“The time you spend at home is directly related to the decrease in food supplies in the refrigerator. It is obvious that you have extra 10 kilograms in weight. Can you just stop?” Teenagers hear this and other rude and cruel statements from their parents. Ekaterina Sivanova, a psychologist, explains why we, adults, sometimes condemn our children, what normal people look like and what you should do to accept your child the way they are.
“Your clothes are too revealing!”.
“The time you spend at home is directly related to the decrease in food supplies in the refrigerator. It is obvious that you have extra 10 kilograms in weight. Can you just stop?”
“If I were you, I would not talk with your friends while you are taking your exams. Moreover, you know that college is their limit, and you will go to a university”.
“Well, where are you going to work? You should rather go to our country house and help us around. Who else would want to hire you?”
“Honey, when I was your age, I read other books. This brought me the opportunity to become a successful person. Based on the set of books you have read, I wonder if you want to make a career as a cashier at a grocery store in the future?”.
“When I was growing up, it never crossed my mind to talk to my mother like that. You can be sure that your daughter would talk to you even worse one day”.
“Listen, it is high time you stopped acting like you are offended and behaved like a normal person”.
What do you think these are? Unfortunately, these are some phrases that parents said to their teenagers. What do you say to your teen?
Do we evaluate or condemn them?
Today, I want to talk with you about the so-called “value judgements”. Specifically, those that devaluate one’s actions, abilities, or looks.
What does a “value judgement” mean? It is a statement, through which we express our subjective attitude to something.
I deliberately use “we”. Each of us expresses their value judgements about everything in the world. We like posts on Instagram, we leave comments on Facebook, we have opinions on what we eat for lunch, thoughts about what we read and who we meet.
Yet, there is a very fine line between: “Did you like the movie?” – “Yes” and “Did you like the movie?” – “Yes. But they could have picked a better cast”.
Choose the option of the statement, which sounds more safe to you (focus on your feelings). For example, my friend and I are discussing the TV series plot. She says:
Option 1: “It is a complex story. I might have done the same in this situation”.
Option 2: “Look, any normal person would have done the same”.
Option 3: “When I saw what happened, I was outraged. Such people should be punished in the most severe way. They definitely do not belong in polite society”.
Of course, the most emotionally safe option is the first one. Because a person thinks about themselves and says this based on the following perspective: “I respect you, you are human like me”.
The second option is about generalization in the word “normal”. What people can we call normal? Who determines the degree of normality and what a norm is?
The third option is a classic condemnation and with a voiced punishment at that (here, I really want to quote Griboyedov, “I wonder who the judges are”).
Now, based on this brief theory, we will discover how we communicate with each other within our families.
Let’s start from the beginning. Namely, from our childhood.
Paper ostrich and a C for letter “z”
I am 47. I grew up in a provincial city, where kindergarten and school teachers were mostly good people and loved what they did. However, the system worked in such a way that its every member was evaluated.
Even in the nursery, I received some paper circles for my actions, and, in the kindergarten, I got stars for my drawings. Well, in school, we were immediately evaluated with real grades. Who does not remember their first F? Or an A?
I remember my first C. It was for my lowercase letter “z”. Imagine, 40 years have passed since I was taught the basics of writing in my first grade, and I still write the letter “z” with particular feelings.
Of course, everyone tried to do their best. Teachers worked hard at school, parents did it at home. In my case, it was important for me to not let my family down (my mother was a teacher at the same school where I studied, my father was an officer). I remember a story told by my classmate that “the better the grades are, the less her stepfather would punish her”. That is, he would still punish her, but if she had no Cs, he would not punish her as long…
However, almost all of us survived this and started to have our own children.
Of course, the world has changed, and so has our country, but our internal philosophy has not.
We continue to evaluate and focus on what people around us think about us.
Hence the phrases about our children’s looks, hobbies, abilities, and so on. But why can’t we just learn to love our children without expectations and social validation? Why do we raise our children as members of the system?
Has anyone ever told you that you are unique? Do not rush to answer. Maybe, your parents and teachers have not, but what about your coach or neighbor…? No? I have not heard this either.
Nevertheless, each child is born unique. Starting from their name and date of birth to their eye color and fingerprints.
This uniqueness allows a person to choose their profession that they want to do, a partner with whom they want to build their unique family world, and friends with whom they can go through thick and thin.
What can we do to let our children be unique, to have a right to themselves, disregarding the way it is accepted in our society?
The other day, I read a story on Facebook about how first-graders made paper storks in class (they drew and cut them out), and one boy, the son of the post author, made a paper ostrich. The teacher saw it, got indignant, and said that she “would not put this atrocity up on the board”.
The boy is lucky to have such a mother, and the ostrich is on the home refrigerator now. In contrast, my mother once told me about my “atrocity”: “You will learn how to do it the right way”, and during the school break, the two of us worked on correcting my C for drawing class when I was in the first (!) grade. Of course, I am now the best at drawing autumn leaves on trees with watercolor paint, but this story has been on my mind for a long time along with a thought that I should not even try to draw. My poems are another story…
And my writing! “Sivanova would never write properly”. Who has defined the proper way of writing? Who said so? Who has established this rule? And how come that thousands of people read my texts and even cry over them? They then write, “You have an amazing gift for writing as if you are talking to me as an old friend. I read it and hear your voice…”
How did I get rid of the complex of a person who is unable to write “normal” texts? It is thanks to social networks. Although people judge there much harder than in school. Yet, after going through the cane troop of judgement from the readers of my book “Confessions of a Stepmother”, I found that none of the condemning and commenting people wrote a single thing about me. Nothing! Everyone talked about themselves, their stories and pain.
What do parents really want from their child?
Do you want to see the translation of the phrases that our children hear?
Statement: “Your clothes are too revealing!”.
Translation: “I am ashamed of you in front of my mother (husband, neighbor, teachers, friends) for the fact that my daughter does not look like everyone else. I do not accept my daughter. I want this person to do everything correctly, normally, and properly”.
Statement: “The time you spend at home is directly related to the decrease in food supplies in the refrigerator. It is obvious that you have extra 10 kilograms in weight”.
Translation: “I refuse to accept you the way you are. My weight-related complexes smother me when I look at you. I get angry because it is only my money that fill this refrigerator with food”.
Statement: “If I were you, I would not talk with your friends while you are taking your exams. Moreover, you know that college is their limit, and you will go to a university”.
Translation: “I am terribly afraid of not meeting social expectations and I strive to fulfill my expectations about my child in every possible way”.
Statement: “Well, where are you going to work? You should rather go to our country house and help us around. Who else would hire you?”
Translation: “I do not believe in you”.
Statement: “Honey, when I was your age, I read other books. This brought me the opportunity to become a successful person. Based on the set of books you have read, I wonder if you want to make a career as a cashier at a grocery store in the future?”.
Translation: “I am better than you and I know better what you need to do”.
Statement: “When I was growing up, it never crossed my mind to talk to my mother like that. You can be sure that your daughter would talk to you even worse one day”.
Translation: “I am a good daughter and mother, you are a bad daughter and you will certainly be a bad mother”.
Statement: “Listen, it is high time you stopped acting like you are offended and behaved like a normal person”.
Translation: “My child must be accommodative and meet my expectations”.
To top it all off, I would like to give us, parents, only one recommendation: listen to yourself and talk about yourself. Let our children grow up unique, unlike us, and let them live not to make us happy but themselves.
Translated by Julia Frolova