Please Be Careful How You Speak to Children…We Grow Up Eventually

Me, age 4. Circa 1995.

“You’re so hateful. You’re just like your father.”

These are the words I remember most from my childhood. Or actually, what remnants were left of a childhood stolen by death  and abandonment. The words that slipped from my Grandfather’s tongue with ease if I talked back or what he called “antagonizing.” As a child, I could never understand how my Grandfather could compare me to a man who walked out on me after the death of my mother. How was I like him? I was home with my family. I did what I was told for the most part. I was no more rebellious than any other child. If anything, I was terrified of what my Grandparents would do to me if I disappointed them. But most of all, I lived in the shadow of my mother’s goodness. My mother was a well-known woman, whom everyone liked. She was described as being selfless and helpful. The adults in my childhood reminded me every chance they got that I was not, nor could I ever be her. Perhaps they intended for me to learn from her, but all I ever heard was that I was never good enough.

Please be careful how you speak to children, they are listening. Children are so impressionable. They have no idea how to exist in the world without depending on adults. We are dependent upon the adults in our life for basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, and affection. So we believe what we are told—negative or positive. We have no choice but to believe. And then that becomes our normal. Even if it is detrimental to our mental health.

“You’re so selfish—the worst case of me-ism I’ve ever seen!”

I am an only child. I was reminded of it everyday by the empty seats in my bedroom play area. I was reminded by the obscene amount of toys that my Grandparents showered me with as if to take attention from the fact that I was alone and they were just too tired to chase me around. I was often left alone to entertain myself if my cousins weren’t around. And when they were around, I felt like I had to fight for my Grandparents’ affection. I wasn’t my mother, so I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t deserve their affection. I didn’t deserve to stand up for myself when I was being picked on. And if I didn’t want to share my time or my toys, I was scolded. If I didn’t do what was asked of me–I was selfish. If I questioned why I was being told to do something–I was selfish. As an introvert, I find some level of comfort in being alone and somehow they never picked up on that and I was still forced to entertain or play with my cousins when they came over. I was never taught that self care should come first.

Please be careful how you speak to children, they are internalizing.  I internalized at the ripe age of two years old that my needs were not as important as others’ needs. I came to understand that my thoughts didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I hated myself and became fearful of others’ opinions of me. It made me anxious. I presented as being shy but the reality was I was just too terrified to connect with others because I thought that I would be told what I internalized at home–that I wasn’t good enough and my feelings didn’t matter.

“Your attitude sucks!”

I was a lonely, angry child. My feelings have always been shown in my facial expression as you can see from the photo above. Because I internalized all of my own thoughts and feelings, I became paranoid about what others thought about me. I always assumed the worst and instead of talking about my feelings, I took it out on everyone that I wanted to be close to. I avoided confrontation and I avoiding getting close to people because it simply hurt too much to open up. Somewhere along the way, I lost myself because I was so busy trying to be what people wanted me to be but hated every minute of it.

Please be careful how you speak to children, we are projecting. We didn’t talk about feelings in my family. I never felt safe enough to be vulnerable. I didn’t learn how to share my feelings. So I bottled them up and when they spilled over, I took them out on other people. And that led to me inadvertently isolating myself in the worst way. Because nobody wants to be friends with the freak who is afraid of everything. Nobody likes a Debbie-Downer. Which–now that I think of it– is ironic because my mother’s name is Debra.

I am only realizing all of this about my childhood recently. For so long, I sensationalized my own memories. If you’ve been reading for some time, you’ll know that I speak about my Grandparents with nothing but admiration and love. I put them on a pedestal. And though I love them for a lot of things, they were human, too. In some ways, they were my Superheros, but mostly, they were human. They made mistakes. Maybe they had what they thought were good intentions in the way that they raised me. But I’m still fucked up. I can admit, that I’m a lot of good, but there’s some bad, too.

I’m not perfect. I could never be perfect in the way that my Grandparents wanted me to be. I could never be my mother. I could never be the daughter she was. But I never got a chance to be the daughter I deserved to be because I was so busy trying to be her and please them. It has taken a lifetime and several failed relationships for me to figure out why I fight so hard against getting close to other people or why I talk so badly to myself. I simply wasn’t taught positive self-talk. I don’t know how to be vulnerable and that’s something I’m trying to figure out now. I try to tell myself everyday that I am worth it, that I am smart, I am beautiful, and I matter. But I fight the voices in my head of all the adults in my childhood who told me otherwise.

Please be careful how you approach me, I am healing. I’ll be damned if my future kids ever feel the way I felt growing up. Because in fact, we DO matter. And if we want to be better people we need to start by investing in our children and teaching them from birth that they are Kings and Queens.