03 June 2009

“Avoid popularity; it has many snares, and no real benefit.” William Penn

I never experienced the joy / misfortune of popularity. Ever the dorky, out of shape, overweight misfit, I was always picked last, ridiculed, and often the butt of a joke. I erroneously hoped my children would escape the trials and tribulations I faced as a child. I say mistakenly for two reasons. First, as my father often points out, worry is nothing more than a prayer for what you fear most, and in that sense all three of my children reaped what I prayed for. At the same time, my oldest child possesses such drop dead, Goddess like beauty that many befriended and simultaneously hated her for her looks. She became 'popular', but at such a personal, deeply core level cost I cringe at the thought of what she endured.

At 21 she continues to struggle with self concept, her sense of self worth, and I credit her emerging strength of belief in herself for her continued perseverance. My son, only eleven years old, and youngest daughter of nine years, face similar trials and tribulations. Approaching middle school, he seeks to overcome his lanky, non-athletic, rather skinny build by following the pack. Ever afraid of making a move, dressing in some manner, looking - for even a second - uncool, he is driven to antics that raise my blood pressure and carry us into arguments filled with heated passion. His arises from a fear that he's not good enough, that no one likes him, and mine stems from the fear that my charismatic, funny, caring child will fail to see the merit of being his own incredible, dynamic self. I am afraid of what following will carry him to, and he is afraid of what failure to follow won't carry him to. So, at 6:00 in the morning we argue by text and phone over attending swim practice, and what constitutes appropriate work-out attire. He wants not to go, to wear jeans for dry land practice, and I'm filled with anxiety over his choices. Who works out in jeans? Well, duh mom, the kids motivated by a desire to be popular and liked workout in jeans. Isn't that obvious?

I have to step back and ask myself, "What's the real problem here?" Why is it that he doesn't want to go, whereas my sweet, adorable, and admittedly overweight child does? She's up, wearing sweats, ready to go over an hour early. My head spins, the tables seem turned and the world topsy turvy. It's not, though. They're both coming from the same place; they both feel unliked and unwanted by their peers. He wants to conform, she wants to take steps to get in shape, polar opposite plans aimed at the same destination. Both are motivated by the drive to be liked and ultimately popular. Why, oh why, do we base our self worth on what others think of us? I am as guilty as they, even today. I have an interview this morning, and spent the last two days worried, not about what I might say that reflects myself as teacher, but about what they will think of what I say, how I look, what I wear, how I present myself.

Oh dear, it isn't enough to wonder about our students and their developing self-efficacy. I need to check in and understand my own, reflect on what I do as a result of my own level of self-efficacy, and what in turn I model for my own children and the students in my classroom. I look at all three of my children and realize they've developed negative ideas of self, and it is in part a reflection of my own self-worth. I thought I finally understood that popularity comes at a steep price, that love of self ranks more important than like by others, and yet in my own children's actions I see that I (unintentionally) modeled the hidden thoughts, beliefs, and fears over not being good enough.

A phone call away, he feels worlds away, but I remind how loved he is, how charismatic, dynamic, funny, and caring barely encompass the child the world sees in action. I honestly tell him my fears, the source of my sadness, and we agree to talk. The world isn't right, but it's moving in the right direction. We both know that we take our hurt and fear out on those we love most, that the argument isn't over us, but over what each perceives as motivation in the other. Maybe he'll go to practice, maybe not. There are bigger fish in the ocean to wrestle with this morning.

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