As sounds of laughter and chatter permeated the living room, he sat on a sofa with his head bent backward, arms folded and resting on his eyes.
On the surface, it appeared that he was just relaxing.
However, I looked deeper and knew that something was terribly wrong.
I gently raised his hands and saw that his eyes were filled with tears.
I softly said, “ Sweetheart, can we talk?”
He said, “No. I don’t want to. I’m OK.”
I persisted, “No, you’re not. And we need to talk.”
He sounded irritated and said, “No. I’m fine. Leave me alone. Alright?”
The evening went on like everything was great.
When we got back home and I could look into his eyes, I said, “ You’re feeling sad, aren’t you?”
He said, “No. I’m just sleepy.”
I went on in a neutral tone, “ You’re feeling sad because someone said you’re bad and your sister is good.”
And with that, he burst into tears and began to sob.
This was my son.
At a social gathering, someone we know commented casually that my ten-year-old son is ‘bad’ while my daughter, a one-and-a-half-year-old, is ‘good.’
I thought that was a ridiculous comparison! How can we compare a toddler with a pre-adolescent?
Secondly, how would a child feel to be told he is ‘bad’ in front of several people?
Children can be naughty. But to be labelled ‘bad’ for being a child, who has not yet developed a complete personality, didn’t feel OK to me. I saw potential inner child wounds developing right before my eyes and it gave me the shivers.
My heart went out to my son. I held him tight as he cried and let out all the shame he must have felt and suppressed while pretending nothing was wrong.
As giant teardrops rolled down his soft cheeks, he sobbed, “No one likes me.”
I said, “That’s not true. And you are not bad. Yes, we all do ‘inappropriate’ stuff at times and you have too. But doesn’t mean YOU are ‘bad,’ alright?”
I went on, “People may tell you worse things as you grow up. But remember this – just because someone says something mean or inappropriate, it doesn’t make it true.“
This was the best I could do at that moment.
My little daughter realised her brother was upset and began to stroke his hands, hoping it would comfort him!
He reached out and held her hand too.
I was so grateful my son didn’t resent his sister despite being compared unfairly with her. He sure seemed more mature than many adults in this regard!
I was also grateful he felt safe enough to feel his emotions in the presence of me and his father. We don’t believe in telling him “boys don’t cry.” We know it’s perfectly possible for boys to feel their emotions and still grow up to be strong and healthy Divine Masculines.
My husband Suraj and I had a discussion on this matter later that evening. We were wondering if we should confront the person who passed this comment and tell her that she ought not to say such things to our son again.
After a prolonged discussion, Suraj was of the opinion that it may be best to let it pass. I agreed.
We knew confrontation would not change anything. This person is known for being insensitive and seems to be set in her ways.
Besides, the outside world is not always kind and sensitive.
People can be petty, rude, unfair and mean.
And while this isn’t ideal, we felt it’s best our son is exposed to some of the harsher realities of life.
As parents, we are always there for him to fall back on.
Since we are the most important adults in his life at the moment, we hoped us telling him that he is an amazing little person should suffice.
We hoped us telling him that he doesn’t have to internalize the unfair and unkind words of people would help him keep his self-esteem intact.
I know I had to try hard to discard the negative labels I received as a child so I could feel good about myself as an adult. And Suraj instinctively knew how to keep his self-esteem high despite facing some challenging situations himself.
And we hope we can train our son enough to hold himself strong, so he doesn’t find himself in the same situation as an adult.
We hope to be parents who can hold an unconditional space for their child.
On the same note, until he is an adult, we see ourselves as the primary authority figures in his life. We lay down rules and regulations for his safety and social development. And there are consequences to be dealt with when rules are broken.
We are certainly not perfect parents. And we lose it at times too.
Like generations prior, we do the best with what we know at the moment.
But with all our imperfections, we shall strive to help both our children keep two very precious assets alive within them – self-esteem and self-love.