The Things That I Can Teach You, But Only You Can Learn
I was having a discussion with my husband in the car the other day and the word ‘empathy’ dropped out of my mouth. My young one perked up from the backseat and asked me what ‘empathy’ meant. I gave her my best verbal definition and we continued on with our day.
I laid in bed that night thinking about that conversation, but more so, her questioning me about the meaning of “empathy.” While my definition of: “It’s when your heart cares so much about something someone else is going through or experiencing, that you feel it in your heart too” did feel like a decent explanation to me, I sat and thought about all the things that I can and have instilled in her from a young age (manners, respect, always wearing pants when you leave the house, etc.)
However, I started thinking about the things that I cannot teach her. The things that only she can learn as she ages and experiences the roller coaster that is life.
Value is the number one thing that came to mind. There are only so many times you can tell someone how incredible they are before it starts to wear off. I remind my daughter every waking day that she is wonderful, worthy, and has something amazing to offer the world: herself. The truth is, as she goes through life, she will run into many people and situations that will, in her mind, prove everything I’ve told her to be wrong.
I remember my mother always telling me I was beautiful when I’d cry to her about my freckles. I hated my freckles growing up. I would wear long sleeves in Arizona’s 100 degree heat to hide them. When my mother told me I was beautiful, I believed her. My first year of high school, I overheard a girl whisper to another classmate: “Ashley isn’t that pretty. Look at her pasty, white skin all freckly and really, she is skinny, but she isn’t THAT skinny.”
I never forgot that moment; it hammered itself deeply into my brain, and while I may have grown up to be a confident woman, those words never escaped me. When I look back on that day, I’m able to visualize what I was wearing when that high school asshole spoke those venomous words; it was the first day I’d ever worn a tank top to school that showed, full flesh, my “pasty-white” arms and ‘”freckly” skin. I went to school that day, nervous on the inside about who I was, but lead with confidence on the exterior, but her words burned deeply.
While what that girl said about me is run of the milll, high school bullshit that we all endured, it was something that weighed heavy on my heart. Obviously, here I am at 31 years of age still recounting that event.
The hard part, as a parent, is that I know that my daughter will experience, on some level, the same experiences. She will be made fun of about some physical characteristic of her’s and it will likely crush her the same way it did me. I cannot control that and I cannot make that not happen. We are all wired and programmed differently and no matter what I tell my young one, no matter how marvelous I remind her she is, the brutal words of others stick with us.
It took me almost 29 years to realize my value. It took me 29 years to realize that I have something to offer the world, that I am good with who I am. That’s a long time when you really think about it.
As I sat and reflected on my daughter’s questioning of the word “empathy,” I wondered what I’m able to equip her with to prepare her for those life moments. In all honesty, the answer is: not much.
I will continue to remind her how much value she adds to the world, how her personality and character radiate brighter than the sun on the hottest of days, that her laugh is the most sublime sound on the planet, and that her squishy nose gives me a tingle in my toes when she plants a kiss on my face.
I don’t know how my daughter will stand up in the face of adversity; I don’t know how she will respond the first time a boy calls her “ugly” or some mean-girl points and laughs because she has toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe.
At the end of the day, the experiences we go through, they shape us. Some of us make it out with just a few bruises to our ego and faint memories of the mean girls we went to high school with, but some of us don’t. Some of us hold onto those brutal words spoken to us by others and we allow them to define us as we grow into adulthood.
My hopes are that my little one; the one who asked me to “call Abraham Lincoln” to see if she could change her legal name to “Barb” as she found that more fitting than her given name of “Haydan,” the one that radiates through my home with more energy than 18 Energizer Bunnies on methamphetamines, will allow the negative words of others to bounce right off of her. I want to believe that I can proverbially layer her body in enough Vaseline that the shitty words of others will only slip right off of her.
The thought of her losing her spunk, losing that tenacity that most 7-year-olds have crushes my heart. And, as she ages, it just becomes abundantly clear that these are things that I need to start preparing myself for.
Parenting young ones is tough. We don’t know how they will internalize the words of others as they grow, and we don’t know if the thoughts of others will shape them, however, that won’t stop me from reminding my little “Barb” that she brings value, happiness, and laughs to not only my world, but to so many others as well.
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