Refining Our Focus on Our Daughters
In the pre-air-conditioned, pre-TV (in our house) fifties when I was growing up, it was a regular occurrence on hot summer evenings for the phone to ring—there was going to be a hamburger fry at McClelland Park. I loved the picnics and getting together with our friends, but I didn’t like McClelland Park. There were no swings or slides; there was nothing for kids to do. It would never have occurred to my folks to take that into consideration when planning these get-togethers. Everyday life all those years ago was organized around adults, not children. Routines and schedules were largely arranged to suit grown-ups; children were on the periphery. So while the hamburgers fried and my parents and their friends stood around and talked without a thought of entertaining us, my brother, the rest of the kids, and I filled the time by collecting discarded bottle caps or scuffing through the gravel around the picnic tables, hoping to find a few coins that had fallen out of pockets.
Along with not being the main attractions, my brother and I also were not burdened with hearing that we were “special.” Mom and Dad commended us when we deserved it (making good grades or helping our grandparents), but there were plenty of shape-up lectures, reminding us that we were, if not ordinary, certainly not at risk of being exceptional. We were cherished and cared for, but according to psychologist Polly Young-Eisendrath, we were lucky to have parents who did not put us at the center of the universe or shower us with excessive praise. In The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance, she says that “overfocus on the talents, skills, or insights of an individual child (no matter how gifted) naturally leads to an exaggerated self-importance in adolescence and young adulthood” and that this inflated sense of self results in children becoming “preoccupied with their own needs” and feeling entitled.
Many of us from the baby-boom generation, believing we should have had more attention and been noticed more for our uniqueness when we were growing up, set about to correct the deficits. Young-Eisendrath writes, “We gathered in groups large (rock concerts) and small (consciousness-raising) to bring to ourselves the . . . love we collectively longed for . . .