I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard over the years that start off with a tale of a professor who wrote a letter, or a dance teacher that pulled a mother aside or a “famous” mentor that took a shine to someone and then: puff, flicker, crackle, magic… Ignition! That? Never happened to me.
I recently posted on Momfluential about confidence. It’s such a tricky thing to believe in yourself. It’s tricky to see my own children paddle that eel-infested water that has always remained treacherous for me.
“You have to believe in yourself!” is the pithy little statement we all hear from about age four on.
It’s so irritating that this is true. Belief isn’t born in a vacuum, though. Although some amount of fire has to come from within, the challenge is getting that fire to light in the first place. With self doubters, like we seem to breed in our family, it’s often a difficult task, like lighting a fire with wet wood. You need the right kind of kindling.
That kindling can be praise… as long as it’s NOT from your mother or father.
Sorry parents. Like me, you’re probably standing there with a magnifying glass and a box of strike anywhere matches, and nothing seems to catch.
Parental praise, while necessary, just doesn’t seem to do it for most kids over the age of 10. It certainly doesn’t do it for mine.
Which is not to say that there is no net positive effect of parental praise. A certain amount of parental praise is a baseline for existence. You can’t appreciate it unless you lack for it, but by then, if you are so unlucky, you are doubly screwed.
When I tell my daughter her artwork is good, I am inevitably met with the same response. “What-ever. You HAVE to say that. You’re my mom.”
She may have a point. While I’m not the kind of mom who thinks her kid’s sh*t does not stink, I’m also the kind of mom who took photos of her kids with spaghetti face and thought they looked adorable. Note: In my own defense, I had the good sense not to post these photos publicly.
My daughter’s lack of confidence and refusal to accept praise from me has me questioning my own ability (or lack there-of) to accept praise as well. One sure route to feeling like a failure is looking for praise in all the wrong places. I am guilty of that for sure. I have to stop myself from counting the ways I have not been recognized.
For me the list of negative praise-space (the areas I wish I’d been supported) includes siblings, teachers, and the media.
- Teachers are a long lost cause. That ship has sailed without leaving behind a single letter from a professor or even a passing Kindergarten aide about my promising ways as a child. Despite this, I cling to the belief that at some point, I was promising.
- Siblings are also a lost cause for me. They were never particularly interested in the things that little sisters do, and that’s clearly not going to change as my much older sibs sail into their retirement years. Not unless I open up a Baby Boomer retirement home in Costa Rica, and comp them free fishing for life.
- Media approval is fleeting at best. Like a fickle lover that’s hard to please. A nod here and a nudge there. It’s lovely when it happens – but it leaves you self conscious in the spotlight. Your lover’s eye is sure to wander and you must always worry about whether you’ll be left in the dust.
The fact that I am still struggling with this shows how much praise matters. You have to savor it when you can, which is hard, and refrain from discounting it, which is harder. Last week two good things happened that made me feel super successful.
- My sons drew some awesome portraits of me (I had a crown full of jewels!)
- I was happily surprised to find myself mentioned (in good company) on a couple of online lists that recommended my blog to local readers.
In lieu of a well preserved letter from an English teacher or a high five from a sibling, I did the unthinkable. I taped the photos on my kitchen wall and posted the two media hits on my parent’s Facebook wall. I was actually thrilled to share it with them.
In the end I guess, your parent’s opinion does matter. Kids’ too.