The Trouble with Praise

The trouble with praise is that it fosters an environment that makes it scary to make mistakes. I’m noticing that here.

I say, I do this parenting thing. Then, weirdly, a bunch of people tell me I’m a great parent. Which really does seem weird to me, because I’m a trial and error, read all the research, constantly failing, constantly learning parent. Of a two-year-old. There is a lot of room for mistakes there.

The bad thing about it is that I like the praise. It means something to me. It makes me feel validated. It shouldn’t. Especially when it comes to parenting, the only things that should matter is whether I’m making a moral decision and  the net effect it has on my daughter.

Even worse, because I internalize that praise and use it to validate myself, I start to feel as though I have to be a perfect parent. I stop allowing myself the privilege of humanity, the room to forgive myself and share my mistakes.

I am not perfect. I will not ask myself to be. I am still learning. I’m more likely to be too permissive than too strict. I have bad days. I have lazy days. I am human.

It makes me feel angry, with myself, that I’m feeling anxious about sharing my mistakes here on my blog. Part of that stems from the fact that there are a lot of people who read this that know me in real life and part of it stems from the fact that once you say “I know, for sure, that this one particular thing is the right way of doing this.”  you open yourself us to criticism on everything else you do.

The other day, I took Fiona to Khols with me. I had a $10 coupon that would have expired at the end of the day. I left the stroller at home and was trying to let her practice staying near me. I also didn’t really want to leave, because I wanted to spend my coupon.

She, being at that testing phase, tested to see how far away she was allowed to get. I told her that if she got out of my sight I would take her home. She said she didn’t want to go home. She also ducked around the corner and hid in one of the clothing racks.

I panicked, found her, and made her hold my hand, and finished my shopping. I didn’t follow through. I was horribly dreadfully inconsistent. And I lectured her. Until she actually told me, “Okay. Okay. Back off! Chill out! Okay.”

I screwed up, and after all the hoopla about spanking, I didn’t want to say that I screwed up by not following through on other discipline. I stopped being able to use my blog to write about what was on my mind because I didn’t want people to say, “See, you screw up too!”

I am human. I am right about certain things. I also make mistakes and get things wrong. I need the room to do that. Please, don’t make to big of a deal of my parenting. Pedestals are very high; it’s a long way to fall and it hurts way more.


10 thoughts on “The Trouble with Praise

  1. Listen, Lady, part of the reason people love your blog is that you share your trials and errors. It’s not just your parenting we like. It’s the honest earnest way you share your attempts, pass or fail, and share what you have learned from the failures as well as the successes. No other child in the world is exactly like Fiona, so not everything that works well with her will work well with others, and things that fail with Fiona might work well with other personalities.

    That being said, we love your blog because you are so open and honest, even brutally honest. And you are also an entertaining writer. People can take or leave your advice, but they read your blog because the adventures of Fiona and Mom are interesting, and exciting, and we get to vicariously take part in the ups and downs of one very endearing two-year-old and her exhausted but enthusiastic mother.

    And for someone who is achievement oriented, like you, what other vehicle is there for collecting Gold Stars than by sharing your adventures in well written vingiettes. It’s ok to enjoy a little praise. Relax a little and give yourself a break. No one expects you to be perfect. To be quite honest, your blog would be less entertaining if you were. Love you!

    • Thanks! I love you, too!
      See, I know you understand, because you’re a praise junky, too. It’s that I had to acknowledge “out-loud” that it was effecting me, so that I could move on and get back to being a well-intentioned screw-up (said with good humor and gentleness towards myself).

  2. I second this “we love your blog because you are so open and honest, even brutally honest. And you are also an entertaining writer. People can take or leave your advice, but they read your blog because the adventures of Fiona and Mom are interesting, and exciting, and we get to vicariously take part in the ups and downs of one very endearing two-year-old and her exhausted but enthusiastic mother.”

    Also, when I say you’re a great parent, part of what I mean by that is that you are good at admitting that you make mistakes. Also, I really like the fact that you freely admit that you admit to Fiona that you made a mistake and apologize for it. It’s something I really admire in someone when they have the guts and honesty to admit they make mistakes. It makes a person seem more real and human and not like they are trying to make themselves something they aren’t. I see WAY too many of the “self-help” books where they don’t seem to give room for errors and the authors won’t admit to anything that they did wrong. The fact that you do make mistakes and admit to it is something that I think makes you stand out from the crowd.

    • The weird thing about apologizing, and meaning it, is that it makes it easier. It lets me let go of the need to try to be perfect. When I can say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong”, clearly and specifically. It allows me to be right, or at least not wrong, the rest of the time.
      It means that I can see the diffence, in my own life, between what I’m getting right and wrong clearly. It lets me not feel guilty for EVERYTHING. It means that when I am wrong about something it allows me to compartmentalize my error, instead of globalizing it.
      Honesty is really liberating.

  3. Bravo! What a brave. wonderful. heartfelt post. Please continue to be honest! I need, we all need, moms to be honest so we don’t feel so alone. None of us are perfect, never feel bad for sharing the real you. If people can’t take it, that’s on them not you.

    • Thank you, for reading and commenting!
      That’s why I started this blog. I saw a lot of “my baby is wonderful” blogs that were updated every couple weeks. Part of that, I’m sure, is that mothers are usually to busy to post, but part of it is because when our babies aren’t wonderful, we don’t want to say anything because we feel like we’re the only ones.
      I figured if I couldn’t find anyone else who wasn’t really blissfully smelling their babies hair, then I’d warn the people who don’t have kids yet, that sometimes the kid refuses to let you wash the hair without a brawl and then their hair stinks. I figured there had to be other moms out there like me, trying to be good moms, but acknowledging that it’s not easy or fun all of the time.

  4. You HAVE to share your mistakes – otherwise the rest of us might make the same ones. It is so much better for us all to make unique errors. The way that you learn from your mistakes is part of what makes you a great parent – also, your ability to explain friction to a two year-old using cardboard and cars. We appreciate your blog here in CT (it makes us less scared to have kids especially since you provide evidence that you can share your complete science nerdiness with children under the age of 5).

    • Friction was fairly easy. We’re having a harder time with what the moon is made of, but I’ll put it in it’s own separate post. 🙂 Fiona’s answers are kind of interesting.
      Kids are little scientists between age 2-5. They want to try everything. Systematically. And, repeatedly. All that toy banging and whining that kids do is realy science. First they have to get a range of results, then they have to see if those are replicated over time. Realizing that made a huge difference for me, because I was able to start teaching her the language to describe what was happening.

  5. Okay! Point taken and thank you! Though the truth of all this is that most of the fear stems from my own reaction to the praise more than anything else. Darned perfectionistic tendencies!

    I can keep making mistakes and sharing them. I’m probably even good at that!

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