A recent thread on Ask Metafilter asked members about experiences that changed them. It’s a long, and truly amazing, set of stories. But as a parent, the ones that struck me the most were about children whose lives had been changed by rather mundane careless words and acts by parents and other adults. Here are some of those stories:
12 years old, just beginning to take those “career aptitude inventory” tests they give you, I share with my father my interest in one day becoming a computer engineer. His response, “How the hell are you ever gonna help anybody doing that!?” leads me to completely devalue my own interests and goals for the next four years or so in favor of what I think other people think I should be doing. Later I get my head on straight and realize he was being a complete jerk, but the damage is still done. I still base my feelings of self-worth on the opinions of others (even though I know that’s what I’m doing).
The Bad – I was overweight in middle school and junior high and was teased mercilessly by several other students. I suffered in silence for a year and a half before finally breaking down and telling my parents that I couldn’t take it anymrore. Their response? Ignore it and it will go away. It was bullshit. I knew it. They knew it. I realized then that they weren’t going to help me and I was going to have to deal with it on my own. Which I couldn’t. I became shy and bitter and distrustful. I needed my parents to help me and they refused. It took me a long time to get over that. I’m not really sure I am completely over it, to be frank.
One time when I was 7 or 8 my dad was supposed to pick me up after school. I waited until dark and he never showed up. I knew that he and my mother had forgotten about me. I started walking home when it got dark. While waiting for somebody to come get me I decided that I was alone in the world and couldn’t even trust my parents. I’ve been basically distrustful of people and an introverted loner ever since.
During the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I gained some weight sitting around and making my first webpage (another formative experience!). My mom approached me about the issue, made it feel less like something I should be ashamed of and more like a health issue, and I started exercising and losing the weight. A year or so later, I had returned to a more healthy size. One day, walking through the kitchen, my dad looked me up and down and said “Wow, Bridget, beneath all that weight there’s a pretty girl!” and in one moment destroyed the healthy attitude my mom had tried to give me. My little mind swum with all the implications of what he had said – My mom hadn’t mentioned anything at all about my not being pretty! I didn’t know I had to be pretty for my dad to show me a moment’s worth of genuine affection! Maybe that’s how it is with all men!
These stories make me realize that everything I do as a parent can have profound effects on my children. Sobering.