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When I was 10 years old, my sister asked my mother who she would pick if she could only have one person in her life. My mother thought about it, and then she said she would pick my father. My sister wailed in protest wanting to know why she wouldn't pick us, but my mother told her that she could have more children but she couldn't replace my father.
There are many ways to make children feel unwanted and unloved, and sometimes we are not aware of how we are making them feel but the effects can be devastating. The following stories are brief examples from my own life, both positive and negative:
1) Always tell your children you love them.
My parents did a lot wrong, but they also did some things right. They always made sure they told us they loved us, especially my mother and especially as she got older. I remember her coming to school to pick me up because I had wet my pants and was crying for her. She would never scold me for what had happened, and always made the walk home feel safe and fun. She would squat down to my level and tell me she loved me before we even left the school. Years later, I remember her sitting in her chair in the nursing home, and when I would leave after a visit she would always motion me over and whisper in my ear that she loved me.
Thank you for that, Mom. I love you, too.
2) Never tell a child they aren't capable.
The main reason I think I survived my childhood was because I felt like I could do anything and was a strong survivor. That didn't come easily as my mother often said things to me that stung and made me feel stupid or incapable. On my ninth birthday we were living in a boarding house outside of Manhattan in NY, and material things in life were rather skimpy to say the least. Somehow my father managed to get me a paint by number set for my birthday, and I was told by my mother to go to bed because she and my sister were going to paint it for me. I wanted to paint it, but she told me no, I messed everything up and would ruin it.
That stayed with me for years and every time I wanted to draw a picture or paint her words came back to me and I felt I couldn't succeed. I would stare at a piece of paper for hours and not be able to draw on it for fear of making a mistake. Perhaps I was too sensitive, but I put a lot of belief into what my parents thought about me.
3) Give them life, give them love, and then let them go.
We bring children into this world but we don't own them. All we can do is give them life, love, direction, and make them feel safe and wanted. We are the past and they are the future, so we cannot totally live in their environment.
The most difficult thing I dealt with as a young adult was getting my parents to let go. They hung on to me and tried to keep me home by refusing to let me date, even at age 17. I wasn't allowed to make friends but was supposed to work and bring home the money to help with the household. They had to let me go after I turned up pregnant and had no father to introduce, but they only used that to hold on tighter, acting as though my son and I were brother and sister and they still controlled us both.
I finally broke away, moving to California with my new friend. I left my son with them but made it clear when I got a place and a job I would be back for him. Well, when I got the job and place, they refused to let me have him, so once again I returned home to be near my son and placate my parents.
The list is exhaustive as to what things work and don't work when you are raising children. The basics always apply, however, and they consist of love, compassion, and open conversations that explain things they may not understand. Your child should always feel they can come to you and tell you anything without getting repercussions or judgment.
My middle school son came to me once and told me he had decided he was ready to try drugs. I listened, asked him what kind of drugs and why he felt he wanted to try them. He admitted that he was afraid, but that his friends were all doing it. I explained to him that I had never lied to him and that I couldn't judge him or tell him what not to do because I had done my share of things that others considered wild and careless. I also made him promise that if he ever got in trouble doing drugs that he would call me, or, if he just felt insecure about it, I was always there. I also told him how damaging they are, all the dumb things I did and wished I hadn't, what I'd lost because of my poor choices, and that if I had it to do over I would not do any of it.
He never touched a single drug.