You can say that we were all put our labels or stereotypes as we grew up. Now that we are adults, we refer a little to those memories, but the truth is that we cannot deny their perpetual influence on our self esteem, on our love life, on our work life and, perhaps most painful, on our lives. as mothers.
All these labels reflect, in a way, both our innate talents and our quirks. But they are generally determined by external factors. They are almost always born from the expectations of our parents, their desires, their anxieties.
Good or bad, they reflect family experiences and attitudes, projected onto children. Parents who place great emphasis on intelligence, can describe their children as: the little genius, while those who value muscles above all, consider the first jump that their child takes as an unequivocal sign that he will be "the athlete of the year.
The studious: Since she was a child, she has earned this nickname for her thick glasses and for always carrying study books under her arm.
The naughty: has always been playful, loud, outgoing. It has passed from childhood to adulthood without making any changes to it .
The sexy: her languid and dreamy look marked her since she was a child with this sensual nickname.
From the moment that Maria came home with the first cartoon at the age of four, her mother began calling her "my little artist. Actually, her mother had chosen the name Maria in honor of the mother's maternal grandmother. I was a little girl, who had been a well known painter. I always liked art, but in my high school years I also excelled in history. And I dreamed of doing something in that field, remembers María, who is now 34 years old and a sculptor. Yes mother I wouldn't have been pushed towards art with such force, I don't think I would have opted for that activity.
Despite these words, Maria does not regret what has happened in her life. She may not be a world famous artist, but she sells her work without problems and she thoroughly enjoys the flexibility of her artistic career.
Also, she was at art school where she met who is now her husband. Anyway, when it comes to educating her son, who is now eight years old, she Maria tries to be attentive to all his manifestations. "For now he is totally devoted to animals. He says he wants to be a vet ... So we talked about it. He also likes to draw, but I will not be the one who will incline him to decide whether he wants to be a vet or an artist."
A family affair:
Positive or negative, labels always tilt us in a certain direction, sometimes even before we are able to walk. It is common in families that each of the children receives a particular label, so that they play a different role. "I'm the extrovert," says Luisa, 39. "When I was a child, my mother always tried to make me a very sociable and popular girl.
Luisa was always the homebody, and her younger brother the idealist.
For all these reasons, no one was surprised that Luisa was the first to leave the house. At present, she is the one who has achieved the most achievements in her professional career. She is a medical administrator for a large company. Meanwhile, "the idealist" still does not have a steady job, despite having turned 42. "My brother lives close to my parents and uses them a lot, both financially and emotionally. He has been divorced twice and continues to search for the perfect partner: a woman who is the ideal prototype of romance and passion. In reality, he lives like if I were still a teenager. " And, faithfully following the script that was written since she was a child, the homebody has found "the perfect husband. She has three children and lives in a nice house in the suburbs of the city, close to her parents." I think my father he pushed me out into the world too easily, "says Luisa." He even put me in kindergarten a year earlier. "
Luisa remembers a summer day in which practically the whole family had gathered: uncles, aunts, cousins, cousins, "I was eight years old then. They hired a photographer that day, but they had invited me to spend the weekend week at a friend's house. My mother told me that I should go, now, whenever someone in the family sees that photo, the joke arises about how they took me out of the photo in the studio and later they had to make a montage to put me in the group". That photo symbolizes Luisa's relationships with her family: warm enough, but a bit distant. Now that she has her own daughter, she is determined to do everything possible so that she is always very close to her family, without restricting her freedom.
There is no shortage of people who rebel against these stereotypes, such as the woman who for many years was described as Susie, the housewife, and is now running for a seat in the United States Congress. But in most cases, labels last for a long time, "says Joel Marcus, a psychiatrist who practices in Berkeley, California.
My friend Zini, a 50-year-old garden designer, struggled for years to overcome the consequences of the stereotype her mother imposed on her.
Her father had left the family when both she and Jane, her younger sister, had not turned five. Consequently, the mother, who had to find a new job in order to get ahead, trusted Zini, hoping that she would get good grades in school and be an attentive companion at home.
When little Zini proved that she couldn't always meet those expectations, her mother accused her of being a loner. I've always been very shy, recalls Zini. "And that annoyed my mother a lot. When I invited friends over to my house, I introduced myself as' the sad one '. Jane was always' the happy one. All that, of course, the only thing that did was to further increase my terror of sharing. At first I decided to be an artist, because I had imagined that that way I did not have to be with many people. I always tried to make my mother happy. And, not succeeding, I felt sad and down.
If she broke a plate, she would only criticize me for how useless she was. Only when Zini became a grown woman, went to live a thousand miles away and underwent several therapy sessions, did she realize that no child in the world has enough power to "fix the damaged life of her parents.
And, yes, Zini became an artist. Who was going to tell me that succeeding in this career would force me to meet totally strange people? But I am also improving in that field, although sometimes I would prefer to be in my room, away from everyone. "
Zini now maintains a fairly balanced relationship with her mother, but she hardly ever talks to her sister. Those labels really divided us. Jane and I have lived like strangers. "
Rebeca and Rosa, on the other hand, are two sisters who have become good friends only now, when they are in their thirties. "When we were growing up, I was the smart one and Rosa the athletic one, says Rebeca." At school I was always the last to be selected by a sports team.
My mother told me not to worry about her, that everything was fine. She even used to say that athletic girls weren't as interesting as smart ones. So while her sister collected sports trophies, Rebecca refused to learn to swim or ride a bike. Unfortunately, Rosa also got the message from her mother. And, although she fully trusted her physical powers, she always felt diminished by the intelligence of her sister. "She was the genius and I was the stupid one. That was the message that, in a clear way, reached my life."
Over the years, Rebeca became an executive at an advertising agency in New York, while Rosa founded a glass cutting company.
It was only two years ago, when the two sisters got together to discuss their lives, that they realized that they had many points in common. "I think that up to that point, what we had done was increase our differences in order not to compete," says Rebeca.
Labeling children as opposites can be a means of reducing fights. But the end result is almost always to make children insecure. "We all like to be seen by others as intelligent people and in perfect control of our bodies," says Vicky Meyer, a social worker from New York. "Being excluded from any of these categories can be very painful.
Many children who have received negative labels grow up honoring these stereotypes: the lazy person often becomes a person who does not reach the goals that he sets; the troublemaker usually ends up in jail.
When parents put these labels on, they are often expressing their own frustrations and fears. Sometimes, therapists say, a troubled child is the symptom of a troubled marriage. And this case may be one of the few issues that parents agree on. Unconsciously, the child thinks that her misbehavior is the cause of her parents fighting continuously.
Luckily, negative labels can be overcome. Margaret, for example, has a good, intelligent and understanding husband. Her children are not a problem and she lives in an elegant house. She professionally she is the vice president of a cosmetics company. It's hard to imagine that she, in her day, was called "the dummy.
At school, her older brother, "the boy-genius, was treated as such. And her sister," the precocious girl, always got an A. Her parents were always enthusiastic about Mattya Erica, but Margaret belonged to a second level.
"Every time they received my school grades, my parents made fun of me, So I thought they had been brilliant students, says Margaret. Only when I was an adult did I know that my mother had been a bad student, that she dropped out of pre-university studies. Once Margaret's mother felt out of place in her own family and projected her anxieties onto her daughter. Glancing back in the comfort of her office, Margaret laughs at the thought that she's not smart. especially well when you analyze the personalities of your two children, that we all learn differently and that good grades often reward only one way of learning.
In spite of everything, she is not bitter. She believes her sister and brother suffered more than she did. "Maybe they told me I was a failure, but I was able to prove to everyone that it was not true, says Margaret." When you are constantly reminded of how smart you are, the secret message is that if you do not confirm that intelligence to everything the world, you are a failed person.
My brother Matt is a prestigious lawyer, but deep down, I think his secret illusion was to be an actor. And my sister Erica dropped out of college, to which she returned after ten years to study psychology.
When she was growing up, my little sister was Mom's favorite, maybe because she was sickly and she needed maternal care more than I did. Although maybe it was all due to the fact that my mother was also the youngest daughter in her family, so her affectionate manifestations were more focused on the baby. "The truth is that all this is nothing more than speculation.
The only thing I remember from my childhood is that my world was unfair ... Always in second place, I became the most terrible older sister in the whole neighborhood and, when I went to college, I was not saddened by leaving my little sister in House. Later, when both she and I moved away from the family home, we became great friends.
For all of us who grew up far from the family spotlight, it can be reassuring to know that being Daddy's "Little Princess" or Mommy's King can be a curse rather than a blessing. Erica, Margaret's younger sister , says she was her parents' favorite basically because she was a quick minded girl.
But now I have understood that she does win love when you show your true worth. The stress was intense. Also, I didn't like the way my parents acted either, as it affected my relationships with Matt and Margaret. Sometimes they resented it.
Perhaps the moral of all this is that each label has its price. "Labels are a lack of imagination." "A failure to perceive what is perhaps hidden in the depths of a child. It is easy to see if it is a being with the ability to speak, bright and intelligent. But, why not try to see if it has endless possibilities that await the moment of being discovered? Something that I now try to do as an adult is to look for new images of myself.