Part II: September/October 2002
Recently I heard a comedian claim that he would never have children because “It’s the only endeavor in life where you start of with perfection and then screw it up more and more each day.”
And there’s some hard truth in those words. Certainly one of the hardest parts of parenthood is divining what your values and priorities are. In the last issue I argued that one of the unintended consequences of instilling high self-esteem in girls is that some of them end up lacking empathy and compassion for others.
And boy did that hit a Nerve! Responses varied from “Yikes, what have I created?” to “What’s your problem with uppity women?” At one extreme, parents trying to deal with out of control teenagers can easily overreact and blame high self-esteem for disrespect. At the other extreme, some people are so offended when a man criticizes women that they can’t even consider the argument.
When the rules are being rewritten and we are deep in the emotionally charged throes of parenthood, even extreme responses are understandable. After all, these are our daughters, the issues aren’t simple, and the stakes are enormously high.
I think one respondent articulated the issue particularly well, by pointing out that “failing to teach girls compassion, generosity, or empathy does not have to go along with strengthening their self-esteem, the more likely . . . she’ll be able to be empathetic.”
Indeed, supporting our daughters’ self-esteem is necessary. But one question remains: Are we also devoting adequate time to teaching them respect and compassion for others? It is here, in the intricate balancing act of parenting, that we can get tripped up.
Looking back, I can see all too clearly the things I did or did not do, the places along the way where I stumbled and misjudged, and the cumulative effect these mistakes have had on my daughter’s life.
At 23 she is strong and has plenty of self-esteem and a laser-like focus on her goals. She is also capable of running over anyone who gets in her way—not out of malice, but simply because their needs are not on her radar.
In retrospect, I know I focused more on supporting her strength than on helping her see the importance of caring about others.
The irony, of course, is that with her brother—for whom I so desperately wanted sensitivity—I focused almost exclusively on nurturing compassion and emotional intelligence.
In the end, I suppose it comes down to this: We are human, and we make mistakes, but because we love our children, we cannot be afraid to own up to our mistakes—and then do everything we can to set them right.
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