Loving ourselves
and our children

by Charmaine Saunders

Think of how the world would change for the better if all our children knew how precious they are and lived their lives in that belief? Self-love isn’t vanity or arrogance but a genuine confidence and having a healthy relationship with one’s own inner being.

Those of you who are parents of young children are probably wondering how you might improve your child’s self-esteem. After all, the home is the first learning-place.

  • Firstly, think back to the things that made you feel small and helpless when you were a child. Make a list of them and vow never to do those things to your children, in other words, learn from your parents’ mistakes. Remember parents are only people after all, therefore, imperfect. Whatever you got in childhood that you didn’t like, don’t repeat them but DO repeat the things that made you feel safe, loved and valued.
  • All children are powerless, even the most confident, assertive ones. They are at the mercy of your whims, moods, choices and behaviours. To a large extent, this has to be the case to undue pressure, and it begins in the home.


I believe we are born sexual and remain so all of our days. Sexuality is part of the life-force and has little to do with genitals or intercourse. Of course a baby or a boy entering puberty doesn’t know this. He only feels physical urges that he wants to cater to.

This is why education in this area is so vital. When parents have said to me that they don’t like talking to their children about sex because it’s embarrassing, it makes my blood boil. At a seminar I did recently, I was amazed and pleased to hear from the male participants that they don’t actually enjoy casual sex, that they feel something is missing in one-night stands and they much prefer making love to someone they know and care about.

The future

Boys today will grow up to be wonderful husbands, if current indications hold true.

Young men getting married in the 21st Century expect to be equal partners, participate fully in parenting and help run the household. This is one of the better changes that have taken place in the last 5-10 years. Some guys are opting for full-time parenting, boys can look forward to more choices in the future regarding jobs, income-earning and retirement and they may not have to do all the initiating for dates and sexual exchanges.

But what are the new pressures that come with these new roles? Men in 2005 are floundering because they have lost their conventional identities of breadwinner, the `strong one,’ sexual predators (sorry, guys) and society’s movers and shakers but boys now will grow up to very different behaviour patterns, in the boardroom, in the bedroom, in families, in the home, out on dates and in the community at large. They will take for granted the presence of women in all areas of society and hopefully, therefore, respect them more, personally and professionally. We need to educate boys now about these changes and help them to develop strong identities that are grounded in spiritual reality rather than social myth.

Males tend to deal with their pressures very differently. Females network and vent their feelings; men stay silent, drink and get ulcers. That too will be different for the boys who will be men in the future. There is a lot more awareness of health issues these days, right from safe sex to fitness and diet, prevention of disease. stress management, etc. The key point is that we want to break the cycle of workaholism, smoking, excessive stress, pent-up emotions and the burden of too much duty that our fathers and grandfathers lived with and accepted. Let boys know when they’re small that they’re allowed to cry, talk about their feelings and be vulnerable.

Children have a right to grow up and expect vibrant relationships, healthy, long lives, creative choices and fulfilling careers. Even the uncertainties in the workplace that has developed in recent years I see as a positive thing because we no longer have absolute security to bank on, there has to be a lot more accountability and creativity in the way we work.

Right now, because you are the guardians of your children and therefore, have to make decisions that affect them on a daily basis, even in the most basic matters such as what they eat. Where there is a margin of flexibility, give way, for example, allow them to pick their own clothes sometimes, or the decor of their rooms; don’t keep unnecessary secrets, be as honest and open as possible. Ask questions with candour and admit when you’re wrong.

  • Give tons and tons of praise, for effort if not achievement, and very little criticism, if any.
  • Evaluate rather than judge and never be negative about attempts at new things no matter how seemingly unsuccessful.
  • Offer loving discipline and boundaries, rules for learning and strength, not rules for their own sakes or to make your lives as parents easier.
  • Ask and listen , don’t just tell and command. Try to speak quietly and explain the reason for your displeasure, rather than just yell indiscriminately.
  • Criticise behaviour but not the person.
  • Children see you spend time with the things and activities you love so if you don’t spend time with them, they automatically assume you don’t love and enjoy them. Children tend to take on the burden of guilt very easily so be careful of what you say in their hearing. A careless remark said in an unguarded moment and overheard by a child could destroy its sense of wellbeing and the damage can be far-reaching.
  • Time and attention are the most precious gifts you can give a child. Do simple things together and give of yourself freely. It’s far more important than toys or games or expensive holidays. Love and laughter and shared fun will be remembered well into adult life.

The parents of past generations did not know the importance of such gifts as touch, attention, hugging, praise so we can’t blame those who did not supply these to their children. I’ve even had a guy tell me he never praised his son because he didn’t want him to get big-headed! Now we know that a child can never be loved or praised or hugged too much; indeed, we have bumper stickers on cars that advise, `Hug a child a day!’ We know now that these gifts are more vital to a child’s emotional and physical health than food, shelter and clothing. So there’s no excuse for modern parents, I’m afraid.

Communicate clearly and positively in all areas of life. Sex education is particularly crucial. If a child feels listened to and heard ( not always the same thing!) this will do wonders for its self-esteem. If he/she asks an uncomfortable question and you don’t flinch from it but explain as clearly as you can, the child will be perfectly satisfied but if you prevaricate, you will set up doubt and self-criticism. Never make a child feel `dirty’ for having a normal interest in sexual matters, especially their own bodies. So many female eating disorders and also sexual hang-ups stem from poor body image learnt in childhood.

Give unconditional love.

I don’t believe that parents really withdraw their love when they are angry with their children but rejection combined with the removal of approval can translate in a child’s mind to being unloved, being `bad.’ So it is vital to always emphasise that it’s the action or behaviour you’re angry with, not the child. When forced to criticise or discipline, always do it in a loving way. I realise that this is a tall order but the results are worth the effort. A child that feels loved under all and any circumstances will be emotionally strong indeed and have an iron-clad self-esteem which will serve him/her all through their future lives.


  • Learn from your own childhood experiences
  • Be as flexible as you can be
  • Give lots of praise and minimise criticism
  • Share lots of time and attention
  • Lots of physical affection and demonstration of love
  • Communicate clearly
  • Unconditional love


© www.charmainesaunders.com

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem