At what age do we begin to feel “not enough”? Not tall enough, fast enough, thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough…I could go on, but you get it. Where do we develop that idea, that we are somehow deficient? Do we innately begin to compare ourselves when we reach a certain age, or is there something bigger in our culture that feeds us the message that we are somehow not enough?
My son shared with me last night that he worries that he isn’t “guy” enough. He doesn’t like to use his body aggressively. Not in soccer, and not otherwise. He flinches when the ball whizzes by his head, he avoids charging other players in a game. And off the field, he’s never been a rough-houser. He wasn’t the kid that tackled his uncles or beat up his sister. He’s a little afraid to climb too high, or go too fast.
I told him the story, again, of when he was three, and he stood on the side of a carnival bounce house yelling at some older kids he didn’t know to “take it easy, Guys! You’re getting a little rough!”
I knew then he had more courage in his little outstretched index finger than a lot of those kids had in their whole bodies. And I figured he’d either grow up to be class president or get his ass kicked a lot.
It takes more courage to lead than to follow. It’s not easy to stand up and do your own thing when what the crowd is doing doesn’t feel right to you. That little three year old boy didn’t even know he was being courageous, and he didn’t know to feel somehow “not enough” because he didn’t want to bounce rough like a dude.
But now, my son, more class president than punching bag, doesn’t feel “man enough”.
I’m well versed in the ways in which my daughter may come to feel inadequate, naturally. I fight my own feelings of not being enough this or that. But in a culture where men are shooting people because they aren’t “man enough” and want to prove something to the world, I’m particularly interested in what we are doing in our society to breed this feeling in our boys.
One thing I know those shooters lack is courage. They are afraid to lead. They are afraid of all the things they lack, and this “epidemic” of shooting is simply another way of following, isn’t it?
So I told my son to think about that little 3 year old boy, and to recognize that one of his strengths is that he is not a follower. He didn’t “join” in the bouncing just because everyone else did. He stood up to a bunch of kids he didn’t even know, and told them to calm their shit down. He held up that little index finger and demanded that they pay attention to him.
As parents, how do we teach our kids to strive to be their best, while also accepting that we can’t all be superstars at everything? How do we teach them to work hard, but not to hold themselves to anyone else’s best? How do we encourage them to find worth in who they are, to understand that sometimes, good enough is just that? It’s enough.
Can my son push himself more as an athlete? Definitely.
Am I glad he has a strong tuning fork for potential danger? Duh. I’m a MOM, People.
Does he need to ram into things with his head to feel like he’s guy enough? It’s not for everyone. So I’m going with no.
More than anything, I want to teach my children that they are ENOUGH. As they are. I think all parents “want” that, but we might need to consider the ways in which we push our kids as a society. And the ways we push ourselves. And maybe that needs to be part of this bigger conversation…