It’s Monday again – time for Coffee and Conversation.
When I was six, my family was driving on an interstate highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living their lives, lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to see what those lives were, and to share my own…
Here, each Monday, I strive to reach that understanding through offering ideas and tidbits from my life. Settle in for a while, and share something of yours.
Public shaming of children has become something of a trend, in the last few years. Television and the Internet are filled with images and videos of kids made to wear signs proclaiming their “crimes” in their own handwriting. Parents are posting shaming punishments on their kids’ social media profile pages, for the sole purpose of embarrassing them.
I was shamed in private throughout much of my own childhood, and, on occasion, publicly, too. There was no social media, then, so I was spared these incidents “going viral” (a phrase that didn’t exist, in that sense, yet).I can still hear the things my parents used to keep me from getting “too big for my britches”. I still feel their sting, and the self-doubt they fostered.
I was intended to trust my parents, and to believe what they told me:
“Hoe can you do something so stupid when you’re supposed to be so smart?”
“You’re just existing.”
“That’s a pipe dream.”
“You have no common sense.”
“You can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”
“You do everything backwards.”
Maybe these don’t seem so bad. It’s likely I’m not the only member of my generation who heard these indictments so often that they became the background of our lives. I’m probably not the only one who still hears them, in my parents’ voices, see the scorn and anger in their eyes. Even at 44 years old I can still feel the sharp stab of them.
For years, I believed them, or fought not to, and the belief and struggle kept me from forming my own beliefs about myself, framing my own journey, and accepting that I am imperfect, flawed…and so is every other human. It’s taken nearly my whole life to love myself as I am, and see myself as worthy.
Shaming children in public ways reminds my of the pillory, the stockade, The Scarlet Letter. We no longer use these techniques on adults, in America, presumably because they’ve been deemed inhumane. It may bring about resentment, bitterness, rebellion, perhaps even estrangement, as the wedge it creates drives parents and children away from one another.
I knew I was being manipulated, that my feelings were being cast aside or wounded so that I would do as my parents wanted me to. There was something in it that wasn’t honest, denying me the right to express my own perspective. It was minimizing, and assumed that their position was the only correct one.
I want something different for my own children. I want them to listen and consider my viewpoint because they trust me, and understand that my experiences and perspectives might give them valuable insights. I want them to trust themselves, too, to know their own strengths and understand that we all have things we aren’t naturally good at, and to know where their path diverges from mine.
When they hear my voice in their heads, I want it to be reminding them that they have spent a lifetime developing their judgment, that they are competent and capable of learning, that they are as worthy as anyone else, and that they can ask me for help without fear of being shamed.
I don’t have that, with my parents. Shaming remains a part of their interactions. They still try to control me with it, and seem not to understand that my goals are not theirs. That’s put a rift in our relationship that might be beyond healing. I go elsewhere for honest, rational consideration and advice. My parents aren’t interested in trying to understand what I value, and why.
That’s not the relationship I want with Jeremiah and Annalise. I’m not interested in controlling them, or in making sure they obey me. I want them to use their own judgment. and I see my role as helping them learn to do that. I facilitate this by giving them information and insight they may not have, with the benefit of wider experience and deeper perspective, and by helping them to understand social conventions, laws, courtesy, and acceptance of others.
Honesty and mutual respect help us to accomplish this. Shame and control would be heading in the wrong direction.
What about you? Were you shamed as a child? How did it feel? Do you use shame in your parenting? Why do you, or do you not? Do you have an opinion about the current trend of public child-shaming? I’m interested in all views, so long as they are respectfully expressed, and do not demean children. Please join in the conversation!
- Coffee and Conversation: Birthday Desires, Past and Present (shanjeniah.com)
- Shame On Shame (jewishpress.com)
- Methods of Online Predators (webroot.com)
- Cafe Owner Faces Backlash Over Kid-Shaming Facebook Post (huffingtonpost.com)
- Don’t Let Shame Hurt Your Child (parents-are-people-too.com)