At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parental Praise and Self-Understanding

A morning run, some grocery shopping, and an afternoon lawn mowing excursion have me flopped here on the couch while the rest of the family watches World War Z as the zombies overrun Jerusalem. I've been thinking a lot today, especially given that in less than a month, school starts back up again.

It means going back to an environment that I enjoy greatly. It also means going back to an arena where an increasing number of students seek affirmation. Not always a jacked-up amount of it, mind you. But one thing I've been noticing is that it tends to center around grades and recognition. In short, a lot of people in emerging generations want to be praised. 

Let the record show that I have nothing against praising people for results earned, for good character, for learning deep lessons.

Sometimes I wonder if I recognize people enough, especially my wife and kids. But there are also others who--quite honestly--can irk me by yapping about their kids on social media or at the water cooler regarding the most minor of things. Let's face it, child asking a deep, probing ethical question that belies their years is worth reporting. The fact that they lived through Field Day is not.

I have to say that I've grown into a person who admits it's nice to get recognized for the good stuff, but shelling for promotion is not my style. I'm not the type to go in and ask for a raise. Instead, I prefer to be told that I'm getting a raise and told why, and if it doesn't happen, I'll manage. Now when I was much younger, I'll admit I lapped up positive feedback like Gideon's decreasing army did with water in Judges 7. But one factor in changing my worldview on its necessity was the modus operandi of my parents.

Mom and Dad modeled the practice of measured, accurate assessment. If they felt we did something well, they could mention it, but were fairly consistent in telling why and enumerating what it was for. If I needed my butt chewed out, same thing. What I experienced was an environment where my parents weren't exactly promiscuous with their compliments, but I still knew they appreciated and loved me for who I was. One thing I believe they were doing was making sure I didn't develop the inflated view of being the center of the universe, where accomplishments meant something of significance. And I knew they weren't going to badger my teachers with questions about why my grades weren't better. That wasn't their job. (And may the number of parents like them ever increase!)

When I was younger, at times I was vexed by my parents' restrained commendations and precision plaudits. Now, looking back on things, I am glad they did things the way they did because they knew exactly what the better path was. In a world of vapid accolades and the increasingly tedious tributes--not to mention getting ribbons for being a 'participant'--knowing why you honor someone is more important than the act of honoring them itself. Especially if the object of your acclaim is your own flesh and blood.

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