As a parent, have you ever heard yourself telling your child, “I’m so proud of you!”? It’s obviously a pretty common expression, but is that what you really mean to say?
When my two children were still young kids it occurred to me that, when they accomplished something truly noteworthy, what I wanted to express to them was how much I admired their tenacity, or their talent, or their generosity, whatever the occasion called for. I wanted them to know that, as an onlooker, I noticed and was truly impressed by their actions.
To tell them that I was “proud” of them would have implied that their actions were centered around me, that I was actually the one getting the ego fulfillment from their actions. Such an atmosphere, I thought, would have hindered the progress that I wanted them to be working toward, which was for them to feel the satisfaction and fulfillment of their efforts, not me. I wanted them to be motivated by their own feelings of goodness and accomplishment, rather than doing something because it might make someone else feel fulfilled.
Sure, we all quietly seek that validation that makes us feel like we’re good parents, doing a good job of raising our kids, and we give ourselves that validation every time we tell our kids that “we’re proud” of them. And we like our own ego strokes so much that we end up in the habit of telling our kids we’re proud of every little thing they do (which, in my opinion, renders it meaningless to them). All the while, we’re boosting our ego on the accomplishments of someone else! Don’t we really mean to be boosting their egos when they accomplish something? Couldn’t we say something like, “You really did a great job at school this week,” or “I noticed how helpful you were with your grandma; that was so nice of you,” instead of “I was proud of how you helped your grandma”?
As a closely related side note, once I made the distinction between “being proud” of my kids versus complimenting them on their own good and noteworthy accomplishments, I started reacting differently to others also. Instead of “proudly” saying thank you when someone would tell me I have an exceptional child, as though the compliment was given to me, as though I had done the exceptional action that induced the comment, I’d enthusiastically agree with the person, as though we were two people standing on the sidelines witnessing an exceptional person at work, and we were simply conversing about what we were seeing.
It’s easy to get trapped into living our lives through our kids. But this results in us getting our fulfillment from someone else’s actions instead of our own, which not only is a hollow feeling at best, it’s also a poor example to be setting for our kids’ long-term psychological development.
What do you think? Will you share your thoughts here on our blog so that we can have a community dialog?
written by Jay Langlois, Instructor Scholars Together Learning Community