Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Valuable things are rare

Today I chaperoned my son on a school field trip to a theater production titled Fancy Nancy. It was a full day of riding a bus packed with little children and filled with laughter of all who rode in it. I could hear a couple of the adults talking in close range of me, I  could see some of the kids sitting quietly in their seats. And I could also feel the bouncing of the seat behind me. My group, was in fact the more boisterous bunch. They were the ones who played the silly games, poked each other in the eyes, and had trouble containing their excitement on the tiny leather bench that obviously wasn't made to fit three active children. But for being the active little boys they were, they did good, they obeyed my nudges to settle down, made sure they always stayed near each other, and did a pretty decent job asking me enough questions to keep me occupied and smiling.  To sum up our day, my boys did what was asked of them. They obeyed the rules.

As the day came to a close, and a single line formed with the very much, still rowdy 6 year olds, a mother behind me praised her group.

"You were super stars". She told them. "You guys deserve medals for your behavior today".

She praised her team for their cooperation while I seemed to think that their obedience was already rewarded. It was their cooperation through out the year that earned them this trip and because of it they were given the opportunity to watch a children's production, ride the bus with their friends, and eat lunch together outside at the park. That was the reward. That was the medal.

I know she wasn't being literal. But that didn't change the emptiness of her words or the lack of substance in them.

That mother, just told her team that because they followed the rules made for the entire class, they deserved something. They deserved medals, in fact. That this field trip, wasn't good enough for their exceptional demonstration of cooperation and obedience. They deserved some thing more, they deserved individual recognition.

Today this is what grabbed all of my attention.

You see. It's not just her that is guilty of this kind of praise. I am just as much at fault.

Especially because it was made very apparent last week when I took my girls in for hair cuts.

They got the full treatment. Sweet smelling shampoo, pleasant conversation with the hair stylist, blow dry and blow out. They got it all, and the room was saturated with fun and with laughter.

After we had left and seated our van, I asked my girls if they liked their hair. I asked them if they enjoyed the experience. And lastly, I thanked them for behaving nicely.

I mentioned to them that because it went so smoothly, we had an hour to spare and enough time to drive some where.

"Maybe," I said.
"We could go to that thrift store you girls enjoy digging around in."

"Do I get to pick out some books?" Jenny asked.
 "As part of a reward for being so good?"

Ring a bell?

It sure did for me.

And yet again. I was shocked by the ideas that I myself had planted in my children.

Ideas that signified reward for good behavior instead of the experiences they get to be a part of because they have proved themselves obedient. 

But even with an explanation, it was apparent that I have fallen into this trap.

And it's probably been happening a lot. 

Praises that were empty and undeserved rewards, needed to become significant again.
They needed to mean something.
They needed to be forms of encouragement, up lifting and life giving.

The best example I have of this, comes from my own mom.

She did what I believe every mother needs to do more. See saw the strengths in her children and encouraged those areas, but at the same time she was honest about our weaknesses and saw them as opportunities for growth.

Those were the types of things she told us. Not to her friends, not to our teachers, and not really to any one else. She simply told us. As for me, she told me to be better, strive higher and work harder. Until it was engrained in me.

It wasn't that she wasn't proud of us. She simply believed that teaching a child happens in the home and praise is the outcome that you receive from people outside of those walls.

She, like many parents already believed that their kids were the best.

Praise would hold little value if we just went on that alone.

Praise, I have learned should only be given out only when it is due.

Careful not to diminish it's worth.

Thinking about it, I would say that to this day, my mothers compliments to me always hit a bar so exceedingly high, holding such a high place that absolutely nothing or no one could make me think differently.

My mothers praise holds value.

And valuable things, are always rare things.

My mother rarely praised me. 


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