This evening over dinner the kids and I had a serious conversation. I started it off by asking them one thing that they liked about themselves. C said that she liked that she was nice to people. Big E said he liked that he gave good hugs. I told them that I liked that I gave lots of hugs and kisses. They smiled.
Then I asked them what they didn’t like about themselves, and only themselves. I did not want to hear what they didn’t like about each other! They stared at me for a moment, confused by the question I think, but then C piped up with I don’t like it when I am mean to you. Big E sat for a moment and then he added I don’t like it when I hit you or scream at you when I am mad. And I confessed to them that I don’t like that I am cranky when I am tired.
(Baby E chimed in, You’re mean… *sigh*)
This was an exercise in self reflection. It’s easy for us to focus on the things we are good at, or the things that we like about ourselves, but it is very difficult to take a moment and reflect that often times we are the villain of our own stories. As adults, we may know our shortcomings, but we dress them up or sweep them under the rug to be ignored for another day, and rarely do we confront them in any meaningful way. Rarely are we honest with ourselves in a way that ends in changed behavior or a changed life.
My kids get a lot of praises from us and from others. For the most part they are well behaved children (especially in public) and usually get along pretty well (again, in public.) But sometimes I worry that they are going to fall into the trap that they are somehow inherently good. My children aren’t good. Does that sound harsh? Maybe, but since I’m being honest here, I’m not inherently good either. And neither are you.
I never taught my children to lie. I didn’t teach them to use mean words. I didn’t teach them to push other people, but these are all things I have witnessed them doing. Children don’t need to be taught how to do those things, they just do them.
We do it too. Have you ever been in a situation where you know you did something wrong, but you package it in such a way that it makes it seem like you weren’t really at fault, or the circumstances were out of your control? Yeah, I’ve done it too.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want my children to grow up not taking responsibility for their actions. I also don’t plan on pointing out their shortcomings at every opportunity, but I do want them to recognize them in themselves and come to the understanding that they aren’t without flaw. Having them name what they didn’t like about themselves helped them to own up to their actions. They weren’t embarrassed. They weren’t upset. But it helped them to recognize that some of their behaviors weren’t kind. It was good, for a moment, for them to analyze themselves. After all, if they have an overinflated opinion of themselves, they will have an under inflated opinion of others. And I desperately want my children to love others, and value each person they encounter.
But most of all, I want them to know they need Christ. It is only in recognizing their own shortcomings can they begin to recognize the value and magnitude of what Christ did on the cross for them. And when they understand that, they can truly begin to appreciate the value of another human being.
(PS- please don’t worry about the self esteem of my children. 🙂 They know they are loved beyond measure and we tell and show them that daily.)