Esteem, A Child’s Foundation
As a child, I owned not an ounce of self-esteem, and as a teacher (7th -12th) I had many students who also lacked this critical underpinning. I identified with these kids and did all I could to foster their self-image. Self-esteem is the fuel of ambition, determination, goals, and success—in career and persona. Many parents do not realize that their child’s level of self-esteem is largely the result of the actions and inactions of mom and dad. Sadly, those parents are simply not aware of their neglect—and it is indeed neglect. ‘Good’ parents love their children, and they provide the material things of life the best they can, while ‘Great’ parents also give the emotions of life—recognition, pride, respect, acknowledgement, attention, kindheartedness, and most importantly, empathy. These emotional gifts develop the two most important of character traits, a solid self-esteem, and genuine empathy.
I was raised in a beautiful home by my ‘good’ mother, a worthy provider, who worked hard, was kind, and well loved by her many friends. We had the material things, even a Cadillac. But what we didn’t have was affection, attention, compliment, praise, or demonstrative love. She loved us, but owned no empathy whatsoever, and had no desire to show emotional love in any way.
Not once did I hear the three most important words in the world, “I love you.” She never sat me on her lap to read me a story. I never heard “Wow! Great job son,” or “I’m so proud of you,” or “You’re such a good boy.” She never asked about school or homework. Cuddling was absent, hugs very rare, kisses nonexistent, and discussions about anything at all seldom took place. My sister was in the same boat, but we were too immature to realize what we didn’t have. Our older brother, beginning the seminary in high school, captured every ounce of attention from our mom—he alone was noticed and talked about nonstop. There were no relatives nearby to mentor or notice me or my sister, and none of my teachers took a special interest in this quiet, unremarkable kid with no esteem, who barely passed from grade to grade.
The result was a teenager with a complete lack of self-esteem and totally unprepared socially for college or the real world. A very special girl in HS, I’ll call her “Bug” gave me more self-esteem with her one kiss than my mother or family did my entire life. She was the best friend I ever had, and she told me I was really okay–I just wish I had understood. As an 18 year-old freshman at Marquette University (that’s me in my dorm room), I knew I was unattractive, undesirable, unintelligent, and overall pretty lame, for that’s how I was always treated by my mom and older brother—I knew no difference—how could I? I tell you this in no way to blame, complain, or seek sympathy—those are worthless emotions. I do so with hope that it just might induce a person to step back and assess their actions and more importantly, their inactions. To say I struggled to make it would be an understatement, and no child need struggle when the fuel for success is free and easy.
No matter how much you ‘love’, it is of no value whatsoever if not demonstrated. And no matter how well you provide the ‘things’ of life, none of them will give a child the basis for self-esteem, motivation, kindness, empathy, benevolence, or generosity. No “thing” has the value of an air of pride, a pat on the back, a genuine notice, a caring smile and wink, a simple minute of sharing joy, a genuine compliment of praise, or an “I love you.” Those are priceless to a child of any age. And this doesn’t just regard parents. Whether a parent, sibling, relative, teacher, friend, acquaintance, or stranger, notice and kindness matter, and they ‘make a difference.’
Remember this. Being a great provider of ‘objects’ can camouflage what is important. A beautiful home and all the belongings in the world cannot be compared to what can be given free of charge—a compliment, affection, a patient ear, hug, an “I love you.”
When my granddaughter was learning to speak, I would stretch my arms wide and say (and still do), “I love you bigger than the world.” When I would ask her, “How much do I love you?” she would swing her arms out wide, and with a gorgeous smile proclaim with certainty, “Bigger than the world!” Love is indeed bigger than the world. But love, kept concealed, is half the size of an atom, and no matter how deep and pure, it is egotistical love with no value to those loved—it may as well not exist. The same goes for pride, appreciation, affection, admiration, and all things good. Those elements declared and shared are critical to build a child’s self-esteem. To arm a child with esteem and empathy is to give them the very foundation for a full measure of “character” critical for personal and professional success. A parent’s greatest and most vital power is to advance their child’s character.
Whether it is your child, grandchild, neighbor’s kid or a stranger’s kid, they all need those vitamins of character and esteem. So do your part to change our society for the better. Make a difference, one kid at a time, and love—BIGGER THAN THE WORLD—and DISPLAY it brighter than the sun. tj