Giving Families the Gift of Enough
When my daughter, Elizabeth was in First Grade, she came home from school and placed her lunch box on the counter with a thud. Then, rather wistfully, she requested that from now on I pack her sandwich and fruit in a brown paper bag. I was puzzled and knew there had to be more to the retirement of her Barney (the purple dinosaur) lunch box. She had carried it all through Kindergarten and said she wanted to continue with him into the next grade.
“Why a bag?” I asked. She sighed and it all came tumbling out.
It seems one of the girls at the lunch table had looked at her lunch box and said, quite loudly, “You like Barney? He’s for babies!”
My first reaction to hearing the story was to storm into the lunch room the next day and defend my youngest child. I wanted to walk over to the girls at her table and shout, “She can carry any kind of lunch box she likes!”
Of course I did not do that. Nor did I over-react to Elizabeth’s request for brown instead of purple. Instead I took a deep breath and advised her that she could continue to carry Barney and not listen to her classmate. “You can still like Barney. I know I do,” I said. “And you do not have to listen to what others say about what you like.” She nodded but did not seem convinced. She was not willing to take a stand on the lunch box. Maybe a little bit of her had outgrown Barney but most probably she did not want to make Barney her Alamo. The lunch box was put away. I offered to purchase a different one, but Elizabeth was not going to take a risk with some other choice. Brown paper would be fine for now.
Fortunately, as Elizabeth grew she began to figure out what voices mattered. It was not always easy. But she learned how to tune out some of the nay sayers and even carried a Superman lunch box in high school.
But achieving that kind of growth does not always come easily. And in an age where social media is so prevalent, it is hard for young people to find and listen to positive voices. But it is possible. And it is a lot of work to deflect ads, posts, and random comments.
However, family life can nurture that skill. It can offer a safe have, a harbor. It can be the place of positive voices. Families can cultivate and give to each other the gift of being enough. When a child, and yes an adult, have a sense of being loved and enough, life is easier. It becomes easier to figure out what voices matter. It makes one feel whole and content.
How does one do that?
Some might say, just tune out the critics. However, most people cannot move to an island or stay away from all technology. Family members will have computers and cell phones. Most young people stay connected via some form of social media. Isolation is not a viable answer for most.
But you can ask and stress – “what voices are you listening to?” You can tell your children that you are more than the number of likes you get on your Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat post. You can provide good voices via music, books, and loved ones. Mister Rogers was a good voice for our kids when they were growing up. He still is.
In an age of dings, screens, and constant contact – find quiet time. Just ride in the car without the radio. Shut off the WIFI for a few hours. Take a field trip to a church and just sit. Go for a hike and enjoy God’s creation.
Affirm, affirm, affirm
Remember to stay positive with your children and grandchildren. That does not mean that you approve of all they do but it does mean you treat them with kindness and understanding. A friend of mine once told me that children need the most love when they are at their most unlovable. If a child messes up or is pouty or surly – love them. Send them a card. Take them out to breakfast. Hang with them at bookstore. And listen.
Have your children write a note to a relative or a parish member whom you admire. Go visit a neighbor or friend who might be alone. Send notes to each other and be “secret admirers” to siblings and parents. Sure you have to correct certain behavior but also praise in a real way.
Encourage your family to participate in charitable acts. One night my children saw a three-year-old celebrating her birthday at a soup kitchen. We were volunteering and that memory stayed with them for a long time. And remind your family members to be kinds to themselves. Everyone makes mistakes.
Look to Saints and Heroes
You also can ask them to listen to St. Francis de Sales who said, “Be who you are and be that perfectly well.” You can introduce them to the stories of others saints who took a different path that, at times, might not have been easy. You can tell them about Jim Abbott who became a Major League Baseball player even though he was missing a hand.
Say night prayers or sit and chat each night with each child
At our house, things came tumbling out when our kids were talking to God. My little lunch box girl was praying her form of the Jesuit Examen before she knew what it was. She would reflect on her day and then talk about the next. She asked God to forgive her for being mean to a sibling and then asked God for help with a spelling test. It is not easy to feel enough all the time. It is hard to grow up in such and ever-changing world. And it is hard to be mocked for your lunch box. But with an affirming and loving family you have a good start.