What Christmas Shows Children About Self-Esteem

Dear Parents,

Please, please, please: let's tell our children about Christmas. Let's tell them that God, who is perfect and beautiful, doesn't actually need us. Let's sit with our little children on our laps--or with our older children over a cup of coffee--and remind them we are all here on this planet only because God WANTS us so passionately. Let's share with them the astonishing truth of Christmas: that our perfect God squished himself into the mortal frame of a mere man, just to get closer to us. And also to save us, so we could get closer to God. Forever.

That's all. That's the story of Christmas. If we tell the story over and over again, maybe our children will absorb it, the way a celery stick placed in colored water draws the pigment into itself and becomes splendid. Our children need to know this story, because it is the beginning and ending of all meaning. God becoming human is the only reason we need to live.

Children are hungry for affirmation. Children are desperate for love, for family, for an understanding of their place in the world. Children who lack these things grow up hating themselves and wanting to disappear, or forcing others to pay attention to their outrageous displays of addiction or terror. The truth about Christmas provides all the affirmation we need: the only reason we exist is because our God created us out of love; and when we forgot this, God proved his love by becoming one of us.

Relentless headlines tell us about school shootings, suicides, rampant drug use, epidemic STDs, teenagers joining terrorist groups. . . . This is not God's plan for us or for our children. And we don't begin to address the crisis by telling children how great they are. We free our children by showing them how great God is.

One of the most excellent books about children and parenting I have read in the past few years is The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident And Compassionate Kids In An Age Of Self-Importance, by Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD. Writing from a secular psychotherapy point of view, Young-Eisendrath emphasizes how to help our children ground themselves in reality:
In the 1970s and 1980s, teachers and parents began a campaign to cure low self-esteem in our young. Hoping to incrase children’s creativity and self-expression, this educational and parenting movement unwittingly promoted a self-esteem trap: unrealistic fantasies of achievement, wealth, power, and celebrity. When these expectations are not met in adult life – as inevitably they are not – the result is a negative evaluation of the self. And the trap of negative self-absorption cannot be eased or helped by more focus on the self.
A "focus on the self" leads away from happiness. Christmas invites us to focus instead on the Way, the Truth, and the Life: God incarnate in Jesus. Paradoxically, the more we help our children focus on Jesus, the more we all grow in authentic self-esteem, because we will understand the great dignity we posess: God became one of us.

Christmas truly is hope for humanity. Pope Francis asks the whole world to pray for a special intention this month: Christmas, Hope for Humanity. Let's join the Pope in his beautiful prayer, especially with our children. Christmas shows us who God is, and who we are. Thank you, God, for the hope and peace this brings.