Having my dad living with us has continued to provide me with powerful lessons – moments that reveal to me my own shortcomings, mannerisms and attitudes handed down to me by my parents.
One of them – the compulsion to put others down when frustrated or disappointed – came screaming to the forefront today.
It started innocently enough. As Em left for school, my dad said, “Have a good day at school and come home and tell me something that you learned.”
At that moment, I felt a wave of discomfort rise in me.
I can remember him asking the same of me.
This evening, at dinner, my dad turned to her and asked, “So, tell me what you learned in school today.”
She thought about it, “Well, we learned about something called DARE.”
I groaned, my mind flashing to Dee’s immersion in D.A.R.E. around that age. But Em was discussing something different. “It stood for Define, Arrange,…and I can’t remember the last two.”
After a couple of questions from me, we learned that it was some kind of language arts concept, probably in regards to writing.
But what my dad said next, set my fur on edge. “So tell me something you did learn, since you obviously didn’t learn DARE.” He said the last part of the sentence quietly, almost under his breath, but I heard it and knew immediately why I had felt uneasy that morning.
How many times had I been made to feel stupid, incompetent, or insufficient? Just because I couldn’t remember the entire details of a concept I had learned?
“Don’t you dare do that.” I barked at him, “Don’t you dare try to shame her because she doesn’t remember every detail of that concept. That is NOT okay.”
Dave, who had been only half-listening, was taken aback. “I don’t think he meant to shame her,” he said, “he was just asking what she learned.”
“Oh really?” I turned back to my dad, “Go on, tell him what you said.”
Dad was silent. I glared at him, and Dave quickly changed the subject, doing his best to calm the waters.
I took him outside afterward and explained what had happened, what he hadn’t heard my dad say, and why it garnered such a strong reaction. I went back inside and walked into the living room.
“I would like to talk to you.”
Dad muted the television.
“Do you know why I objected to what you said.”
“Yes, you didn’t want her to feel shamed for not knowing what each letter of DARE meant.”
“And why would I have a problem with that?” I asked him.
“Because Emily needs to be encouraged, not put down.”
I nodded. “I cannot count the number of times in my childhood when I felt stupid, or incompetent, because of something like that. And I grew up, and I did it to Dee, and I started to do it to Em too. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it anymore.”
And then I got up and walked away to go explain myself to Em. She hadn’t heard his snipe at the dinner table. So she had been quite confused by it all.
I want Em to have this amazing, magical connection with her own children when she has them. I want her to not battle these demons that I have battled, or repeat the mistakes that I have made. I want this particular family trait to cease and never raise its ugly head again.
Shaming a child, making them feel stupid or insufficient or lacking in some way – it doesn’t help, it only hurts. How I wish I had learned these lessons three decades ago.