Special, But Not Spoiled
Reflecting on how children develop self-esteem, my Norwegian grandmother Hazel is the first person who comes to my mind. By the world’s standards, Hazel was unremarkable. She had a high school education and lived on a farm near a very small town her whole life, but to her granddaughters she is the woman we aspire to be. We all agree that the dictionary definition of grandmother should be accompanied by her photo. If more people had a grandmother like Hazel, there would be fewer people with poor self-esteem.
She was a living example of Maya Angelou’s quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Hazel had a gift for making people feel special—especially her grandchildren. She listened to us with her full attention, as if each of us was the most important person in the world, but she did not spoil us. We would never have been disrespectful or rude in her presence. I do not remember her ever lecturing or even telling us what to do or not to do. Somehow, we just knew. We wanted to please her and have her be proud of us. I felt special when I was with her, but not spoiled.
Grandparents often have the luxury of focusing on making memories. It is easier to be totally focused on a child when you’re not distracted by getting regular healthy meals on the table that children will actually eat, or doing laundry or the many other things parents must do day in and day out. Grandparents can provide something important in a child’s life, but that doesn’t mean they need to lavish gifts and treats on their grandchildren. Simple one-on-one time and sharing experiences out of the child’s day-to-day routine can build a strong foundation for self-esteem. Often as adults how we feel about who we are and our self-esteem is highly influenced by the messages we heard from important people in our lives when we were children. We take those messages in and shape a sense of self based on those messages. This is the default view of self we have as adults. The way my grandma Hazel treated me taught me that I was important. I was special. Life is fun and I was loved. I also knew that she thought of me often and I was a priority to her.
One of my favorite weeks of each summer vacation was the week I stayed with my grandmother and had her all to myself. I grew up in a home with six children, so having her undivided attention was something I reveled in. I loved the adventures she took me on.
One of my favorite adventures was visiting the Bovey Store. It was a true country store in the middle of nowhere. The proprietor, one of my grandmother’s neighbors, Josie, was a tiny lady about the same size as my ten-year-old self. She was like an old elf, magical and mysterious. There were many treasures at the Bovey store and I got to pick something out to take back to Grandma’s house. One of my favorite things was a fascinating book that you painted with water and colors appeared. I remember treasuring the book and looking forward to having the whole book to myself to spend what I thought of as hours to reveal the colors with water. In reality I was probably done with it in minutes instead of hours.
My grandparents had chickens and we did not. It was another adventure to go on a hunt to find eggs the chickens had laid outside of the chicken coop and go check the pigs. Looking back, it wasn’t that what we did during that week was so special, but it was her loving attention that made the week alone at her and Grandpa’s house better than Christmas. I remember little of what we talked about, but I remember how I felt in her presence as if it happened yesterday.
At home I was a part of a tribe of children. I was the oldest, so I was expected to be a good example and there were younger children who needed time and attention. At Grandma’s house, I had her undivided attention. The two different experiences provided the balance of being part of a family group and yet being special and unique.
Other Things She Did
When she and my grandpa traveled, they would send us each our own postcard telling us about their journey so we knew that they were thinking of us. When we got old enough to go to camp for the week, my grandmother would always give us a package with a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and all of the things we may need for the week. None of these things, or any of the many other things she did, were big things. But in her presence I felt important. That’s what she did for her grandchildren and many other people in her life.
The role of grandparent in children’s lives is often undervalued. In some situations, it is necessary for the grandparent to provide day-to-day parenting; however, this severely inhibits their ability to be in the role of grandparent. Grandparents’ most important role can be making memories, building self-esteem, and supporting parents.
What made you feel special as a child? Who influenced how you see yourself? How can you help the children in your life feel important? If you found this helpful in inspiring self-esteem, please share.