Martha's big adventure - Inside Out Man - Martha Randolph Carr

The goal of any good parent is to raise a child who is filled to the brim with self esteem, longing to head out of our basement and take an independent place in the world.

It's an ironic, little, cosmic twist that our kids must first overcome all of the defects we passed on to them before they can feel good about their prospects.

Even parents who struggle with addiction or past abuse are still hoping for the best for their offspring. Just because some parents' best turns out to be sorely lacking doesn't mean their intentions didn't stretch far beyond what was delivered.

Most of us fall short of where we hoped to land as nurturing parents, and it's because we don't start with ourselves. If anyone is looking for a silver lining in all of the economic brouhaha, the soul searching and redefining that is going on just might be it.

When all of the labels we have built around ourselves are stripped away, it gets harder and harder to ignore what's really eating away at us. It's the notion that we don't believe we're enough just, because we're here and mistakenly think that, maybe, we can earn our way there.

A cushy job, a nice big SUV, and the middle class McMansion, a huge house on a tiny lot, become a measurable way to take a reading on whether or not we're good enough. However, the perpetual drive to acquire more and more at the sacrifice of our personal lives also became the model we were offering to generations of youngsters.

The message was very clear: happiness is acquired through things. That's how so many of us justified a credit orgy and spent way beyond our means. We didn't want to look like we were lacking. Tweens learned that whining about how their friends had something was an excellent method to acquire bling.

But then an economic crisis hit that pulled everyone into its wake, and fortunes big and small were stripped away as if a tornado could hit a bank account. Houses have been repossessed, kids were pulled out of private schools, vacations were cancelled and, suddenly, there's no outward measure of the worth of a human being. That's what is causing the flop sweat.

It's not even about providing all of the extras anymore. Suddenly, just paying for the necessities may be challenging and our entire description of ourselves is up for grabs. The little nagging doubt that we've been able to push away now has center stage. Maybe we really aren't any better than the guy who sleeps in a shelter, or the woman who is raising five kids alone on minimum wage in a very sketchy neighborhood.

That would be the point. Understanding we're not is the first step toward compassion, not only for others but finally for ourselves. It's also the out clause everyone has needed so that we can realign our priorities.

If we are all valuable just because we're here, then we can design our life around acquiring and maintaining relationships instead of anything without a heartbeat. There will still be certain necessities like food, clothing, education and shelter, but it won't be measured by terms like best or newest or most gadgets.

Budgets will include the cost to the family of time together in order to buy a brand new car before it's a necessity. And a bigger house with a bigger mortgage will be more accurately described as a deduction to not only the wallet but to the relationships.

We're in phase one of the new reckoning and it's the most painful because we haven't completely surrendered our old vision of ourselves just yet. But in the coming months, as we finally let go, America is going to see a rebirth in the idea of service and great ideas are going to come forth from people who finally had a little time. Even better, more families will be seen hanging out together and discovering the value of what they had all along. More adventures to follow.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.