My daughter came up to me the other day, clamoring for my attention. I was on the computer, trying to finish an essay that was due two days earlier, and she was bored.
First she tried to talk to me. I half answered her, my eyes still on the screen. Then she asked me if we could play, and I said, “Not now, baby, Mommy’s working.”
So she tried again. And again. And again.
She just wanted to play with her mom.
But I had a deadline, and I needed to finish.
And then she slapped me. Hard.
And it’s a good thing she did, because in a way, it woke me up.
At that moment, after she was done pleading and trying and crying and she slapped me as a last ditch effort, I realized that, by not responding to her basic need of attention, I’m fucking up her life.
Every time I ignore her, every time I put my work or my phone or my friends or my writing before her, I am giving her the message that she is not important. That her needs are silly, and don’t deserve acknowledgment.
And that’s how we fuck up our children’s lives.
Once upon a time, all of us were children. Some of us grew up in happy homes and had happy childhoods, and others weren’t as lucky. Some of us were exposed very quickly to the harsh realities of our world, and others remained innocent well into adulthood. But despite the kind of environment we were brought up in, all of us originated as pure souls.
We were all born innocent.
Our needs were basic: To be loved, held, and taken care of. When our needs were met, we were happy. And when they weren’t, we demanded that they be met.
Then we got older. We learned that, more often than not, Mom won’t come running when we need something. In fact, she gets irritated when we can’t do things ourselves, and sometimes she gets angry when all we want to do is spend time with her.
So we learned to take care of ourselves. And that’s a good thing, because a person who remains helpless and dependent on others as an adult is generally ill, in any number of ways. Independence is a wonderful, necessary thing.
And yet, I can’t help but think that each time our needs as children weren’t met, each time we learned to fend for ourselves because an adult wasn’t around, a little piece of us chipped away. Years and years of being ignored by the adults in our lives, of feeling rejected and insignificant and unloved, takes a toll. We get jaded, turning into harder, less caring individuals.
We had to pretend, at least to ourselves, that we didn’t care. That was the only way we could have survived childhood. Because otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to handle the hundreds of times we were ignored or plopped in front of the TV or computer or video game so that Mommy could cook or Daddy could talk on the phone.
We had to push away the untainted, innocent part of ourselves, the piece that was yearning for a hug or a smile or an “I love you.”
And so we buried our feelings, shut our mouths, and learned how to cover up our emotions with thick layers of indifference. We learned that the only person we could actually rely on is our self.
And that sucks.
Because we all just want to be loved – as newborns, as children, and even as adults.
Being loved is such a basic, natural human instinct. Which one of us wants to feel ignored, like what we have to say doesn’t matter? When we are not acknowledged, a piece of us dies inside.
We’re all just doing the best that we can, and none of us will ever be perfect parents. The amounts of love and attention our children need from us is so tremendous, that none of us will ever be able to fill the massive quantity they truly need.
But we have to try. Children are given to us as fresh canvases of pure white innocence. When we’re busy, busy, busy and put everyone else before them, we splatter black paint all over their clean untainted souls.
Sharing this is a reminder to myself of how to treat the most important person in my life. Discipline is important. Independence is important. But showing our children how much they mean to us is far more important.
And it is also the best investment we can make.