Words are funny things: they empower you. Break you. Complete you. Kill you. Motivate you. Speak to you. Words can shake you to your core and strip you of any self-confidence, just as easily as they can make you feel formidable and in control. It is human nature to search for reassurance in the costume of words. From the ones we love. And more interestingly, from the ones with whom we battle with; we battle with our inner self and with those around us, whether that is with our rivals, our mirror or simply our friends.
A war of words exists here: one side harbours laughing. Playing. Smiling. Happiness. Learning. Fun. Innocence. Exploration. The other side fires bullets masked as crying. Exclusion. Sadness. Bullying. Loneliness. Every single day, both sides wage an ongoing battle with each other where our children are merely puppets being ripped back and forth. This war carries with it a weight that continuously mounts upon our children’s shoulders.
We have all spent countless hours at the playground. We’ve been there as children. We’ve been there as mothers. It is exactly as its name suggests: a ‘play’ ground, for it plays with our emotions. Whilst it is a haven for many children who visit the playground to simply play, for others it is a fortress to foster bullying and to devise a kick in the guts to the weak. Fortunately, the only haunting memory I take from the playground as a child is breaking my wrist so I count myself lucky. And I can still hear the familiar piercing sounds of laughter, shrieking and panting as we weaved in and out between the monkey bars and swings.
But for many, the playground is the breeding ground for their future troubles; troubles in the shape of mental health or image struggles. My five-month-old daughter reminds me that we aren’t born in to this world possessing cruelty, jealousy or insecurities. These things are simply learned and they rear their ugly heads in the very place where children are desperate to belong. When I look to the not so distant future when Mylah will frequent her school playground, I envision her sweet and fiercely independent soul experiencing the playground exactly the way I did – full of laughter, kindness, happiness and learning. Learning to befriend others. Learning to stand tall. Learning that it is okay to fall down, scrape skin off her knees and to carry on. Learning that bullies exist but should not be tolerated. And if she happens to read this one-day, I hope her knees have scars (like mine do) because at least I’ll know she lived.
What a glorious and messy place to be where the infamous words of ‘I’m fat’ and ‘I’m ugly’ are tossed from one teenager’s lips to the next. The weight of such words throws a new rival in to this ongoing battle: ourselves. That echoing voice inside our minds is searching for any opportunity to tear us apart and to brainwash us in thinking we are a negative and ugly version of ourselves and standing alongside this voice is an inevitable phase of life that isn’t complete without braces, heartbreak, periods, rumours, rebellion, attitude and bitchiness. Of course this (believe it or not) is the definition of a seemingly ‘normal’ and somewhat happy teenage phase for some, but to countless others this stage of life inhabits inner demons, body image struggles, low self-esteem and a damaging lack of self-confidence.
It would be totally foolish of me to suggest that only those who suffer from these insecurities must be a product of bad parenting – mental health is inescapable but body image trouble, low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence isn’t. If only it were so damn easy to heal such struggles drowning our children with mundane advice like ‘give your child lots of hugs’ or ‘tell them you love them’. No. The answer lies with us recognising that our children are barely surviving within a world that is plagued by unrealistic and unattainable expectations, a slap in the face by the ‘perfect’ body via social media or television on the daily.
Children aren’t born to hate their bodies, the world teaches them to; it is during such a pivotal time in their lives that we need to nurture our little humans and teach them to love their bodies, love their curves, their freckles, their breast size, love whatever the hell it is they are self-conscious of. This is easier said than done, but at the very heart of this teenage wasteland is the opportunity for self-identity and growth…
Admittedly, it wasn’t until I gave birth to Mylah that I truly etched my own self-identity, but nevertheless as much as those confusing, wondrous and hideous teenage years have the power to bring us to our knees, they hold so much magic and disappear with one blink (although some might say they don’t disappear quick enough).
But what on earth do I know? I’m just a 27-year-old mother to one unaware of the big wide world she has been born in to, oblivious to the teenage wasteland waiting for her. But with her very first clutch of my finger she unknowingly sought, longing for her mother’s comfort… that day she had, and every day thereafter she will always have my reassurance.
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