I grew up in the era of Tough Love. There was no pretending in my home. My mother called it as she saw it, and what she saw wasn't always pretty. If I was trying out a new hairstyle, and she didn't like it, there was none of today's positive parenting tactics to offset the blow. Parents did not give praise in an effort to nurture a developing sense of self. Rather, a simple yet stern, "Go fix your hair," was muttered as her eyes remained fixed to the last pivotal minutes of General Hospital playing on the TV.
Despite my constant studying and hard work, when I got a bad grade in math, there was no sugar-coating my failure by blaming the math teacher for not teaching properly and the school for hiring the crappy math teacher. My parents did not hire a math tutor. They did not sit for hours explaining the homework to me in methodical detail. They didn't even speak to the teacher to find out why I had done so poorly. I got a simple yet stern, "Study harder next time."
When I was mean to my little brother, I was told I was mean. A cut knee or a scraped elbow was not an occasion where my pain was validated by describing me as a "brave little girl." Instead, as my dad wiped the snot from my nose with an old hankie from his pocket, I was told, "Stop being such a baby." Further injuries were not prevented by bubblewrapping me via the purchase of elbow and knee pads.
My mother and father were not aware that speaking the truth was detrimental to the very development of my confidence. Little did they know in the late '70s that the words used to communicate with us then, would today be considered not only cruel, but they would be obsolete. Who calls their kid a baby? Who tells their kids to "smarten up"? To say such a thing implies that they aren't smart, and that's not right. That could...scar them for life! Instead we kneel down at their level, wipe their tears with a fresh Kleenex pulled from the tidy little pack in our purses, and tell our kids, "It's okay for big boys and girls to cry. And you are going to do great things with your life."
When my children were little, and I was crouched at eye level with my toddler, patiently explaining, "No no, you must not hit your friend," only to watch him go off and conk his two-year-old buddy over the head once again, my mother interjected with a comment I will never forget. She said, "I feel sorry for you modern mothers. It was so much easier raising kids in my day. We didn't worry about that self-esteem stuff."
Although I was horrified then, as I've spent years meticulously choosing politically correct ways of disciplining my children; as I've parented my children in such a way as to preserve their dignity and develop their valuable self-confidence; as I've issued the time-outs after the obligatorily chanted "1, 2, 3, magic!" mantra -- I now think my mom was onto something.
As I chatted with a homeless person on the street the other day as my kids and I were walking into a restaurant for supper, upon sitting down at the table, my son said, "I hope you didn't give that guy the money you were going to give me for pizza day at school tomorrow." In that moment, as the reality of what I had done; how I had single-handedly created these beings with so much self-esteem that they considered themselves entitled to everything, I said something to my kids I never would have said before for fear of damaging them psychologically. I said, "Stop being so selfish." Then I said, "You'll all be donating your allowance to that person out there."
And then I said, "I know exactly where I went wrong." I need to ask my mom for advice.