Kids rely on parents to care for them, protect them, love them. Sometimes parents don’t care. It takes only one unfortunate event for a parent, annoyed and irritated by a kid who refuses to shut up, to lose their patience and strike their child, hurting her, humiliating him. Yeah, that shuts ‘em up – but it also shuts them down.
How do kids get back on their feet? They take care of themselves – not in that brutal way they were treated, but from a way that says, “this is how you should have treated me.”
If those parents saw me now, some fifty plus years later, on one of my not so good days, I like to imagine the conversation would go something like this:
Parents: “Hey you, why so down? You look like you don’t have a friend in the world.”
Me: “I don’t have any friends. I mean, I have friends, but they’re only so deep. I’ve been on my own for so long, and I’ve felt for just as long, maybe longer, that I’ll be alone my whole life.”
Me: “Really. Intellectually, I know that’s not true – but that doesn’t change the feeling. I don’t know why I feel this way – I only know that I do.”
Parents: “Wow. We don’t think we’ve ever met anyone who’s hurting like you’re hurting, for such a long time. It doesn’t look like many people know this – it’s not like you’ve been beaten up, physically, so people can see the cuts and bruises.
“We don’t know why the people who meant so much to you didn’t think you were important enough to listen to, to pay attention to, to love you in ways you wanted to be loved.
“But here’s something you need to know: It’s not you. You are one of the most caring, loving, funny, charming people we’ve ever known. And even more than this …
“Every human being on the face of the planet deserves to be cherished, to be protected, to be cared for, to be loved. Not because they’re special, or deserving, or have earned these things. They deserve it simply because they exist, they’re here – they are enough.
“Kid, you are enough. We know you’ve been hurting a long time, carrying this hurt, never free of the pain, trying to go on in spite of it. But it’s okay. You don’t have to hurt like this anymore.
“You are loved. You’ll feel lonely now and again – hey, we all do, sometime – but that’s okay. We’re not really here to tell you that you won’t die alone – that’s a real possibility.
“We love you, kid. We want to take care of you. We want to protect you from this pain. And we’ll be honest with you – we’re not sure we can do it. But we are sure we want these things for you.”
They’d look like that.