My kids’ school conferences went swell, once again. Top academics, great behaviors, blablabla. Stellar, right? But even sitting there at the school, in front of this beaming teacher who joked about kidnapping my child and keeping him for her own, I found myself kinda only polite-smiling. Something inside of me didn’t want to make too big of a deal about the positive teacher reports, especially because I was acutely aware that my kids may have been within earshot, sitting outside the classroom door (do people get babysitters for these things?) As much as I was proud, I was also hesitant….
I was hesitant to give my kids the impression that their awesomeness comes from their easily-won successes instead of coming from what they do when it’s not so easy. My kids’ particular brains are wired to be able to handle cooperation, social niceties, reasoning, attention, and impulse control given the current demands of their environments. As school and friendships become more challenging and demanding, success won’t be so automatic (yes, there WILL come a time.), and I’d like them to value perseverance and effort in those moments. If they instead value “automatically getting it,” they will give up and dub themselves failures when the time comes to push through difficulty.
I was hesitant to contribute to their growing senses of superiority (feeling somehow “better than others” simply because they won some twisted genetics lottery.) My kid is already groaning and rolling his eyes at the boy who talks too much and loses recess time. I’d rather minimize the “I’m better than naughty Jacob” mentality in favor of a “we all have stuff we are naturally good at and stuff we’re not; I wonder how we could build each other up and help one another,” mentality. Throwing my kid a freaking parade about the fact that HE never had to have recess detention , loses sight of the fact that it took my child zero effort to avoid detention while it took Jacob intentional, calculated, concentration, to manage to get any minutes of recess at all. I’d like my kid to go through life with an awareness of that stuff, because it is my clinical opinion that it is that awareness which separates the asshats from the non-asshats in this world.
I was hesitant to shore-up super flimsy identities in my kids. If I shower them with “you’re so amazing” because they get straight A’s and consistently follow the teacher’s 2-step commands without error, what happens to their self concepts on the days they get -gasp- “B’s” or on the days they get sidetracked from the instructions!!?? Tragedy and inner turmoil, that’s what! I’d rather program them young to know that they are especially worthy of ice-cream-and-accilades when they do things that are effortful, intentional, and according to their values (stuff that requires integrity, courage, willingness, perseverance, etc). I’ve seen too many people base their identities on houses of cards (being “smart,” having a certain job, maintaining a certain standard of beauty, getting a certain paycheck, etc) and then, when that stuff changes, they have nothing internal and stable to offer surges of pride and personal satisfaction.
So…..I was so hesitant that I bit my tongue and put away my pompoms, in favor of saying something like “You are working so hard; I’m super proud of you for trying your best!” And later when my husband suggested we go out for ice cream to celebrate the honor roll, I shot him eye daggers and said we’d go out for ice cream to celebrate all the times they asked for help on their math and reading instead of giving up when it got hard…because that took courage and determination and effort and integrity. And then my husband rolled his eyes and suggested that he deserved extra toppings for “courageously” co-parenting with a weirdo psychologist wife.