"I just hope I don't end up in someone's blog."What's that supposed to mean? I wrack my brain and decide that he means, "I hope I do end up in a blog and get some Free PR." Happy to oblige, dear. (And you need not have worried. There's no way I'd give you a bad review.)
Friends. Support your local restaurants, and if there are musicians in your neighborhood, give them reason to play. Applaud, praise them, on and off stage. Encourage the arts.Not much else matters, when it comes to social skill, more than sensitivity and good manners. But it's a fine art, a lost art in some families, making people feel good, not bad.
Go up to any musician you know and tell that person how much you like his or her music. It's the least you can do, and it shows good manners and good breeding, thanking people.
Don't ask for autographs, unless you have a pen in hand and a napkin.
And we're in the business of feeling good, not bad, or why else would we be here on the Internet, when we could be in bed with a good book or hanging out at the beach?
Okay, here we go.
FD always complains that the family doesn't visit us. He's from a huge family, we're talking huge, something like 55 first cousins, who have been fruitful and multiplied. Most of them hold that Chicago is either (a) too cold, (b) too far, (c) too full of gangsters, or (d) not Baltimore.
But we got a nibble and plenty of notice to prepare. A cousin came to stay with us for the weekend and brought along a spouse and offspring, and we were ecstatic. Their miniature Al Pacino, the youngest, has launched successfully into adolescence, and almost as interesting, the three oldest, one more striking than the next, are ready for marriage (in my culture we still do this, marry).
On Saturday I let them pick my brain about what to look for in a marriage prospect, what to discuss on a date.
Then on Saturday night we all went out and I left the clean-up for the next day, knowing full well that leaving the clean-up is a real source of anxiety. But you do what you gotta' do in life.
And it was great, foregoing the usual stay at home, clean up the house, risk the unthinkable by renting a movie, get to bed at a reasonable hour options. But Sunday morning, in the closet, searching for something to wear, the flashbacks started, the conversations we had had, the ones between me and those young adult cousins, about what to look for in a partner.
And as words came back to me I realized I had forgotten to tell the kids something important, something else to check out when they're dating, not quite a quality as much an affect, something people don't automatically ask about, but which has great impact upon a future partner's self-esteem, and consequently, will have tremendous impact upon the self-esteem of future generations.
A sense of shame is elemental to mental health. You need a little, but not too much. Too much affects your personality, and not in a good way. It can make you angry, or the opposite, self-hating, passive, withdrawn. Shame makes people lie.
The power of shame takes its energy from criticism in early childhood. As children we can't always advocate for ourselves against bigger, more authoritative people who have bigger, edgier vocabularies. Usually these people are our parents. Our powerlessness against their criticisms contains the seeds of unworthiness. And that unworthiness can settle into our chests for the long haul, the duration of our lives.
So among the many important answers you'll want to weasel out of the potential candidate for Partner and Other Parent of your Future Progeny, while waiting for your pizza at the bistro, might be:
How did they handle criticism in the family?Sometimes it isn't so terribly pathological. We may call a children a mildly pejorative name, like slob, so that he becomes interested in not being a slob (untidy would be a better word) forever.*
Did anyone shame anyone else? Did it happen in front of other people?
Was that considered okay, shaming in the name of behavioral change?
Some children really catch on when they're called slobs, although if you do use this intervention to build character, it's best to use the word in a less personal way. You might say, I wish the people in this house weren't such slobs! This gentle shaming gives everyone a chance to triangle you, gang up on you, make fun of you for being so O-C, since you, apparently, are the only one who cares.
If it is more direct, however, but funny, as in, You are such a slob! One day you'll get it together, maybe, but I'll probably be dead by then, it might actually work. With direct, yet gentle shaming, the child has a chance at getting it together and becoming tidier. As neat and tidy, he** is highly praised, "Look how nicely my Johnny takes care of his room!" so that his fledgling self-esteem, swimming for life during slobdom, improves.
Out of the chest, into the head, I always say. Praise goes directly to one's ego. It's a good thing, in the Things that Make Us Feel Good category of life.
Horrible shaming, as in, You're an unbelievable, disgusting, good for nothing slob, and you'll never become anything, you unbelievable loser, I can't stand to look at your face, get out of my sight, is well within definitive shaming bounds and might do the trick, damage the child forever, contribute soundly to the development of various ugly and painful personality glitches and Axis I or II or both disorders.
So mainly, you want to find out:
Did anyone call anyone lazy?
With gusto? With sarcasm? With hate? Disgust?
Were there tirades directed at making people feel badly about themselves?
You want to know about that, you really do, you want to know if the shaming took the form of verbal abuse. If the answer is a resounding Yes, negative labels stuck pretty well, parents used crazy glue, then the next question is, "Ever get any therapy for that?"
And if the answer to that is a resounding No! you want to find out if your date made any promises to himself, like maybe conscious or unconscious decisions, based upon shame.
Like what he would do, for example, if he married, and his spouse accidentally insulted him or somehow shamed his children, even if it was gentle shaming?
Would he get very sensitive? Would he shut down?
Would he get angry and mean, insult back? Would he leave?
Or would he have the presence of mind to say to a partner, "I think you could have said that nicer. I'm sure you didn't mean to make me (little Johnny) feel so badly, but you did."
That's the right thing to say when another person hurts your feelings. "I'm sure you didn't mean to do that, to hurt me like that." You need to give people a chance to take back what they said. Right away.
And finally, Would he do that to you? To the kids? Talk down. Shame. Do unto others. . .
This discussion about childhood can naturally flow into how a couple will want to raise children if they have that in mind. How do you get children to behave, to do the things they don't do naturally like to do, like clean up? How do you do that without shaming a child?
It can be okay, sometimes, to shame a child, you can sometimes get away with it. You have a better chance at doing it with less emotional residual if it's done with love, a better chance, perhaps, if it's done in Yiddish.
But it's possible not to be received this way, as loving, under most circumstances. And it's remembered, for sure. Shaming can be a slippery slope, places a distant second to positive reinforcement. Shaming is the easy way, the slacker way. M and M's and Hersey's Kisses require trips to the grocery store and the dentist. Work and expense. But nobody said parenting would be easy.
So you want to talk about things like these, maybe before the engagement, before you plunk down 4 grand for the ring. These kinds of things are more important than, say, Does the whole family have to eat dinner together? Or, Can you play tennis?
Go right for the emotional stuff. Sure it can be a source of pain, but it is also a source of comfort, joy, and humor. Understanding one another is a happy thing. Where you find committed relationships that work, you'll find couples who have talked about at least some of the traumas of their childhood before their engagements. They knew each other, touched one another's souls.
So take your date to your local bistro, support the music industry.
And tell them to play a little softer so you can talk about what matters. Onions on the pizza? Or not. French fries? Oh, yes. Definitely!
*In Yiddish the word for slob sounds even worse than it does in English. Parents can get a fairly decent rise out of their children using the word shlumpf. Everything is more effective in Yiddish.
**I use the masculine gender through out the rest of the post, but there's no bias. Women are put to shame, too. Never a bias, really, with child abuse.