Object vs. Equal

How do you experience your value?

As a child, I would tell you I experienced my personal worth or value when I did something I was proud of — worked hard to accomplish a difficult task, tried something I was afraid of, or pushed myself to get even better at something I was already skilled at. While I was personally proud, being acknowledge by others, particularly my parents and peers, went a long way in how I saw myself and what I had to offer others. Another way I was valued was by conversations I used to have with my father as I got older. He would often pull me aside to help me through a difficult situation. He would talk to me, give me his perspective and then remind me what I brought to the situation. He told me how he “saw” me and the value I had to offer, the value I didn’t necessarily see in myself.

My oldest son questions his value. He feels this particularly as it applies to the opposite sex. As we encourage him to explore being friends with girls, maybe even test the waters of having a relationship, he is vehemently against it. He isn’t willing to reach out because he concretely believes he will be rejected. As he puts it, “what do I have to offer?”, “I not good enough for them,” so “what could they possibly see in me?” I don’t know that I was able to verbalize these sentiments until I was much older and after much therapy. This got me asking myself when do we start viewing ourselves as objects vs. equals? Things vs. beings that have value. I was acknowledged by my parents, I believe I had experiences where they tried to get me to understand my value outside of my physical self. Yet, here is my son, a smart, nature-loving, athletic kid that struggles with his self-worth.

I felt the spotlight that others assigned a value to my outward exterior most intensely in middle school. My weight fluctuated as I entered puberty. Growth spurts, moving from one state to another, and the loss of a familiar summer sport (I moved to a city that was small and didn’t have a swim team) contributed to my weight struggle. I didn’t know why I wasn’t thin like my siblings. I would have done anything to be. Diet, shame and self-hate never seemed to produce the body that I wanted. It was a burden I carried for decades and only in recent years have I begun to unravel and loosen its grip on me. I would do anything, and I mean anything to help my children avoid this. I’m not sure how to do this, other than diets are a no-go for my kids (healthy eating and getting them moving/exercising — check, putting them on a diet — not gonna happen), to continue to expose them to object vs. equal type thinking of themselves and others — the trappings and how easy they are to fall into; and how to recognize them, avoid them and choose a more enlightened and less self-defeating path.

I have to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to my sons about these things. I caught my sons recently when they mentioned how “hot” a TV personality was. Thankfully we were in our house without anyone outside our family around. “That is a person playing a role,” I chided. “How do you think they would feel if they knew you only thought about them in how they look on the outside?” My boys didn’t like that I had ‘caught’ them in object thinking. “Well, Mom, lots of people think she looks hot, it’s not just us,” one son replied. “That’s the problem,” I continued, “if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you’ll continue to do so. This causes damage when people only see their worth based on what others see on the outside and don’t spend time to get to know what’s on the inside. Do you understand?” “Yes,” they chimed in unison.

This isn’t an easy lesson to teach. We are bombarded with messages that we are only as good as our outward appearance, there are industries built on us buying into this. It’s our job as parents to be aware of these pervasive and consistent untruths that are being told. And help our children combat them.

How are you combating object messaging your child receives? How are you combating messaging that values only your or your child’s outside appearance?

Talk to Me

How would you rate your communication between you and your child?

Growing up, I would have told you I had good communication with my parents. I openly shared with them what was going on in school and with me personally. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I realized my communication with my parents was probably closer to okay than good. I never felt comfortable talking in any great depth to my parents about the important stuff–kids being mean at school, my body, feelings of insecurity, the opposite sex, the act of sex, and more. I held back sharing information out of embarrassment or feeling foolish (shouldn’t I know how this works?). I don’t think I was much different than my peers, I think that’s how many of us grew up.

My husband and I have been committed to having better communication with our kids then we had with our parents. We try to talk more openly about the body and sex and allow our kids to ask questions about anything. We’ve told our boys on a number of occasions that in some areas mom and dad are new talking about these things with kids. Our parents weren’t comfortable or never offered to talk to us somethings and we are navigating new ground. We might mess up, but we’re going to try our best.

My oldest is becoming a young man, and my youngest isn’t far behind. Having our kids talk to us about the uncomfortable stuff makes me grateful (uncomfortable, but grateful). I can see how they could easily decide to only share only the good information, what they think we want to hear, instead of sharing good, not so good, ask questions, and reach out when they are confused or don’t understand how something works, why something happened, etc.. I particularly enjoy when we have a conversation and one of my boys will say, “I’m so dumb, I should know this” and I get to respond, “how in the world could you have already known this? What do you think growing up is all about? If you knew everything already, there would be no point in parenting, we could just birth you and turn you loose in the world.” That always makes them smile. The movie Boss Baby gives them a mental picture of what that would look like, and they find that hilarious.

Navigating parenthood is challenging. As a parent, feeling like you are doing a good job can be fleeting. My barometer is set to how openly my sons feel they can talk to me. If they want to keep talking, hopefully that means my husband and I are doing something right.

How is your communication with your child? How are you helping them feel comfortable to talk to you about uncomfortable things?

The Sex Talk

Being a parent has it’s challenges. One my husband and I have been trying to prepare ourselves for years for is “the sex talk.” This came front and center recently when my boys and I were visiting the zoo. We were at the tortoise exhibit when when my youngest son and I saw some movement. I made an innocent comment to my son when one tortoise nudged the other near her rear legs. “He’s saying, ‘hey, get a move on.'” I thought it was funny, and my son also recognized the silliness of my words. I walked away for a minute to check on my other son who was across the aisle looking at a snake enclosure. When I came back to my youngest son, he was laughing in full hysterics…”Look Mom, the tortoise is trying to climb over the other one.” Ah oh, I thought. Sounds like some mating might be taking place. Sure enough I looked into the dwelling and my suspicions were confirmed. What made it worse was the family that was standing next to my son. The husband who had a baby strapped onto his front was giggling nervously and saying, “um, (insert nervous giggle), I, um, don’t think he’s trying to climb over (insert another nervous giggle).” The wife couldn’t take her eyes off what the turtles were doing. My anxiety went from zero to very high very quickly. My mind started to race. Should I just tell my son the truth, that the tortoises are mating? What questions will that bring up? Is having this discussion appropriate to do in public? Thankfully my oldest son, who had no idea what was going on, rescued me by instructing his brother and I to come over and check out what he was looking at. While I continued to ask myself these questions, and fearing I might be missing a teaching moment, I kept quiet. Give yourself time to think about how to respond on this one, I told myself. My younger son never made another reference to what he’d seen.

This experience prompted my husband and I to revisit how we are educating our children on their bodies and sex. Our boys are six and eight and curiosity about their bodies is happening. While we’d like to think that we are comfortable having these discussions, the truth is they can make us a bit uncomfortable. How much do you share? When?

Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Laura Berman on an Oprah episode several years ago, when she helped parents and their children understand their body’s and the realities of sex. It went beyond the birds and the bees discussion. The two episodes I saw taught kids about how their body works, and talked to teens honestly about sex: covering the mechanics while important, is only the beginning, the heart of the discussion was to help teens understand the reality (emotional and relational) and the potential consequences (positive and negative). Both episodes made me cry. Not because I was disturbed at what was discussed, but because I wished so badly that my parents had had this same discussion with me. My parent’s generation for the most part, didn’t talk to their children in this level of detail, and my peers and I were left to figure most of “it” out on our own. I grateful that I managed to navigate it so well on my own, though sometimes it felt like luck played a bigger role in that than my personal knowledge.

I’m determined to help educate my kids, like I wish I was, on their bodies and sex, even though it won’t be easy. I picked up Dr. Laura Berman’s book “Talking to Your Kids about Sex” and “The Boys Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You” by Kelli Dunham. Dr. Laura Berman’s book is to help my husband and I. The Boys Body Book is to provide my boys with a reference they can read through as needed.

What resources have helped you? How have you navigated the sex talk with your children? How did you work through any discomfort (your own, your partner’s, or your child’s)?