I am in a bit of a pickle.
You see, for the last two years or so I have been engaged in a whole lot of soul work. Along the way I have come in contact with hundreds of women both in person and in online groups and classes, and the one thing that keeps coming up for all of us is the belief that we are lacking in some way, or in most cases, in a lot of ways.
It is almost like a rash we have been infected with - this belief that we are not enough.
It isn't all that complicated either. We are born - whole, precious, miraculous, pure, soft-skinned packages filled with goodness. Then, somewhere along the way, we begin to believe a tale that involves the numerous ways in which we are not enough. Each of our stories is different… Mine is "I am not smart enough. I am not experienced enough. I am not likable enough. I am not pretty enough. My hair is not long enough. I am not skinny enough…" It makes my stomach churn to share that with you. There were other variations that included all the ways I didn't have enough.
I remember what it felt like the first time someone said to me: "You are enough." I was shocked. I was afraid to respond because I knew anything I said would prove to her how wrong she really was. I even felt like a fraud unsure of how I could convince anyone that I was enough when clearly I was not. Now, I know I am enough even though I forget sometimes.
I know my story. I know how painful it was to see it all come together over the years. I remember the people who helped me write it - most likely without the intention of causing me harm. It was a long and lonely story. It has been a HUGE amount of work to rewrite it.
I also know so many other stories that are a lot like mine. I see the hurt in the eyes of these beautiful women as they tell their stories. Some of them believe that they are not enough. It breaks my heart that they cannot see the whole, precious, miraculous, pure, maybe not so soft-skinned but still better than ever being that I see when I look at them. I want them to know the story they are telling is based on lies. So much work goes into rewriting our stories… that is if we even have the heart to rewrite them. Some of us never will.
And now, I am watching in disbelief as my very own son's story begins to take shape. His spirit cannot be contained in a 2x2 place at a table full of other children. He likes to wiggle and squirm. He starts conversations when he is asked to be quiet.
My son's story already has a chapter detailing all the ways that he is not enough. The adults in his life have written it for him by telling him that he isn't okay as is - that he isn't good enough.
He is 8 years-old. He is at a crucial point in his development because this is when the stories start to really stick. This is where a seemingly small slight or joke made at his expense can make a huge impact. It can be devastating. It can change the course of his life.
So, what do I do? I can't control the storytellers. Even if I could - how long can that go on? Will it be enough for him to hear my husband and me whisper in his ear each night "you are enough" when all day long he hears otherwise?
This is my cry for help.
If you are an adult who has children or who works with children, please be mindful of the ways in which you communicate with them.
It may be true that my son makes it difficult for you to maintain a sense of control over the space you are in. It may be true that his tendency to get distracted is distracting to others. I would by lying if I said I wasn't experiencing the same child at home. Here's the thing though: my son's behavior is directly related to a need he has and cannot express. Could you maybe take a minute to check in with him before shaming him in front of his peers? I think you could.
Don't destroy a child's sense of self because what he or she is doing isn't convenient for you.
You can be honest and kind at the same time. I'm not suggesting you allow the children in your life to reenact Lord of the Flies when you're with them. I am suggesting you be careful about the ways you respond to children. In any response you have to a child's behavior, I estimate there is about a 99% chance that your response has nothing to do with the child and everything to do with you. Your response is a projection of you and your life experience - the way you were parented, the way you were taught, the stories you've come to believe about yourself. Your negative response comes from a place of discomfort with what the child is doing.
My friend Mariah Belt calls this place - where we respond from a need to control - the Dominant Paradigm. The alternative is the Peaceful Paradigm (Mariah teaches the Peaceful Paradigm in her work as a Peaceful Parenting coach). Here, we come from a place of curiosity with the intention of connection. We might notice a disruptive behavior then head on over to a child like my son and say, "What's up little guy? Can you tell me more about that?" Rather than, "Stop it! You are being bad! Go sit on the bench…" It's a shift, but it can happen.
I love the Peaceful Paradigm. It feels right to me. I understand that it may not resonate with everyone. I also recognize that the words we use are powerful. So, after experiencing and witnessing the pain that results from a lifetime of being told that any of us are lacking in any way - that any of us could possibly not be enough - I beg of you, please stop the madness. Stop helping children to write these fictional stories about themselves. Be kind. Be mindful of the ways you speak to children, knowing that what you say, even if it was never intended to cause pain, can be devastating.