The Shame of Wanting


I was on my way out of the house yesterday—had literally just pulled out of the drive way—on my way to my next appointment, while simultaneously and unbeknownst to me, my eight-year old daughter, Miriam, was just arriving home from school.  Due to the timing of my leaving and heading in the opposite direction, I didn’t see her, but she sure did see me.

As I was on a call, and then went straight into my next meeting, I only received her voicemail after the meeting.  When I dialed into my voicemail at the other end I heard a voice filled with hysteria, my daughter. “MOMMY!”, she managed to get out through breaths of hysterical gasps while trying to catch her breath and speak all at once. “I saw your car as we were driving in and then you just drove OFF!  Did you SEE me? I was so excited that you were going to be home, there are so many things I wanted to tell you.  Were you on your phone?” Click, end of message.

I listened to my daughter’s message and I was struck by something.  She had called and expressed, in a most pure and simple way, what she had hoped and wanted.  She had wanted me to be home, plain and simple.  There was no blame or malice in her message, she just happened to express what she had desired; and it was completely uncorrupted by shame, it was innocent and true.  How many of us are able to express OUR wants without feeling shame for wanting it in the first place?

In fact it begs the question, do we even allow ourselves to know WHAT we want?  Small children have no compunctions about saying – even shrieking, as in the case of Miriam – what they want. But at a critical point (3rd, 4th, 5th grade) the shame of wanting sets in. It somehow becomes impolite and socially unacceptable – well that’s the message we get – and that we should wait until it’s offered.  Sometimes I look at the rants and raves of small children and I wish I could say, “I WANT THIS!”.  Just as my daughter had expressed herself, untainted by social norms and preferences, without shame or blame.

For some ridiculous reason we do not express our wants because we become afraid of appearing too blunt, too aggressive or even too demanding.  But why is wanting something considered a bad thing?  It isn’t.  It is the basic human condition, to want, to desire, to dream.  We owe it to ourselves to simply ask.

Most people live their lives in 3 realities:

  1. Caring WAY too much and being afraid of what people think of us.
  2. Alternatively, exploding from the restriction of holding our tongues to the point that we don’t care at all.
  3. Or we form a sea of resentment, and each and every time we negate what it is that we want, or don’t take the time to ask for it, the sea only widens and deepens its bounds.

We should feel no shame in wanting things, and we should have no shame in asking for what we want.  How else will people know what to give us if we don’t?

Twenty minutes later another voicemail came through. It was my daughter again, utterly calm, composed and articulate.  “Hi Mommy, I just called to tell you I love you and I hope that you’re having a wonderful day. And I can’t wait to see you!”  I could almost hear her smile through the phone.  In that moment my heart filled with so much love and pride for my child. And more than that, she reminded me of a very basic and profound lesson.  She had gathered herself; felt exactly what she needed to feel; expressed it, and felt no need to apologize for the “perceived” outburst, and just like that it was gone.

There was NO need to apologize in any regard.  She was honest and true to herself in that moment.  And after a certain period of time, she used her words to express what was at the root of the first phone call.  She wanted to spend time with me.  What a gift.  And because she had given herself the permission to express herself, she was able to move past the emotion very quickly.  Everyday I learn such incredible lessons from her, from all my children.  I felt compelled to share it.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes succinctly puts it, “Pretty much all the honest truth-telling there is in the world is done by children.”


  1. Do you know what you want?
  2. Do you ask for what you want?
  3. Do you feel shame for wanting?

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