Where do we learn about the importance of self-worth, self-confidence and self-love? Whose role is it to instill this invaluable quality in our children? Is it the responsibility of the school system? Or should it come from parents? And can anyone even articulate that this is a quality that is so critical to future success and happiness? And if we can’t articulate it, how do we teach it?!
When I was growing up, loving yourself was a derogatory term; you were said to be “up yourself” so it was a feeling and/or behaviour that I avoided for dear life! It was frowned upon if you were openly proud of your achievements or portrayed behaviour of feeling good about yourself. I was not encouraged to love or take pride in my body or celebrate my uniqueness either physically or mentally. In fact, I spent a lot of my time trying to blend in and be like everyone else.
The school curriculum is still similar to what it was 100 years ago. And while learning to read, write and basic arithmetic is still and always will be critical skills, I am not sure we have kept up with the incredible fast pace that technology has imposed on us. We have certainly started teaching the technical skills, I am astounded to see children as young as two using iPads! But it is not just the use of these incredible devices that needs teaching but the associated change in values and behavior that this technology has impacted and the over exposure of what once was private images and topics.
The rate of depression, anxiety, emotional issues, eating disorders, mental illness is at an all-time high. From 1995 to 2005 the prevalence of eating disorders doubled, 1 in 5 females have an undiagnosed eating disorder, 1 in 100 adolescent girls develop anorexia, 5 in 100 bulimia, emotional issues and depression in teen girls from 2009 to 2014 rose by 55%, the stats go on and on. Why is this? Basically if you look at an average class in school at least 5 girls within that class will have some form of emotional disorder. What are we doing to vaccinate our children from this suffering? Childhood is where our belief and value system is installed and with so many of these behaviors in bedded in our subconscious minds it is very difficult to change once we are adults.
I have spent a lifetime trying to work out how to resolve my issues. I have spent 20 years depressed and miserable; in and out of therapy since the age of 16. If my parents were more aware of how these issues eventuated in my childhood I am sure they would have done all they could to prevent it. There is no degree or qualification in being a parent and yet it is one of the most important roles in life and we receive no formal training. And while we can ensure our children have food, a warm bed and an education how do we know how to raise children to have a strong sense of self? To foster self-worth in a technological world that bombards us with competition, comparison to others and messages of unworthiness? If parents suffer from their own self-worth issues it is often passed on but having blindly walked through the majority of my life without realising self-worth was my issue I am not sure that many people/parents actually realise this is the issue!
Unfortunately I missed out on being a mother. My issues ran so deep that I was not able to sort myself out in time and my biological clock expired. At the time, it nearly crucified me and I reached an all-time low after numerous failed IVF treatments to become a single mother. Looking back now, reaching rock bottom was a turning point, as is so often the case, and I can now say that I am at peace with not being a mother. My children have fur 🙂
So it is from the standpoint of a wounded child, disturbed teenager and then suffering adult, from a woman that has nearly lost her life due to low self-worth. From a woman who is now fully recovered and very self-aware I have concluded the following of where my lack of self-worth originated and what I wish I had been given in my childhood.
1. Unconditional Love. Seems to be a throw away term but what does it actually mean? The definition that resonates with me is it means love without any limitations or conditions. It’s about caring about and making a priority your child’s happiness and well being above all else, and in some cases above your own, and without any thought of what you might get for yourself. For me this translates to making decisions in life with the welfare of your child in the forefront of your mind, loving and accepting your child no matter what they are good at or not good at, through successes and failures, especially failures, not expecting your child to be anything else but themselves, forgiveness in all and every circumstance and constant encouragement and reinforcement through actions over words that the love of a parent is eternal and will not waiver no matter what happens. Providing security and safety; a place of comfort and an environment where they are able express themselves openly without fear.
2. Good Health. The basics of nutrition and what our bodies need to achieve premium health is not really taught in school. Involving children in shopping, preparing and cooking food is a vital life skill and is also a good bonding activity. Educating children on the differences between manufactured, man-made food and whole food is a lesson that I stumbled across; lucky for me it was not through necessity of physical illness. Society as a whole falls victim to clever marketing and advertising of the food industry; reading labels, checking what ingredients are in foods that we eat needs to become part of our lives. Promoting regular exercise and incorporating it as a normal way of living is critical. Family walks I think are a tremendous way to bond while getting some fresh air and exercise. I recovered from my depression partly due to achieving premium health; I now believe that to be successful in life, to be strong in mind, a strong, healthy body is key. Learning to nourish your body is learning to respect your body.
3. Relationship Model. One of the reasons I have found it so difficult to find a loving, committed, life-long relationship is due to not having a parental relationship worthy of modelling. I have no clue what a loving, committed relationship looks or feels like. I have no idea how a man and woman in a loving relationship behave and treat each other. I feel very strongly that if parents don’t feel they belong together they need to part ways; staying for the sake of children only ensures that they model a dysfunctional relationship and repeat the same pattern in their adult relationships.
4. Self-Care. As women, we seem to put the needs of others before our own. We wind up feeling guilty if we want to indulge in a manicure or go the gym or even just spend some alone time shopping or taking a bath. And although there is definitely a need to sacrifice for our children there still has to be balance. We can’t give from an empty vessel; we need to fill ourselves up first before we can be there for others. Teaching children to take care of themselves through good health and exercise, making time for their passions and interests, the importance of alone time and balance between activity and quiet time, that looking after yourself is not something to feel guilty about but is a normal part of life.
5. Body Love. This is the number one source of anguish for teenage girls. Teaching girls that the endless parade of perfect bodies on all forms of media is not reality. Being aware, and protecting where possible, that media, both mainstream and social, is where so many of these messages of competition and comparison are derived. Fostering a love and respect for their bodies as the miraculous machine that keeps them alive and has to last a very long time rather than the source of their self-worth. Treating the vessel that houses their soul with the utmost respect, grooming it, bathing it, nourishing it, exercising it, lovingly appreciating and taking care of every part of it. Celebrating the uniqueness and differences in everyone’s body and instilling a sense of pride of their own personal style even if it is different from your own or their friends.
6. Quality Relationships. Teaching the difference between genuine friendships and acquaintances and the importance of maintaining the good ones is another skill I wish I had learnt throughout childhood. Women are notoriously bitchy! Often driven by low self-worth… but learning to recognise and foster the sincere relationships, learning how to be a reliable, caring, trusty worthy friend, the importance of having a couple of close confidants over a dozen acquaintances who barely know you, that being popular is not the goal. Also, respect and loyalty to family; fostering a family unit and placing a priority on family love over romantic love. Unconditional love is not just for the parent/child relationship but should extend to the sibling relationship. A parent is in the unique position to ensure that sibling love is one of the quality relationships that must be fostered and respected as it has to last and serve as a replacement after parents have passed.
7. Respect Individuality. This is closely related to unconditional love but I want to be a little more specific. I was a shy, introverted young girl and more so through my teen years after an interstate move at the age of 14. I felt constant pressure to be more sociable, to be outgoing, to talk more, to be what I so clearly wasn’t… I was told I was too sensitive, too emotional, that I over reacted to everything and I was told this well into my adult years. Pressuring a teen (or anyone) to be a certain way that doesn’t come naturally to them is not going to foster self-worth. The message being sent is that you are not good enough the way you are. If the temperament is quiet and reserved, encourage interests and passions that are aligned with this kind of personality; reading, writing, individual sport, music, while also encouraging the quality friendship aspect with obviously a one on one rather than group activity. If sociable, then encourage the group activity concept but also ensuring that the importance of alone time is also understood. Either is ok!
8. Personal Tool Box. In times of stress, pressure, confusion, sadness, grief or any other negative challenge that is inevitable, a suite of tools that can be utilised to ride through the down times. We are not taught in school how to deal with the challenges in life such as death, depression, divorce, heartache and while these are usually adult dilemmas I wish that I had been taught through my childhood and teen years the mental and spiritual tools I used to recover from depression. These could be personal mantras or affirmations, the benefits of meditation or yoga or tai chi, journaling, how to visualise to achieve goals and move forward in life, the importance of gratitude, the value of having a coach or mentor outside the family unit, the importance of personal development and ongoing learning about oneself. Or any other spiritual tool that resonates.
I have used the word teach a lot however children learn far more by observation of their parents behaviour and attitude to life. If a parent is not comfortable with any of these points it is going to be very hard to incorporate them within the family environment. I now understand why I missed out on having children as I would only have passed on all my negative beliefs and issues to my children. I naively assumed that having children of my own would correct my own difficult childhood. And although I would have taken care to not repeat the few traumatic events of my own upbringing it is the lack of self-worth that has plagued my adult years, that I wasn’t even aware of, that would have shone through and affected my children.
I am no expert by any means and these comments are all my personal opinion formed from my own heartaches. And I can hear many parents saying that discipline is necessary which I am not denying. If discipline is conducted with respect and with all these suggestions in mind then maybe, just maybe, we can tackle the increasing number of wounded children, teens and therefore adults and empower girls to go out into the world being the best they can be from the outset. And not waste 46 years like I have!