teach a child to fish

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Give a man a fish, you've fed him for the day. Teach a man to fish, you've fed him for life. Yes, it's a proverb. And one I know you know. It's one that everyone knows and there is great wisdom in its simplicity. But it wasn't until the other day that I had a somewhat-affirming epiphany vis a vis, instilling confidence in my kids in a world where self-loathing has become an unabashed pre-requisite for intelligent young people, emo style.

Inspired by a tweet I read from Sweetney, I tweeted this, which began a conversation between Mrs. Gryphon (who fucking rules, btw) and me about the importance of giving our children the tools to navigate through the bull(y)shit not to mention, successfully raising healthy, happy children during a time where self-hate has become a social epidemic. (Bullying is not an epidemic. Bullying is the product of self hate and fear which has become not only normal but expected of people).

So much has been brought to our attention as of late about bullying, specifically gay youth and although we live in the city of West Hollywood where the cop cars boast rainbow flags and many of Archer's classmates' parents (and our friends) are same-sex couples we cannot assume that bullying isn't just as rampant in our community as anywhere else. Because the truth is? It doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, white, purple, pink for breast cancer awareness, geeky, the most popular girl in school; any child can fall victim to bullying. Anywhere.


I've written at length about my struggles with my own happiness. About the guilt I felt growing up, the bullying and heckling in high school from older girls who went out of their way to make my life hell, with their driveway chocolate syrup penis drawings and death threats andandandand.... etc, specifically my sophomore year of high school. It went on and on and ON and didn't end until the older girls graduated. (And by end I mean "end" because, let's be honest, bullying doesn't stop, it just becomes more nuanced.) I digress. More than half of my high school life, I lived in fear. No matter how involved my parents were, teachers, even school staff, there was nothing I could do then to make it stop.

The truth is that I'll never be able to defend Archer and Fable from the inevitably insecure, the fearful trolls who lurk in their own personal hells, desperate to take the non-assuming down with them, but I can teach them to build their own shields. How? By modeling self love and respect. By being honest with them about my own experiences, the struggles and the triumphs and truths. I can help them nurture their strengths as individuals, help them tone muscles they will forever have on them to flex.

For me, I had my writing and on the days when I was afraid in real life, I was fearless on the page, confident in a world where nobody could find me. I wasn't in hiding so much as I had found within me a place to seek. That has never changed. Even now, here, today. Even with anonymous Internet meanies and their chocolate syrup penis drawings in my comment box. Even in rejection letters and failed projects to be continued or not so much.

In the end, it is my responsibility as a parent to raise confident kids. But it's going to take more than my love and support to do so. Compliments and praise can only do so much. And perhaps paradoxically, too much praise has the capacity to hinder more than it helps - causing dependency on me for attention and love instead of looking first to themselves.

It is one of my goals as a parent for my kids to take pride in their good behavior just as I expect them to understand the ramifications of messing up. To see the beauty and wonder in themselves instead of trying to prove those things to others. Because others are ephemeral. Even us, the parents. Someday our kids will live under their own roofs with their own mirrors.

Because telling Fable "you're beautiful" is great but asking "aren't you beautiful?" and then hearing Fable respond unwaveringly with, "YES, mama" is better.
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Regardless of whether you agree with my fishing analogy proverb what-have-you, I believe it is our responsibility as parents, not only to our children but to everyone they come into contact with in their lifetime, to do everything in our power to change the trajectory of the self-loath-athon that has taken our society by storm.

By giving our kids the support and opportunity to excel in areas that excite them, we are offering them a refuge, a place to build confidence that NO ONE can interfere with. An identifying outlet.

By teaching our kids to love themselves (regardless of how great their successes, failures) they won't have to hate. And by setting an example of how best to do that is the greatest gift we can give not only them but ourselves.

Give a child a compliment and she'll smile for a day. Teach a child to compliment herself and she'll smile for a lifetime. Okay so maybe not every day. Some days are unequivocally shitty. But, you know what I mean, close enough.
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GGC

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Halfway through writing this post, yesterday, I dug up a lil' book I made in my 10th grade English class. It's long so I'll spare you the mortifying photo montages of ex-boyfriends and keepsake love letters but some of what was in there is worth sharing. Or maybe it isn't. (But I think it might be.)
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Most tellingly, this was the last page:
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A-fucking-men, 10th grade me. Go forth.

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46 comments:

Danielle | 7:08 AM

Wonderful post. A lesson I'm not only trying to teach my son..but one I am still trying to learn as a 35 year old woman.

Beth | 7:17 AM

I don't often feel compelled to comment but I had to today. I have two young girls (4 and almost 2) and there is nothing I want more than for them to learn confidence. Very poignant and relevant post. Thank you.

My Bottle's Up! | 7:38 AM

Tears pricked my eyes at the start of this post and by the end I was yelling "HELLS YEAH."

xo!

BabyFirstTV | 7:50 AM

Wow, that was really an amazing blog post! It made us reflect and question our own upbringing and what we now say/do with our sons and daughters!
We love the way this blog post touched our hearts! Well written, well said!

Meghan | 7:50 AM

Loved it. All of it. I had to laugh a little because I had those journals too.

One day in my twenties I became convinced that I would die and my family would find all of those old journals and they would make them feel awful SO I BURNED THEM ALL in the best bonfire ever.

Anyways, I will bookmark this and hope to remember to pull it out when I finally have a child.

SkittleSkattle | 7:57 AM

Brilliant!

Rebecca | 8:14 AM

Well said, woman. This just touched me so much. I had some experience with being bullied in middle and high school (fortunately the ring leader was expelled my sophomore year and everyone left me alone after that) but the kicker for me was my very dear friend who was bullied for being gay, not only by some classmates and teachers but by his parents as well. He ended up dropping out of high school a month before graduation and entering an in-patient psychiatric facility for depression. Fortunately he's doing great now, but that incident spurred me to try to start a Gay Straight Alliance at the well-known Catholic college I attended (they still won't accept the GSA for official club status, BTW). I recently started mentoring a high school freshman who told me that she has a friend who is gay who is experiencing the same thing at her school. Just as I was thinking, "Screw this, nothing ever changes," she said "But it's okay because we started a Gay Straight Alliance and lots of people joined!" I was so proud I wanted to cry. Thank you for writing about this. The worst thing we can do is be silent.
Also, in the same vein: http://nerdyapplebottom.com/2010/11/02/my-son-is-gay/

Jessi | 8:49 AM

Wonderful post and words to live by. However, if you'll allow me to add, I think it's even better to reaffirm the other things about your kids, Aren't you funny? Aren't you creative? Aren't you smart? Aren't you amazing?

I'm sure you do, but in this world where pretty rules, I think it's good to always, always emphasize the other stuff.

flyrish | 8:51 AM

Wow, such an amazing post! Thank you for sharing your 10th grade journal. You were quite the writer back then, too!

You're obviously doing a great job raising your kids with self-love. I completely agree that bullying is a product of self-hate, and I hope to better embrace self-love so that I can be a good example for my son. Thank you for this!

Ashley, the Accidental Olympian | 8:58 AM

Fantastic.

You wrote, I read.

I used my books in High School to hide, to become invisible to the mean girls, to get through the day. By the end of my High School career I used my books less and less as I accepted who I was, but in the first two years, I was powerless without those shields.

Thanks for sharing your ways of coping.

Cave Momma | 9:00 AM

Amazing and definitely something I have been thinking about lately. I still struggle with self confidence and remembering how I was as a child and teenager, I want to do everything in my power to teach my kids how to be confident and strong and self loving. Things that I were not. Thank you for a beautiful post.

Amanda | 9:24 AM

Yes, yes and yes. I wish I had kept all of my high school journals (actually I wish I had kept my old livejournal) but in a fit of past resentments I threw everything away. I guess it was what I needed at the time but it would be nice to have them around now.

Connie T. | 9:28 AM

I have found that at work, there is always someone being a bully also. I guess they graduate and then move on to people they work with.
I think the internet gives people the freedom to bully too. I find Youtube comments to be really mean and nasty. I have to stop comments because people can be so mean.

Overflowing Brain | 9:34 AM

A few years ago I threw away my childhood diary because even though I'm 27 now, reading the things my 9 year old self recounted about bullying kills me. I was tortured for years because I weighed maybe 10 pounds more than my classmates. It was brutal. I finally switched schools and the bullying stopped, but the effects of bullying last a lot longer than the bullying itself.

I don't have kids yet, but when I do, I'll move mountains to make sure they never feel the way I did growing up.

Cynthia | 9:44 AM

Amen. Your memory book is so sweet and heartbreaking. 10th grade is one of the hardest, and I cry all the time thinking about my daughter having to go through it. She's already quirky at aged 3 (chose to dress up as Frida Kahlo for Halloween for chrissake, even when all the other little girls in her class were dressed as Cinderella), which I know is wonderful. I hope she celebrates her quirkiness even when people are trying to tear it down in adolescence.

Elizabeth at Law Mama | 9:49 AM

I love this post. So much.

andygirl | 10:03 AM

BRAVO! great post.

I was bullied from jr high through high school and how I coped was just being as outrageous as possible. you think I dress like a weirdo? well let me show you how weird I could be. I made the joke my own and it's what got me through 2 schools and 7 years of torture. it also got me some awesome friends who were also bullied and I became the momma of the bullied, kind of. but that's my weakness. you can call me all the mean things you want, but hurt my friends and we are going to have words. so, I'm not a parent yet, but that's what scares me about having children who may be bullied. I only hope I can teach them how to cope and let the cruelty roll right off.

kaitslife | 10:15 AM

That was beautiful.

I was bullied in elementary school. It was awful.I was bullied because I wouldn't dress like damn Britney Spears. I was bullied for my beliefs. All I can say is that with my son (and future preconceived daughter) I will be teaching them grace, and the power to accept those that are different from you.

Thank you for a beautiful heartfelt post.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 10:26 AM

All about emphasizing the other stuff, Jenni. And "pretty" is very different than "beautiful"...

"Beautiful" is much more than an exterior adjective. Denying words like "beauty" does a disservice to our girls, especially in a world where "beauty" is dictated TO them. I want my daughter (son, too) to dictate their own beauty and to redefine what it means for themselves.

Sarah | 10:30 AM

I think about this a lot. How did I become so confident and outgoing? How did I survive? How do I teach other people that??

My parents made me take risks. They were my biggest cheerleaders. Failing WAS an option and it was totally ok. I had to try and I had to finish. I ran high school track for 4 years, the goal was never to win the race but to finish and that was all that mattered. They stood track side every race yelling at the top of their lungs...as I finished last. They’ve done that for my entire life. And turns out, they aren’t the only ones, friends, boyfriends, strangers, they will all cheer you on. Enthusiasm and kindness is contagious. I’ve learned to trust myself and actually like being me.

In 5th grade when I came home crying about a boy who teased me all the time, mostly about being the principal's daughter. I asked my dad, the principal, to tell him to stop. My dad told me it wasn't his job to yell at Ryan, it was my job to be nice to him. Because people who tease are sad and they don't love themselves like I did. So I was to tell Ryan I was sorry he was sad and I could help him like himself more, if he wanted my help. Ryan never teased me again.

The world really would be a better place if we all took care of each other a little more.

Jenn/hippygoth | 10:37 AM

I'm a long-time reader, and this is maybe my third comment? but I wanted to say AMEN. One thing I really struggle with is keeping a positive attitude about myself in front of my daughter...I'm fat. Not, like, need to lose 10 lbs fat, need to lose 100 lbs fat. And while I'm not really okay with that, and I'm definitely not okay with what people say about me, I don't want to have my daughter hear me say, "I'm so fat, I can't do this, I can't do that, I can't wear this, I can't go out and let people see me." My own struggle has been to just live, and compliment myself and herself on whatever we're rockin' that day. I was bullied for being fat, for being "weird", for being smart, for wearing glasses, for not wearing fashionable clothes...you name it. And while I can't protect my daughter from that, at least I know what it feels like and what it looks like. Sorry for the rambling, I'm a little disorganized in my thoughts about this. But I felt like I needed to make some sort of reply. Good work, Rebecca.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 10:43 AM

You guys are AMAZING. Thank you for your comments. And this, Sarah:

" ...it was my job to be nice to him. Because people who tease are sad and they don't love themselves like I did. So I was to tell Ryan I was sorry he was sad and I could help him like himself more, if he wanted my help. Ryan never teased me again.

The world really would be a better place if we all took care of each other a little more."

... EXACTLY. Such a perfect example that love prevails.

Marianne | 11:16 AM

I love this so much my heart swells up and hurts. My daughter is 18 months old (today!), and I can't tell her enough how smart, how beautiful, how wonderful she is. I need to teach her to tell me the same about herself. Love.

Adrianne | 11:30 AM

I loved the post, but reading the journal really made me sad and feel a little bit like the whole thing is hopeless. The pain in your writing is so evident, but where did it come from? Your mom seems absolutely amazing, and I'm sure she did all of the things for you that you are doing for Fable, but you still had that pain. Even with amazing parents, we still live in a society that makes it very difficult for women to love themselves. Sad. I'm glad you're aware of this and making it a priority with both kiddos.

P.S. Last night I dreamt that I was in L.A. so I stopped by your house and you schooled me in fashion. If only it weren't a dream.... :)

Linley | 1:05 PM

So true-- all of it. I'm probably one of your youngest readers (16), but I love finding the insight and connection from blogs of older generations (not to make you feel old)! You've contributed to to this huge sense of importance for doing what I love with my life, and being confident in doing so. Thanks for the example. :)

Cate | 2:37 PM

I absolutely loved this-- every, every word. You are and apparently always have been an utterly amazing writer!

KH | 3:30 PM

This is awesome. Thanks for writing/speaking about it.

As an aside: all the respect in the world to her but I find it a bit funny that I never ever everrrrr share Jessica's POV on these videos. I guess that's the purpose of having so many different voices.

jaiden | 3:47 PM

and we need to set the example by loving ourselves first. by not complaining about how fat we are or how we can't wear this shirt or those pants. about how we need makeup to hide this or cover that. we can compliment them all we want but they need to see us compliment ourselves before they will learn to compliment themselves.

Mrsgryphon | 11:26 PM

I finally had a chance to sit down and read this tonight (several times, actually) and, once again, you've said everything I'm thinking but much more eloquently than I could!

I love the idea of "helping them build their own shields". I've often wondered how I managed to have such a tough shield. I was picked on in high school (although not as seriously as you were, Rebecca, or some of the other commenters), and I still have my notebook of awful cringe-worthy poetry. Somehow, though, I came out of elementary/high school with my confidence and self-esteem intact.

The problem now, is to figure out how to instill that same confidence in my awesome, strong-willed little girls. I think a lot of it has to do with teaching them to follow their instincts - so many of the crummy things that have happened to me in my life came from trusting someone that I shouldn't have, or not believing that I was worthy of anything better than a "friend" who acted anything but friendly. I hope that we can help them hone those instincts so that they'll stay away from the inevitable "toxic" people in their lives.

In terms of building their confidence, I think that parents are the first line of defense. Kids hear everything, so we try to make sure they hear us telling our friends and family about their great qualities, not (only) complaining about how they make us crazy ;) Helping them follow their interests and encouraging their talents, as well as making sure they try new things and can accept not being the best at everything, are all things that my parents did, even though I never noticed it at the time.

I also have to say that I don't remember my mom ever (not once!) mentioning her weight or a diet or how she wished she looked different. I think that was HUGE for me - not accepting who I was wasn't even an option. Bless her for that, and as a result, we try to never discuss weight or diets and to celebrate the unique beauty in everyone.

Okay, enough rambling. Thanks for the very thought-provoking chat on Twitter and for this post, Rebecca. I happen to think that you fucking rule ;)

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 11:34 PM

Mrs Gryphon - I love you. And yes. Yes, yes YES. My mom was the same way - we never even had a scale in our house growing up. Never saw my mom diet nor did I hear her talk about dieting ever. In fact, I don't know that my mother has ever been on a diet.

Anyway, YES.

And thank you - ALL OF YOU - for your words and for sharing your stories. I want to bring it all in for a group hug.

And Linley? Thank you for commenting, for reading, for being amazing. Keep kicking ass, girl. xo

Mia | 8:50 AM

As a mother of a 4 year old little girl, I so needed to read this. Not only for her....but for me....

Thank you

Heather | 10:58 AM

Beautiful message and one I hope I can pass on. I will have my first son in less than 5 months and I hope that I can do this for my little guy too.

I think it is interesting how you teased out the self-loathing as the underlying problem. Bullying has always been a problem but its impact seems so much more forceful lately.

Thank you!

Olivia Singleton | 3:44 PM

Sigh. I live in a world completely consumed by self doubt, which easily turns into self loathing. I don't know where to find the tools to change that though.

Pathetic? Just a little bit.

Margie | 2:02 PM

Yes! I think about this often for my 19 month old daughter and I am with you! I love hearing her say "yes" when I ask if she is beautiful, brave, funny, happy...

UrbanCheapskate | 10:15 PM

Been reading your blog for a while, but haven't posted until now.

I LOVED this post. Reminded me that regularly asking my daughter what she thinks of herself is as good an idea as I think it is.

I always think my 5 year old Maci is immune from bullying because she's so awesome, but then I remember that she was a superhero version of herself for Halloween & then asked me if she can put 3-hole-punchers in the loot bags for her birthday party... so that oddness might not be considered so cute by her classmates when she grows up.

MAV | 10:22 PM

can you imagine a world where every child's parents taught them that being kind was the most important thing to be? ah, what a great place that would be for all of us to live in.

thank you ggc for being a parent a non-parent can look up to and aspire to be one day.

Rose | 7:10 PM

I read your post and thought of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH4lyJWa_84

Thanks for the wonderful post!

Anonymous | 8:46 AM

What you said in the video, Rebecca, about teaching Archer that the most important thing he can be is kind, is also so so so important. We spend so much time as parents worrying that our children will be bullied and building up their defenses against it. But it's not always the self-haters who are bullies--all children are susceptible to doing it and it's equally important that we emphasize how unacceptable it is to be ever be cruel and how important it is to NOT go along with the gang at someone else's expense (of course, self-confidence makes this possible).

Glenda | 10:49 AM

Great post! Growing up my mother instilled beauty comes from within. We have to love ourselves no matter what. Not everyone is going to like us. She raised me to be very confident, and because of that most people thought I was stuck up. Same thing has happened to my daughter, but I raised her to be a confident young lady as well. She loves herself and learned to never change her ways, whether it's her fashion sense etc just to fit in. She learned to be a leader and not a follow. When she's all dressed up she looks in the mirror and says damn I look good, she's not waiting for anyone else to acknowledge her or compliment her.

I always raised her to treat people the way you'd like to be treated.

Thanks for sharing your journals. Even then you wrote beautifully. Love the pictures. You ROCK!

Sarah Buttenwieser | 8:00 AM

hooray tenth grade you.

Ray | 8:58 PM

This is such an amazing entry, Rebecca. Everyone in the internet world needs to read it.

The shitty thing about bullying is that it should NOT exist. I mean, I know you're thinking, "Well obviously." But what I mean is that everyone's going through the same thing. The truth is that your teenage years are painful years...no matter if you planned it out like that, or if it just happened. I think it's just inevitable. Pain is here to grant all of us a visit. It's how we choose to personify it that makes all the difference. Almost all teenagers are sad, hurt and lonely. Almost all teenagers feel worthless at one point, ugly, stupid…Alone.

I think the problem is we live in a world where you have to be okay all the time. Or at least pretend to be. So a person has all this pent up anger and he/she uses that rage in the form of bullying. Of course it's not right, but we're taught that everything's supposed to be picture-perfect; picture perfect to the outside world. When we're home it's another story. But outside in school: Everything has to be fine. You put on a smile. You laugh.

When in the end: a lot of people just want to cry (from going through a shitty day before, week before, month before, year before). But it’s hard to talk about feelings, so in order to feel better people mock other’s to feel better.

But it’s a dangerous thing, this bullying. And it makes my heart ache to think of those who have taken their life because of it.

Fable & Archer are lucky to have you, because you will prevent it by teaching them the right way; by loving yourself. And hopefully as you’ve written: all the people who come into their lives will know the right way as well. Through Archer & Fable.

Loukia | 8:15 AM

You were always a gifted writer, Rebecca! Loved this post.

Melissa | 11:45 AM

"Present/Infant" by Ani Difranco - you will love it.

Here's a link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuvwMYUFLTs

Breeze | 8:08 AM

Awesome post! I've finally jumped on my Mommy Blog train, reading others, writing my own. I truly, truly enjoy yours. I love this post as I am mama to a 7, 6, and 4 year old. Self love, confidence, and a creative place of their own to retreat to in the rain.
Thank you for sharing!

campfiresong | 7:50 AM

Every parent wants their kids to have a better life than they did. The early teen years somehow leaves us all a little screwed up, but those days and crappy feelings (going on 15 years ago now) are still right with me today.
I know that happy mamas breed happy babies, and 2011 is my year to get happy.
Your post was well-timed for me. Thank you for being relevant.

Jana Krausfeldt | 8:20 AM

Incredible post. Thank you for sharing and for reminding me.