Mom, Please Don’t Sacrifice Your Child on the Altar of Popularity

It’s taken me years to flesh out my feelings about the microcosm of the world known as Kindergarten-Twelfth Grades.

I realized in my early thirties that some of us are simply born into families that make succeeding in that little dog-eat-dog world very easy to do.

And then others of us have an extraordinary look or talent or personality that make fitting in a piece of cake.

But the rest of us have to fight for every friend, every party invitation, every success gained. And we don’t always go about it the right way.

And among that crowd, there is sadly no hope for some of us. We are not rich enough, talented enough, or pretty enough; or we are just too different to meet the criteria for fitting in.

For those kids it will not be an easy twelve years.

I have been intentional in raising my children with just enough awareness so that school is not a daily hell (we call it playing the game), but also with a keen sense of staying true to who they really are and accepting others at the same time.

It wasn’t always this way, as I’ve talked about here, here and here.

I saw how much my expectations and lingering childhood hurts broke my oldest son’s spirit, so I gave up trying to make all four of them “those kids,” and instead decided to let them be who they were and pursue what they loved.

There have been some consequences to giving up that ghost, no doubt about it.

In some ways, my kids have suffered from my decision to not play the popularity game, to not force them to do and be and have.

This style is far different from many parents I know today who worship at the thrones of Busy, Winning, Appearance and Fitting In.

I mean, what do you do with children who are homebodies? Who, like their mother, can only handle so much interaction with other people in a day?

What do you do with children who lack a drive to compete? Who don’t care whether they win or lose?

If you’re me, you try things here and there, and eventually learn who your children are.

Common sense says that’s good parenting. But in today’s world?

Well, today’s parenting ideas were not formed out of common sense. That’s obvious.

Today our children have to start something, and they have to start it young.

And that something must turn into something bigger and better, something they’re the best at, or they will never succeed.

Take cheerleading. (I have two girls, so I know a bit about it.)

Your daughter can’t wait until sixth grade to decide she wants to cheer for her school.

Are you crazy, mom?

Down here in the South, you better have that girl in the gym at two years old, learning to bend her body in every way imaginable, shaking her booty like a DCC, or she will never make that squad.

Soccer, baseball. They’re all the same. The younger the better.

But how do they even know what they really like at that age? (When I was three years old, I’m pretty sure at one point I wanted to be a fire hydrant when I grew up.)

Because of this new pressure to specialize in one thing or ten, children break off into groups based on what they’re doing at much younger ages than ever before.

Breaking into groups is nothing new, of course. Cliques have largely been formed around status, looks and talent. Kids who are able to squeeze into these power groups with none of the above are the lucky few indeed.

And in some places (like the town I live in), you could have all the looks and talent in the world, but without the right set of parents, still be doomed. (I’ve never seen a place where parents have so much influence over their children’s friends.)

To amplify shame, nowadays not only are our children pressured to have and do and be so that they can not only be liked, but WORSHIPED by their peers, they also see exactly what they don’t have, what they’re not doing, and who they’ll never be thanks to the plethora of social media choices by which to post every second of life.

Before you preach the whole, ‘Your child doesn’t have to have a cell phone’ bit, let me assure you, they are damned if they do, but even more damned if they don’t. Ry went an entire summer without her cell phone (by choice) and started seventh grade without a single friend. Cell phones are pretty much the only way this generation connects. Sorry, Moms, but once again, that’s on us.

None of our children are perfect, and heaven knows, my four are solidly in the imperfection camp, and I’m not a mom who even tries to pretend they aren’t, as you’ve seen from many a Facebook or Instagram post.

I’m not afraid to call my kids out. But I’m also not afraid to celebrate who they are and to teach them to find value in just being.

That is a STRUGGLE, moms, do you hear me? Please don’t think I’m riding a high horse over here.

There are times I STRUGGLE not to step in and ask my daughter why she hangs out with the crew she does, a group of girls who do and go and be, leaving her to sometimes feel less than.

It’s a STRUGGLE not to beg my oldest to care more about what others think. He takes decent care of himself, but he’ll also pull the same five t-shirts from the top of the clean clothes pile and wear them over and over again without shame.

It’s a daily STRUGGLE to keep my third son, who does succeed at so much and easily draws friends, to be kind to all and include all. He is a bit like his father in the confidence/cockiness department. By far the easiest kind of kid to raise in today’s world, but not necessarily the best.😉

And I can’t even begin to tell you how I STRUGGLE with my youngest, who chooses her friends based on how many Pokemon cards they have, and whether or not they will judge her for wearing her brother’s clothing.

It’s a daily struggle not to worry about our children, and sometimes I think life would be easier if I pushed harder for them to be what the world calls “normal” and “successful.”

But I don’t.

Because to me, there is something inherently wrong with sacrificing your child’s spirit on the altar of popularity.

There is something wrong with pushing them before they’re ready to figure out what they want to do in life.

There is something wrong with shaming them for being who they are.

Don’t get me wrong. There is NOTHING wrong with being popular. Nothing at all.

I know the best people who are pretty, talented, and eager to do all, and well-liked because of it.

But I see far more who are popular for all the wrong reasons, and not even liked by the people who ironically feel worthless because they don’t share the same status.

And unfortunately, I see parents and grandparents who encourage this and turn the other cheek at what is blatantly wrong, all in the name of their child being in the right “group.”

I refuse to do that, and if my children have suffered because of it, then they’ve suffered for good reason.

Because my job is not to make my kids popular. My job is to make them good people.

My job is to raise future community helpers, family providers, loyal friends, and if they so choose, loving parents.

Parents who hopefully won’t sacrifice their own children on that altar. Parents who will teach their kids to be kind to all, shaming none, no matter the friend group. (There will always be groups, and as parents we should accept that and teach our kids to be content with their crew.)

My biggest job is to teach my kids to know who they are and Whose they are.

Because that’s the only hope of helping our children succeed on the twelve year journey they are forced to walk.

And if we don’t change directions soon, I fear what will become of these precious souls we’ve been trusted to care for. (The teen suicide rate is higher than ever before.)

It’s time to tear down these fake altars and question the reasons we built them in the first place.


What’s at the End of Your Rope?

Scene from Steel Magnolias
There’s a scene in the 1989 drama Steel Magnolias where Shelby’s father, Drum, is fussing with his incorrigible neighbor Ouiser over a Magnolia tree dividing their properties.

Drum had cut flowers from the tree to use as pool decorations for his daughter’s wedding reception, and Ouiser was less than happy about it.

I am just about at the end of my rope with you, Drum Eatenton, Ouiser says after she’s exhausted all her fight.

Well then, why don’t you tie a noose and slip it ’round your head? he replies, laughing.

Have you ever come to the end of your rope and realized the place it stopped was your feet?

Have you ever thought that the only option left was to slip it ’round your head?

I have.

Not too long ago I had to admit two hard truths to my husband:

  • I was unhappy, and he actually wasn’t the problem, and…
  • I had lived 37 years never feeling intrinsically worthy.

For the past 15-ish years, I have been telling my husband that he makes me unhappy.

Easy to do. Not taking responsibility for our actions has been a human strong-suit since Adam and Eve ate the apple.

If it’s not your fault, it’s not on you to fix it.

But lately—especially since we moved to Oxford—victimhood has left me feeling a bit jaded. I can keep up a facade for ten days, but not eleven. I can continue to pretend I’m not to blame for my lack of joy, but only until I choke on my own words.

I’m unhappy because I’m unhappy. Not because Clayford, my kids, my parents, my past, old friends, family members or any circumstance made me that way.

I’m unhappy because it’s a habit. It’s wired into my brain. It’s a set point and I’ve been too lazy to change it.

But I’m also unhappy for an uglier reason, one that has shot poison into my body, soul and spirit.

I’m unhappy because for so long I believed my worth came from what I did, who I was, and what I brought to the table.

This is a lie from hell that has hovered around me nearly all my life.

I grew up in the suburbs of a city. In my community and the surrounding areas, there was a larger amount of money and status in comparison to the tinier towns and more remote places in my state.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you grew up in a similar town.

A town where some families and children are known in a good way for what they have, what they do and what their last names are. Or known in a bad way for purposely seeking to be the opposite. Or not known at all because they fit neither of the above.

From reading my posts, it’s probably not so hard to tell where my family fell.

So even though I wasn’t specifically told to find my worth in doing, being or having, that was exactly what I gathered from all I saw around me.

I saw that pretty girls who dressed in the right clothes and did the right activities were liked.

I saw that boys who acted like men and played sports and wore a certain jacket were popular.

I saw that money, or the perception of having it, made all of the above possible.

And I saw that parents and teachers encouraged this, participated in it, and often schemed to make sure it happened.

I’m not judging a soul for this. I feel quite sure this same merry-go-round has been spinning since the dawn of creation.

But longevity doesn’t equal right.

However, longevity does mean that something probably won’t change anytime soon, and this same scenario happens in Oxford as in any other mid-sized, economically advantaged town.

Strangely, however, it never occurred to me that this was a false way to live until I was sitting at the Starbucks talking marriage with a friend of mine.

I told her some struggles Clayford and I had been dealing with.

When she asked me out of the blue if I felt worthy of having a good life, I said no, giving her a very solid list of all the ways I had no right to feel worthy of anything.

My past and present failures are great examples, I said.

She looked at me like I was crazy, and replied, I’m not talking about feeling good for having money or accomplishments, Toni. I mean, Do you feel good just because you are here and you are you?

This. Blew. My. Mind.

I knew in my head that one should feel valuable just for existing. I’ve even written about it before.

But in my heart?

My image of God and redemption has been so skewed for so long that the concept of worthiness has always seemed tied to doing everything right, having material ‘blessings’, and being graced with sheer luck.

Our greatest calling as humans—especially Jesus followers (love your neighbor as yourself)—is to make everyone feel worthy, because feeling intrinsically valuable helps you make good choices, choices that lead to feeling externally valuable too, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

I believe my lack of self-worth, as seeing myself as intrinsically valuable, has led me to do some pretty outrageous things.

I don’t need to vomit them on a blog post, but suffice it to say, I’ve looked for worth in a lot of wrong places, even places that seem good.

And I could wrap up this post all cute, but instead I’ll just tell you that this year has officially been titled “End of My Rope.”

I have zero clues where I’ll be come December. Every day feels like I’m peeling back layers of an onion and finding more and more rottenness underneath.

What about you?

Are you performing for value? Trying to sell something for money and success? Taking selfie after selfie for likes and comments? Living through your name or money or children? Hoping to be known for what you do as opposed to Whose you are?

Do you understand that you are entitled as a living and breathing creature of the Universe, created by a God who knit you together, to feel intrinsically worthy?

Do you know that no matter how long you live (or even if you had never made it here in the first place) your life is still incredibly valuable just because?

Maybe like me, you didn’t know that.

Maybe like me (and Ouiser Boudreaux, bless her soul) you’re at the end of your rope, and you’ve found it halts right where it started: YOU.

Don’t pick up that rope and tie it around your neck.

Burn it. Toss it. Get rid of it.

You don’t need it.

We don’t need to lasso value from other places.

It’s been inside us all this whole time.

It’s on you to know your worth.

It’s on me too. Any change I make, any happiness I accept, any trials I face, it’s my decision to pick which lens I see them through.

And for once I’m okay with that.

Because I’m starting to realize I’m worth it. 😉