“Aunt Heather, do you hate him?”
It was my 11-year-old nephew asking the question about my ex-husband. I chose my answer carefully.
“Sometimes,” I replied, wanting to be honest without providing too much information to a child trying to reconcile his Christian upbringing with his favorite aunt being a divorcee.
“He would say mean things to you and hit you.” He looked at me with the unfettered empathy only the innocent are capable of. “I hate him.”
I would give anything to spare him or any child the pain I’ve endured throughout my life. Yet, I have to question if in the fight to provide a better world for our sons, our daughters, our nieces and nephews, I fear that we may be forgetting how we ourselves came by our strength. One of the first lessons in adversity I learned was not to help a butterfly out of its cocoon. For in not allowing the struggle, you take away the ability of the butterfly to use its wings. So are we, in seeking to give children a struggle-free life, removing their ability to build the resistance needed to survive?
I was not the most popular girl in school. In fact, I was near the bottom of the social ladder, but my mom never pulled me out of school and sent me to another one. She taught me to stand my ground, to fight back. To return verbal jabs with literal jabs. And, even though I still say high school was one of the most horrible times in my life, I survived and am stronger for it.
In my role managing people at my day job, I have noticed a disturbing trend in my younger employees. Just turned adults who don’t know how to handle what life throws at them because they’ve never been made to face adversity. They’ve always had parents who removed obstacles, who sought to give them far more than they ever had, who capitulated to their whims to keep them happy. Young adults who, when told to sink or swim, sink like an anvil and perish all while completely shocked that no one stepped in to save them. Children who don’t know how to stand on their own; whose wings were never allowed to build the strength to fly.
So where do we find the balance? How do we ensure that we are raising the next generation with all the affirmation and love without removing the lessons learned while walking through the fire? For, in the words of one of my dear friends, yesterday’s scars are today’s armor.
I looked my nephew in the eye before replying to his statement of hate for the man who abused me.
“No, don’t you ever give him any power in your life.” And in searching for the words to dissuade him, I found the truth I’d been dancing around for so long. “Because of what I went through with him, I am a stronger, more compassionate, more capable person. And I like kind of really like who I am.”