When to hurt a child's self-esteem (Pt. 1:~ponderings)

This is the part of parenting lessons that we’re never supposed to discuss.  We all know when it needs to happen, but no parent would dare condone the “hurting” of a child’s self-esteem.

I spent 7 years working with children between the ages of 1 and 5.  Returning to college after that, another 5 years would be taken up learning about the intricacies of working with adolescents and young adults.  After three years as an educator–lectures, seminars, classes, professional development– I think I know I’m a better parent because of it.

But I never heard an educated professional say “sometimes, you’ve got to leave a thought in a child’s head that hurts.  Sometimes, kids need their feelings hurt.”

Not once.  But as a parent, its completely true.

Memory lane: “you can’t have kids”

If only you knew the answer before he came back.  Then, he couldn’t see you change; he’d miss your chest falling, your eyes dipping, and the air leaving your lungs would be lost to his ears.  If only you knew what he knew, you would be free.   And as the door swings open, your heart can’t help but quicken–he’s not smiling.

“I’m sorry miss, you have a weak cervix; it cannot carry a  child to full term.  I’m afraid there is a high chance you’ll miscarry the next time you are pregnant.”  He didn’t make eye contact, and as he turned, I began to crumble.   “Not everyone was meant to be a mom.”

*                   *                    *

It was–and still is–the most hurtful thing anyone has ever said to me.  Sure, I can take being called a filthy Atheist.  Say I’m a horrible teacher and you hate me? No problem.  But that doctor, with his well intentions and soft voice, will always be the meanest person I’ve ever met.

He didn’t mean for things to come out that way; he was a doctor and I was a young lady with a very low chance of pregnancy.  He wanted me to move on, to enjoy life–but his delivery really sucked.

The next year I would be pregnant with my oldest daughter, the specialized care center would help diagnose my reproductive dilemma’s, and I became a mother on St. Patrick’s Day that following year.

It’s impossible to describe the regimen of eating, ultrasounds, and medicine that my family endured.  There were nights when I’d wake up, panicked that she was dead.  I’d scarf down ice-cold apple juice, lay down and beg her to move.

My experiences during pregnancy made me appreciate motherhood in a way that is irrational sometimes, but sincere.  I am so grateful that my girls are in my life.

I also know that I have a job–we all do as parents.  Our job is to create young people that are mentally and physically healthy; young people who can critically evaluate the world around them, and decide the best course of action for happiness.  Not just for themselves, but for all the beings that inhabit our planet.

This means raising children in a way that prepares them for the realities that they will face, making sure they can carry themselves in a respectful and honest way, teaching them to think outside the box and evaluate a situation with conscious thought–creating conscious, purposeful actions.

So, is it necessary to hurt self-esteem in order for a 21st-century freethinking child to be properly directed?  And what exactly is self-esteem?

What qualifies as hurt?

Care to weigh-in before we proceed?

5 comments for “When to hurt a child's self-esteem (Pt. 1:~ponderings)

  1. Lynnehs
    September 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    TheSecularParent (btw, should I avoid using your real name?)

    I have an idea for a future post, in case you run out of ideas one day or just like this one. Check this out: http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/09/30/o.troubled.marriage/index.html

    And then ask yourself, are we being too soft on women like this who fail to protect their children? Are they really victims too or co-conspirators in their childrens’ abuse? Maybe by labeling them victims we are allowing them to abdicate their responsibility to protect their children? After all, when a father is abusive the children have got no one but the mother to protect them.

    • secular parent
      September 30, 2009 at 7:52 pm

      I tend not to use my name, but only because I have not so friendly people perusing the site…

      thanks for the post shout out! I’m always up for suggestions!

  2. Lynnehs
    September 30, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    makarios wrote: And so I propose that the statement “I hate or dislike myself” should be changed to a more accurate “I hate or dislike what I do.”

    Interesting. That sounds exactly like something Albert Ellis, founder of Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy would have said. REBT is a variation of cognitive behaviorism (psychology). And I would agree.

    The whole idea that you need to love yourself before you can do anything has some merit. I think when people are miserable they tend to lash out at others. But it can be taken to extremes. I know a woman who dropped out of high school and has been talking about getting her GED forever but is in her 30’s, no GED, no job, and still living with her parents. Her parents excuse is that she has “low self esteem.” The woman’s daughter is likely to get a HS education before she will. But point out that she’s uneducated and or that maybe she should get a job cleaning houses because it’s better than nothing and sets a better example for her daughter and she’s insulted. Maybe if she achieved something in her life her self-esteem wouldn’t be such a problem?

  3. September 29, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Clearly the greater a person’s self-esteem and self-love, the more disappointment there will be if abilities and performance are not comparable. No one hates herself, but she may hate her circumstances or appearance or lack of ability. The very fact that we dislike our appearance or lament our inability or become upset when people or circumstances cause us pain is proof that we love and esteem ourselves. For if we did not esteem ourselves we should not care, and if we hated ourselves we should be glad when things go against us.

    I remember a client coming to one of the therapy groups that I used to run. This was a young man who, until that day, consistently stated that he hated himself. The other people in the group would nod their heads in understanding, because we’ve all been taught that our problems arise from not loving ourselves enough. Well one day this young man came to group and stated, “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love himself.” The other men and women in the group looked at him like he was nuts, and a couple of them said as much. But this very insightful person asked the legitimate question. “If I hated myself, or even disliked myself, what am I doing here trying to make my life better?” As we continued to process this issue, the people in the group, with a high degree of self-honesty, said things like – “If I disliked someone and his wife left him I’d think, “right on! The jerk deserves it.” But when my wife left me I was devastated.” And “If I thought little of, or looked down on someone and she lost her job, I’d silently think to myself “good. I’m glad.” But when I lost my job I felt like I was really treated unfairly; that I deserved better.”

    Of course some brought up the point that people who harm themselves physically are proof positive that true self-hate exists. However if you explore with people who have burned or cut, or gouged themselves, why they were doing these things, you will consistently find that they were:
    1) trying to distract themselves from emotional pain, or
    2) find release from worry, or
    3) find a sense of freedom from control.
    I’ve even heard some clients say they derive a sense of pleasure from self-inflicted pain. It lets them know they’re alive. This drive for happiness, or relief from emotional pain is present in every behaviour from eating your favourite cereal, to going to or, staying home from the movies, and yes even slashing your arms or drinking too much. Out of self-love we not only do good things, but all sorts of injurious things to ourselves and to others: We commit adultery, we lie, we steal, we eat too much, and even commit suicide.

    Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest thinkers of all time once said,
    All people seek happiness. This is without exception. What ever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every person, even of those who hang themselves.

    Regardless of what happens to us, our core of self-love remains firmly intact. When challenged by abuse, neglect or rejection, the fundamental characteristic of self-love will react. When challenged vigorously it will react with a vengeance. Whether consciously, or subconsciously, we choose our behaviours in an effort to protect ourselves. I can think of no exceptions. The fact is, it is just not human nature to protect those we dislike or even hate. And so I propose that the statement “I hate or dislike myself” should be changed to a more accurate “I hate or dislike what I do.” And thank God for that, because we can change what we do.

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