There’s been a recent cry of, “Can we get in your business- you know, as does not pertain to the children?”
A demanding lot, aren’t you?
Fortunately for you, this post actually does have a little more to do with me as an individual than the last couple me as a mom posts. Although it does start out about the kids. Because don’t tell me what to do.
As I mentioned (either in the last post or on social media), the follow up to my somewhat exasperating efforts to enlighten my kids – mostly Charlie- about partnerships and self worth was a discussion of what their actual responses were when I asked them, flat out, What do you like about yourself? What do you feel are valuable qualities that would make someone want to be your friend, or, much later, want to be in a relationship with you? Now, “age of reason” business, of course, set my expectations much lower than what I would expect as a response from an adult or even an older child. I mean, my kids are five, six, and seven. This isn’t Miss America, and we’re not interviewing for college scholarships here. But I did, legitimately, want to know where they were with what they think makes a person worthwhile.
Here were their responses, verbatim-
Charlotte, age 7- I have pretty hair. I look nice in dresses. I can be helpful sometimes. Good at making friends. I have pretty eyes. And I’m funny. I guess.
Lucas, age 6- I have gentleman manners. I don’t mind going last if a girl is going out the door, although sometimes I don’t like going last. I know how to shoot a bow. I can do ninja stuff. I will share toys. I don’t know, Mom. I don’t know if I want to get married anyway. I mean, some soldiers don’t. But I do love you a lot.
Madelyn, age 5- I’m a golden unicorn. (And she walks away.)
Is anyone surprised by Maddie’s response? If you are, you don’t know this child. I’ll be honest, her response relieved me a great deal. I admire my child’s way of being unapologetically herself. While she does, occasionally, seem to be bothered by someone’s disinterest in playing with her or picking at her, she’s quick to shrug it off. Maddie is just Maddie. She has been from birth, and I pray she’ll stay this way, albeit perhaps humbler. You are a golden, awesome unicorn, baby. Do you.
Luc’s response was pretty precious. He’s always been pretty attached to his mom, but we also have similar personalities in a lot of ways. Luc is an empath, for sure. He’ll pick at his sisters and occasionally stir up some trouble, but for the most part, he’s a peacemaker. He’ll give up a toy, negotiate a resolution, give up his personal end game to end a conflict. Conflict (aside from the age appropriate tattling) is not his thing, although he’s learning to stand up for himself more often than he used to. He’s keenly interested in the military and has learned a lot about it, especially given Darrin’s military career, but what I find interesting in his response is that he’s using it as a way out of marriage. What little boy thinks about that?
Well, my son, who also lorded over his sisters that the military will pay for his education, so he doesn’t have to worry about scholarships or student loans like they do.
I pointed out some things to Luc, given that he’s a little older, to see if it registered anything about himself he may not have considered. I don’t think he was all that interested, nor did he appreciate my trying to pry as to why he wouldn’t want to get married maybe after his military career and have kids. He likes kids. He didn’t want to talk about it, but this is a small confirmation that I think, on a subconscious level, the divorce of his parents has largely affected him. He worries about me regularly, checks on me, and gets territorial of me when I’m in male company. His personality is not very similar to his father’s, nor does he remember seeing much interaction between his father and I when his father still lived in the house. It’ll be interesting, as he grows up, to see how his feeling about this changes. But I was glad to see that he did acknowledge that chivalry is desirable.
And then there’s Charlie.
Now, she’s right. She is a beautiful girl.
She does make friends fairly easily, and she can be hilarious. Her facial expressions are priceless, and she knows it, that little sass bucket. But as she is nearing her eighth birthday, I struggle not to project on to her a little bit. By age nine or ten, I was being bullied mercilessly for my looks, being smart, playing soccer instead of doing dance/cheer/tumbling/softball. All of these negative comments made it very hard for me to see any qualities I had as desirable because I was clearly missing the mark on these other ones that resulted in so much persecution. While puberty did sort out my looks (and by age sixteen, I had a lovely, feminine figure), and going to a college prep school did sort out the abuse for being smart, bullying did follow me through high school. I won’t get too far into the other sources of negative and critical commentary, but I will say it took me into my twenties to figure out that I’m actually pretty awesome. Their hurtful speech became my self talk, and it was very harmful.
So when Charlie tells me that what she sees as valuable centers largely on aesthetics and socializing, I have two concerns. 1) That my child does not realize how many other really neat things there are about her in order to build a well-rounded sense of self to safely put asinine peer critiques in their place. 2) That she may be judging others by the same standard, and being better suited to that criteria than her mother was, could be contributing to hurtful talk about a peer (read: she might be a bully). The clock rapidly ticks down these days with kids and their remarks to each other on things they have no business discussing, and with how early and long I suffered under my peers, I feel the pressure I mentioned last post about starting to correct this.
The other thing I noticed about Charlie recently is that she often tells herself she can’t do things, especially if they’re not particularly appealing or if she’s failed in a similar area previously. Some of it is laziness (she approaches school work like her father- if there’s no interest in the topic, you have better luck pushing the tide back than getting them to participate and invest). Some of it seems to be a mix of a lack of confidence and a fear of failure.
Like, babe, do you realize you have so many great leadership qualities? She isn’t afraid to delegate tasks, step up and make a statement, suggest a different approach/game/theme. She also does a great job of not escalating peer conflict by removing herself from interactions with others she doesn’t play well with, and she does it without feeling all that sorry for herself most days. She’s very clever. Somewhat an opportunist, but she’s got skills with taking a situation and finding how to spin at least some of it her way. She has the memory of an elephant and naturally mama hen-s her siblings based on how she’s observed me caring for them. She is very helpful. She’s fast with great body awareness and natural athletic ability. She’s okay with being by herself when she wants to be.
Charlie, you’re really freakin’ cool.
So I’ve been quietly inserting some acknowledgment statements and empowerment mantras into my interactions with her. Like her sister, she is willful and stubborn, so she won’t adopt anything unless she makes a conscious decision it’s right for her. But I hope I’m getting into her head subliminally, implanting some more positive self talk around things other than her looks and social graces.
Of course, they spun the same series of questions back on me, which is how I’ll segue to the bit that’s about me and less so about the kids. After having a terrible time coming of age with negative self talk and consistent criticism, it did take years, several journals, and a metric shit ton of introspection to come to the conclusion that I am, actually, pretty remarkable. And given the complete terror I was faced with when I realized I would have to enter the adult dating scene at some point (I wasn’t all that great when dating was like an occupation, and now I’m doing this while working a full time job and mom-ing so hard it’s ridiculous), self love was incredibly important in my comfort with allowing myself to be seen as a potential mate to anyone.
Because I’m worth it. Me. By myself. And it’s utter bullshit to sit a fret over how I should or shouldn’t present myself to be appealing now due to the ridiculous stigma around divorced mothers (if I read one more stupid article on why men shouldn’t “saddle themselves” with a single mother, “how to date” a single mother, or any “method,” in fact, felt necessary to date a woman who was previously married and now has children, I will bite someone’s face immediately). Yes, I was married. No, it didn’t work out. Yes, I have children, and that comes with the package. No, I’m not defined entirely now. Quit being an asshole.
I was shocked and disgusted at the attention of men who thought I must be so heart-breakingly lonely that I needed their particular company for affirmation. The number of messages and texts sent that were suddenly all about how beautiful I am, how stupid my former spouse was, how great it was that I kept myself and life together now that I was a single mom, etc., was pathetic. Was the attention fun? For like, four and a half seconds. Then it was more like, Really, bro? I’m so much more than that. You just have no freakin’ clue. I’ve been runnin’ this shit for a whole lot longer than I’ve been divorced. While some of it was actually well-intentioned and well-received, the vast majority was the result of sharks smelling blood in the water.
So via the cocktail of traumatic childhood experiences, the death of a marriage, and some real creepers, I have learned to become more assertive with my personality, and while situated in my relationship with Darrin have made it a point to thoughtfully express myself, my views, and my preferences/needs very clearly. Make no mistake, I’m proud of my mom status and how I’ve weathered this divorce, and Darrin sees much further than those things while still properly appreciating them. But if that’s all you can see, you are looking into a well and completely misjudging the depth (although, in fairness, I can count on one hand the number of people who do, legitimately, understand the depth).
Ladies in my “position”- value yourself enough not to buy in to the stereotypes, false flattery, and fear of loneliness. Wait. Do you for a while. Gentleman checking out these ladies- understand that these women are still people, and their personalities have so much less to do with their position or their looks.
And now, what you’ve all put up with my mental ramblings for, the list of things I value about myself and what I think makes me a valuable partner-
- I hold myself accountable- I will check myself before I wreck myself, and when I’ve done wrong, I’ll admit it, seek forgiveness, and reconcile. It’s highly unlikely I’ll make the same mistake twice, especially if there was damage that resulted from a character flaw.
- I evolve- I take every event, interaction, conversation, and failure into account, mull it over, and grow. I either win or I learn, as cliche as I know that is. There is something to be gained from every occurrence that can make me a better human, and I will always work toward being exactly that.
- I am resilient, efficient, and adaptable- While occasionally unorthodox, I reason very well. Regardless of the difficulty I’m faced with, I very quickly prioritize, then put my head down and do work. I don’t have the set of skills necessary for this? I’ll find someone who does and ask them how to do it, or I’ll research until I do. That didn’t go well? Okay, plan b.
- I think 360 degrees around any given situation- There’s more than one way to view or address any and all subjects. I can accept when I’m presented with a view I either had not considered or do no agree with, and I will also make an effort to consider any other views I can conceive of on my own.
- I have a smile for everyone- Seriously. I will and do smile at everyone. I will say “good morning/afternoon/evening.” I will actively listen to strangers. I will be friendly and respond to any verbal interaction so long as it’s appropriate. I like people, and I think a little more friendliness would go a long way these days.
- I know how to be and value being alone- I’m good on my own. In fact, I need to spend time alone sometimes. But beyond that basic sense, I can figure out how to fend for myself, too. I’m not afraid to duke it out for myself and my kids, and I am confident that I can come up with satisfactory resolutions for my own issues.
- I am supportive and prefer to spend most of my time in the supporting actor role- I will be anyone’s cheerleader. I’ll be your accountability partner. I’ll hold you hand, brush you off, motivate and encourage you as often as I reasonably can. It doesn’t have to be about me all the time, and I’m actually much more comfortable making things about someone else.
- I say what I mean, and I mean what I say- My family calls me a “truth wrecking ball” due to my lack of verbal finesse sometimes. I’m blunt, but I’m honest. I can take your honesty, too. I believe completely and down to my core that words are binding. You can count on me to back up what I say.
- I approach my Catholic faith with the wonder and awe of a child.
- I’m a work horse- I am not afraid to work and work hard. You need help? If I’ve got a baby sitter, I’ll backburner my plans and work until that shit gets done. Point me in the direction of what needs doing and how you’d like for it to be done. I got you.
- I know my limitations- And there certainly are a few. I have some gifts, but I know when I’m lacking in an area and shouldn’t attempt to insert myself.
- I am compassionate, empathetic, and respectful- I believe in the inherent dignity of all persons. I don’t have to like you or agree with you, but I do feel it necessary to see your humanity and, if nothing else, treat it with appropriate respect.
- I have a heart full of gratitude.
- I laugh easily and often until I cry- Seriously. I’m always three seconds off from a laugh. There’s always some sunshine somewhere.
- I’m easy to please, easy going, and easy to be around- It doesn’t have to be difficult. I don’t like being difficult. I will address the difficult aspects of myself on my own, or save them for those whose role in my life it is to help me address them.
- I am very intelligent and continue to actively collect knowledge about any and all things.
- I am durable– Silly as that sounds, I’m physically very…sound. I can take a physical beating and in fact enjoy difficult physical tasks. I’m strong that way. I think “fit” is a relative term. I like doing things that aren’t normal, and I’m physically capable of doing those things. Or providing manual labor.
- I am passionate- I am passionate about anything and everything. Or passionate about having no feelings about a thing at all. I’m also very physically expressive. I’m a physical person.
- Conflict does not scare me- I have boundaries, and I will enforce them. I won’t enjoy hurting anyone’s feelings with them, and I always try to assert my needs in a way that respects the other person as much as is possible. But I’ll tell you what’s up.
- I am multi-faceted with numerous interests that make it easy for me to adapt to most situations, at least long enough to indulge the interests of my chosen company.
- I take pride in being someone you can be proud to know- I make it my business not to be shady. If I have the honor of being someone you consider a good friend/partner, and we have a healthy respect for one another, you can be sure that I care about how our involvement reflects on you. I understand that my actions have repercussions for others. I won’t change who I am as a person, nor will I fret public opinion too much, but I will keep my nose clean. Because I am clean.
- I enjoy and explore gray areas- This goes hand-in-hand with thinking around situations. Things are rarely black-and-white. There’s always some gray area, and there will always be things that are gray area for the risk. I have to feel everything, and so I’m comfortable exploring these things as I can without risking my integrity. And if I go too far, refer to earlier points. I’m just being fully human. And I think that’s beautiful.
- I am beautiful- In my own way. Physically. Spiritually. Intellectually. Not at all perfect, but the sum of my parts is lovely.
There you have it, folks. I’m sure there are things that I missed or may need to amend, but I think that’s pretty solid. How many can you list? Have you thought about it? Legitimately, I would like to see what you come up with.