Someone said grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your children. We did our best with our children, and in spite of our efforts, they still turned out wonderfully. We are so proud of all of them! And now, with six grandchildren, the oldest, fifteen, the youngest, under a year, we are enjoying the amazing experience of watching our own children raise children.
This morning we saw an interview with Michelle Obama on one of the morning shows. Something she said really hit me. She said she grew up with constant encouragement and was influenced to believe she could become anything she chose. Reinforcement was constant. While I know very little about Mrs. Obama apart from being the former First Lady, anyone paying attention can tell the message she received when she was young had a tremendously positive impact on her life.
My own experience was much different. I did not grow up with that kind of encouragement, or anything close to it. What I learned was fear and insecurity, which led to a constant sense of anxiety that has lasted throughout my life, to this day.
What I endured back then would be called abuse today. Psychological, emotional, and physical abuse. Giving my father the benefit of any doubt, his purpose was to demand obedience. What he actually did was protect himself from ever being shamed or embarrassed by his children’s behavior. Never hearing “you can do this,” or, “you can be anything you want to be,” or, “believe in yourself like I believe in you,” brought crippling results. Instead of learning what was possible for us, we learned what would happen to us.
My dad lost his own father when he was a young teenager, just when he needed him most. His father left home and never returned. As a result, my father became skillful at keeping others from hurting him, especially those in his own family.
One of my earliest memories of my dad was being afraid to stay with him when my mother was leaving the house. Years later in the 7th grade, I delayed giving my father a report card because I was afraid he would be angry. When I finally brought it home he laughed and teased as he looked over the report. I said, “I got this a month ago. I didn’t bring it home because I was afraid you would be mad.” He exploded in rage. Removing his belt he screamed, “If you didn’t have a reason to be afraid before, you sure do now!” He began hitting me with his belt and kicked me in the shin with his “wing-tip” shoe, leaving a big knot on my shin. “You’ve got a lot of confidence in your dad, don’t you!” he yelled. I didn’t understand then, and I’m not sure I do now.
In December of 1989, my father died from cancer at age 62. I never had the privilege of an honest, strong, confident, reciprocal relationship with him. Were we loved? Yes. Did he provide for his family? Yes. None of that overcame the fear that reigned in our home.
Now, with adult children and grandchildren of our own, our kids will laugh about the look on my face and the things I said when it was time for discipline. I love it. It’s funny and embarrassing to hear them mimick the way I was as they were growing up.
Once when I was going to be away, I had a serious conversation with my three boys. I said, “Hey, guys, I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be completely honest. I won’t be angry no matter what you say.” Then I asked them, “Are you happy when I’m not here?” I explained that I was excited when my dad was gone. The pressure was lifted, it was vacation time while he was gone. I wanted to know if my boys felt the same way. I was relieved to hear them say, “No! We don’t like it when you’re gone. We miss you, it’s more fun when you’re home.” I tried not to instill the same fear and doubt I had, in my own children.
Why have I shared all of this? If you have children, please, please, encourage them! Praise them! Tell them they can do anything and become anything they want to be, even if there’s not a chance in the world they can actually do what they’re dreaming. Who knows? Can you see the future?
Kids will be kids. They’re going to upset you, they’re going to make mistakes, maybe big ones. But don’t ever lose sight of them being YOUR children. You are shaping them, and they will shape others who will shape others. That is a huge responsibility! Speak affirming, not shaming words to them. Don’t say, “You know what you should have done?” Tell them they did a great job. Tell them you believe in them. Tell them they can, whatever it is. Say continually, “I am so proud of you!”
The effect of you, their parent, whether you are a single parent, step-parent, guardian, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, believing in them will last a lifetime!