’s ask ourselves how much importance we assign to their human doing versus their human being.
And what of the example we set: do we demand of ourselves the fulfillment of certain prerequisites in order to feel self-accepting and worthy? “Raising children who believe in their worthiness requires us to model that journey and that struggle.”1 Are we self-accepting even when we err and stumble, when we carry a few extra pounds around the waist or burn the casserole or get laid off from the job? Do our kids see us — actually see and hear us — forgiving ourselves, our missteps and exposing our vulnerabilities? Can we say in their presence, “I’m sad…I’m discouraged … I’m afraid,” without fear or embarrassment or shame, knowing that it makes us only human to feel these emotions? Do our kids see us believing we’re good enough as we are, embracing rather than eschewing our imperfections?
There may be nothing more important than guiding our children toward a sense of their own worthiness. Let’s guide them well.
- Brown, Brene. 2012. Daring Greatly. (New York: Penguin Books).