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Who Wants Me?

February 12, 2020

When I was in the 9th grade, there was a clique of kids who ran together, sat together at lunch, sat together at ballgames, shared the same vibe. They were the cool kids. They actually referred to themselves as “The In Crowd.” I think this was a combination of adolescent hubris and a song that was hot on the top 40 charts and radio stations we could get at the time.

One very important thing about The In Crowd was that you had to be invited into it. You didn’t request entry. And you way didn’t just try to push your way in.

For all the wrong reasons (which I can see now, but couldn’t see then), I dreamed of being invited to sit with The In Crowd. Pretty much all of us 9th graders at Stillwater Jr. High School really wanted to be in The In Crowd. I’m pretty sure you had an In Crowd at your school, although they may not have named themselves as clearly as the one at my Jr. High.

I’m not sure we ever outgrow a form of that Jr. High dream of being in the In Crowd, because I don’t think we every really outgrow the question of whether we belong. That’s what was at the heart of the In Crowd allure. “Do they want me?”

Over time, the names of these In Crowds change, but I haven’t seen them go away. They get more sophisticated and more complex, but they don’t go away.

Some people seem to have settled this issue. They seem to be immune to the compulsion to belong. Sometimes they surround themselves with people who they know accept them and have already given them the “belonging card.” This can feel really good. Less mature people will surround themselves (or try to) with only these people so that they can control away the risk that there will be someone who doesn’t want them in their circle.

Or they grow to a point that they don’t need a “belonging card” from other people. In the best case with this, they don’t need the “belonging card” because they’re secure enough in their own identity (remember the whole identity thing from my last post? In case you don’t remember or didn’t get to read it, here’s a link: https://homeworkwithst.com/). In the worst case, they just don’t feel the need to be bothered with other people. This is a form of selfishness. Don’t be that person.

The rest of us are growing into knowing where we belong – in our family, our friendships, our career and other pursuits, and most importantly, in our walk with God. It’s a journey. A bumpy one for most of us.

If the question, “Who wants me?” isn’t answered in our family of origin, it will dog us through all our relationships until we finally find someone who wants us. This can take a lifetime. That’s why it’s high on my hierarchy of needs. (If you’re conversant with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it fits on his Love and Belonging level.)

In a perfect world, every child born into a family would hear clearly and often that they are wanted. Wanted by their parents. Wanted by their siblings. Wanted by their grand parents. In an ideal world, they would have the constant embrace of belonging, and they would know they’re deeply loved and accepted.

This just in: this isn’t a perfect world.

Lots of grown people are still searching for someone to assure them that they’re wanted. They hop and bounce from one relationship to another in hopes that this one is the one. They’re easy marks for manipulators and users, because they’ll put up with almost anything to get the sense of belonging they’re longing for.

I don’t imagine I need to make any more of a case for the idea that this belonging thing, this question of who wants me, is real and a real need. Your life’s story and you own life’s scars probably tell you it is.

Not having this need met will create roadblock after roadblock for living a fulfilling life. It will get in the way of every good thing, in one way or another.

So how do we give our kids what they need to answer the question they may not even know how to ask, “Who wants me?” I’m glad you asked.

There are two primary ways we do this. First, through our words. Second, through our actions.

Your words are more powerful than you probably realize. A kind word to your kid at the right time is emotional oxygen for them. A cross word at the wrong time is like crimping the oxygen tube. I once read it take 12 positive things to compensate for one negative thing. I’m not sure how you could verify this research, but my experience tells me it’s right. Negative words carry such a heavy meaning for our kids. Don’t keep score on it, but know that both your positive and negative words are powerful. So leverage the power of positive words.

It’s a simple thing to tell your kids, “I’m so glad I get to be your mommy (or daddy).” Especially when they’re little. Granted, there are days when it’s stretching the truth a bit to say it. Even great kids can be tough to deal with sometimes. But if you go to the very bottom line, you’re glad you’re here with each other. And when you tell them, you fill their emotional oxygen tank.

Don’t imagine that as kids get older they need to hear this message less. Truth is, they probably need it more as they get older. You’ll have to say it more cleverly, and you may get surface messages from them that you’re embarrassing them by saying it, but they need it. So tell them with words that you’re glad they’re your kid. Tell them more often than you think you need to. This isn’t something you want to meter out by drops. Make it a fire hydrant.

That old saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” is true, though. Your words matter, but your actions may be even more heavily weighted for meaning than your words. How do actions say, “I want you”?

I took a new job a while back, and when I got to my office for the first day, there was a little care package waiting for me on my desk. Nothing huge or elaborate. Just a few things that said, “We’re glad you’re here!” There was also a card that said, “We’re glad you’re here,” just in case I missed the meaning.

As childish as it may seem, it really made me feel good that somebody had gone out of their way to get to the store and pick up the things in this care package.

You can’t give your kid a care package every day. The job I referred to didn’t give me another care package after my first day. It would have been a little creepy if they did. But you can maintain the spirit and sense of the care package message through kind actions toward your kids. Simple things, like hugs. Like impromptu outings for something they think is fun. Things like occasionally surprising them with inexpensive gifts that say, “I’m glad you’re here!” Boys don’t generally respond to these things in the same way girls do, but even boys love to feel you want them. So when things are going fairly smoothly, take advantage of it and initiate.

When things aren’t going smooth, though, that’s where the men are separated from the boys and the women are separated from the girls. When things feel like they’re going south, it gets really hard to find the motivation to send messages that you want the kid who’s driving the bus south. In my experience, this usually happens as kids enter the teen years.

When you find yourself up against it with a kid who seems impervious to your most well-intended messages of belonging, START WITH PRAYER. I know, this is a real churchy idea. But it works when nothing else does. Ask God to give you a deeper and more intense love for your kid. Ask Him to help you confront your own anger and disappointment, and probably pride, and remind you of the fact that when they’re least lovable they most need your love.

Ask God to move in your kid’s life. Ask Him to direct your kid into relationships with people who will help him discover their true identity. Ask God to shape them and remind them that even when it doesn’t feel like it, they are loved and accepted by you and Him.

And then one thing to NOT do. DO NOT JUDGE THEM. There are probably a few opposites of belonging. Judging is one of them. I’m not talking about being happy about whatever behaviors they do and choices they make. I’m not saying that you need to pretend that what’s wrong is right. What I’m saying is being judgmental toward them will drive them farther away and faster than anything else you might do. Even though you can’t accept all their behavior, you’ve got to find a way to accept them. This is another thing to ask God for.

This belonging thing is so psychologically and theologically deep, I’ll never be able to adequately cover the subject in a blog. I think I’ve proved that here… But as with pretty much everything I write about, I really do believe that if you partner with God, He will help you navigate through even the choppiest waters. He wants your kid(s) to know to their depths that He wants them, and that you do, too. So ask Him to give you the grace and direction you need to say and show them, “You belong here! I want you!”

From → Marriage, Parenting

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  1. Who Can I Trust? | HomeworK with Steve Thomas

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