My parents didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up. What they couldn't give us in money or things, they made up for in things that really mattered.
Like teaching us to read and fostering huge imaginations. Like teaching us to have dreams and never stop reaching for them. Like telling us every day that we were loved and that we were beautiful. Like teaching us about sharing. And compassion. And humility.
And one of my personal favorites, self-respect.
Looking back at it now, we didn't have the fancy toys and expensive clothes that our friends had, but I honestly believe we were a lot better off than a lot of them were.
Self-respect isn't something that just happens. It's not as natural as my dark brown hair or my thick Southern accent. It's not as natural as liking sweet tea or the color green. It was learned.
My mother grew up watching her mother be beaten and threatened. She vowed that her children would never have to live through that. My parents have had their arguments, like any couple, but they have never fought in front of us. They have never raised their hands in violence toward each other. They taught us that we were better than that. Better than allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of. Better than allowing ourselves to be beaten or humiliated. Better than allowing ourselves to be overcome by peer pressure. Better than allowing ourselves to feel like anything less than what we really are.
Because we are strong. Because we are beautiful. Because we matter.
If you don't respect yourself, chances are others probably aren't going to either.
When my marriage went downhill, my pride didn't want to admit there was a problem. My pride didn't want to deal with people's comments and looks and gossip. My pride didn't want to hear all the "I told you so's" and "That's what you get for marrying young's". My pride wanted to hold its head high, pretending there weren't fist marks in the bathroom wall or guns hidden in the couch cushions.
My respect for myself...as a person, as a sister, as a daughter...told me to run. Because I am strong. Because I am beautiful. Because I matter. Because my parents taught me that I don't deserve that.
There is a woman I know.
She lives with a boyfriend that beats her, with anything and everything he can pick up. She stays because she says she loves him...and because she loves the high she gets from all of the drugs they do together. She says the bruises are okay because the high makes them hurt less. She says the cuts are okay because the sex is great when they are fighting. She says the pain is okay because no one else will love her as much as he does.
She has two beautiful young daughters.
Two beautiful, young, impressionable daughters who are watching her every move, watching to learn how to act and grow. Watching. Learning. Mimicking.
Everything my mother taught me as a child helped define the woman I am now. Everything my mother taught me, I would be teaching my own daughter, if she were still alive.
Everything their mother is teaching them will help them define the women they will become tomorrow. She doesn't even realize that, and it completely breaks my heart...