I attended convocation at the Dancer’s school today. The headmaster was talking about having respect for yourself and your friends and used Toy Story 4 to discuss the idea of having value and valuing others. He encouraged the kids to be like Woody and not allow their friends to believe they are trash and to not believe they, themselves, are trash.
So far so good. Definitely a message that middle schoolers, in particular, need to hear.
The headmaster defined values as those ideas and beliefs that are important enough for us to hold onto them forever. Then he encouraged the children to see respect as valuing someone else more than oneself. As valuing our friends’ needs above our own.
That’s where he lost me.
I understand that he’s simplifying and trying to instill a culture of service in a bunch of fairly privileged middle schoolers, but I don’t think we should be encouraging our teenage girls to value anything more than they value themselves. Too many girls are taught to believe they only have value in reflection of how they make others feel. That their value is in making others happy. As a girl, I remember feeling pressure to blend in and to fit in.
Don’t be too showy. Don’t be too loud. Don’t step on anyone’s toes. Don’t stand up for yourself and certainly don’t advocate for yourself.
This seems wrong to me. Respect means loving yourself enough to assume others are deserving of love. Totally. Respect also means loving yourself enough to draw boundaries, where needed, to defend yourself against those who don’t value you or love you as you deserve.
This was hard for me to learn. I wanted to please and to support and to love. I saw that as more important than my own needs. Working as a therapist, though, I’ve realized that I can’t love anyone else unless I first love and care for myself. The days when I am the worst parent are the days when I haven’t engaged in any of the things that make me feel whole and valued as an individual.
I talk to my clients a lot about the safety briefing on the airplane. You know the one, where they say: for those passengers traveling with small children or people who need assistance, secure your own oxygen mask first before attempting to assist others. Why do they do that? If I can’t breathe and my kids can’t breathe, do they really expect me to worry about my own oxygen first??
Of course that’s exactly what we must do, because we can’t help anyone if we’re unconscious.
So many of my clients come in suffocating. They starving themselves of care and oxygen out of the belief that we owe others all of ourselves with nothing in reserve. Because we’re taught that others, but not ourselves, are important enough to hold on to forever.
This was part of what I struggled with when I started running longer distances. To run long races can feel like a selfish pursuit. Long runs require hours of the morning, usually on the weekend, which my family has other things they might want to be doing together. It required me to say no to breakfast out (yes to brunch after though, always yes to brunch) if it couldn’t wait two hours for me to get my run in.
Last year I signed up for a race in New Orleans. A few weeks before the race one of the Dancer’s competitions was moved to the same weekend. I thought about cancelling. But. I trained. I was excited. A few years ago, I would have cancelled. No question.
And they were fine.
And I went to Disney World without the kids to run a race. It was great. It was so fun to be in the parks doing something I wanted to do for myself. I felt so happy to see them and so ready to parent and be present for them after that.
And the kids were fine again.
Running every day doesn’t necessarily fill my parenting tank, but it does help with my emotional stability. It burns off some of my anxious energy and gives me a feeling of accomplishment and strength. Running races, though, that keeps me going and motivated. It’s a thing that is just for me, just for fun. It’s the reward for getting out and taking my running medicine regularly.
It’s the combination of the two that has made me a better parent. It is because I care for my kids that I care for myself. That’s what respect means to me. That’s what I try to pass on to them. I want my girls to see me achieve things just because they’re meaningful to me. I want them to see me work for goals and to prioritize them over other people’s things.
It’s important to have values and to have VALUE to yourself. That’s what respect means and that’s what I want my kids to learn. Speak up if you have to, bother people if necessary, but value yourself enough to respect your own needs first. I wish that had been the message in convocation, but when I asked my daughter about what she thought of the headmaster’s speech she said:
“I thought he was kind of wrong that we should put other people’s needs before our own, needs are needs. He probably should have just said sometimes we have to put other people ahead of our wants but that it’s ok to get what you need.”
Mission accomplished, apparently.