Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The first time I said "I'm proud of you"

I told my kids I was proud of them for the first time last week. 

They'll be three in June.

Sure, I've felt proud of them before; but there are a couple reasons I've never said it.  The first is that there's no way they would understand what being proud meant.  The second is that I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept.

Here's Dictionary.com's first definition of pride: a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
 
That's how I usually think of it: high or inordinate.  Probably because the things that people tend to take pride in most vociferously really have little to do with them.  Proud to be an American?  Or a Californian, a Southerner, an Irishman?  Why should anybody be proud of being born somewhere?  Did they have anything to do with the location of their mom when they popped out?  I can see being proud of the place you're from when its leaders or people do something noble; but being proud of yourself for being from that place makes absolutely no sense to me. 

I could go on.  But suffice it to say, the notion of pride has always been vexing to me.  So despite spoiling my girls like crazy, I'm hesitant to praise them for things they don't really have much control over, which, as 2.75-year-olds, is pretty much everything they do.  
 
I tell them that I love them all the time, because that's more about me than them.  But I don't often tell them they're pretty or smart, for instance.  I encourage them when they do things that make them appear pretty and smart, but I guess I don't want them to think they're better than anyone else because of their profusion of beauty and brains (which may or may not reflect on me, but which is really just the luck of the DNA draw regardless.)

It might be some atavistic residue of humility from my stoic, hardscrabble farmer-and-rancher forbears, or just a reaction to the self-assured and entitled youngsters (not all of them were like that, but a lot were) I worked with while teaching high school and college, but I'm generally pro-shame and pride-averse.
 
So I was a little surprised to hear the words, "I'm so proud of you guys!" come out of my mouth the other day.  
 
The occasion?  They were really good at the dentist's office.
 
It could have been a complete disaster.  
 
We scheduled the first appointment of the day, at 7:30 a.m., so it would be over in time for my wife to get to work and see her first patient.  We hustled the kids out the door, in their PJs and "ballet dancing shoes," without anything for breakfast but whatever toothpaste they swallowed during the obligatory and nonsensical pre-dental appointment tooth-brushing.  
 
I squeezed through a couple yellow lights to avoid being late, and may have honked at some drivers who lingered at stop signs too long.
 
When we arrived, my wife filled out all the forms for both girls simultaneously, one with each hand, like the guy in A Beautiful Mind blasting out equations on the chalkboard,* as I kept the kids occupied.  The receptionist was a little bit stunned when all the paperwork was completed in three minutes.
 
And then we waited.
 
Other patients came into the waiting room, filled out their forms, were treated, and left.
 
The kids started getting squirrely.  And hungry.
 
Dad started getting upset.  He made this clear to the receptionist.  She promised that the kids would be seen momentarily.  She disappeared behind a door for a while and came back to say it would only be a few more minutes.
 
By the time the kids sat down to get their teeth examined, we had been there for an hour.  AN HOUR.  The kids hadn't eaten since dinnertime the night before.  I was forthcoming with the dentist about our disappointment.  He was contrite, and promised he would get to the bottom of it.  

On paper, all conditions indicated an unmitigated debacle.  Restless, hungry kids.  Anxious mom who's late for work.  Dad running on coffee, energy bars, and anger.

But everything turned out fine.  The girls took turns sitting on our laps on the dentist's chair, and their teeth were perfect.  The dentist praised us for taking such good care of their teeth (yes, they brush and floss every day, we said proudly), which took away some of the sting of the poor service.

After the cleaning, my wife had to leave, since her first patient was probably already roomed.  But the dentist still wanted to do X-rays.

And damned if my kids didn't sit through them (on my lap) with very little fuss, demanding only a balloon as payoff.

Staff and other patients remarked on how good the girls were, and I beamed.  
 
That's when I said it: "I am SO proud of you guys!"  Of course, they had no idea what that meant, but I'm sure they knew they had done something right, and that made them happy.  
 
The feeling was undeniable.  And even if it was a fluke, even if it would have been a melee if the appointment were Wednesday instead of Tuesday, I'm still proud of them.  For a fleeting moment, I congratulated myself as well, for...what?  Teaching them patience and trust and self-control?  I don't think that's actually possible.
 
Another definition of pride from Dictionary.com is: pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneselfThis is something I can get behind a little bit more.  But I struggle with the "credit" part.  When my kids leave the kind of impression they did at the dentists' office, I'm just proud to be associated with them.  It's like when an American statesman doesn't cause a major gaffe at some international summit.  I don't really think I had anything to do with it, but it gives me pleasure and satisfaction.

 
 
*That didn't really happen, but she still did the paperwork really quickly


*******

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16 comments:

  1. More parents should tell their kids how proud they are of them... Good for you!.. You've just raised their self esteem by a trillion... Those words make a big difference in a child and they will remember the moment u did take the time to say it.. It also confirms to them that they can conquer anything else they come across...

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  2. I go to the dentist tomorrow. Will you come with me and exclaim your pride if I'm good, please?

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    1. I will give you a sparkly sticker that says, "Good Job!"

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  3. In our household husband and I totally agree about the use of the word "proud" for the same reasoning you have. There have been very few occasions, even now that they're all grown up and doing amazing things that we ever say how "proud" we are. One thing we did say -perhaps to over abundance, was how pleased we were/are. "You guys were amazing! Regular kids would have been really cranky with the dentist, but you guys were great! We are so pleased with you!!!" yada yada.

    On a side note, our eldest kid had a childhood disease that required a lot of needles, lumbar punctures, and bone marrow testing...not fun at all. I am and will always be completely confused at how much a kid will do/take/be o.k. with in the name of medical/dental treatment if mom and dad are there telling him/her it has to be done or it will be o.k. in ten minutes. I still don't know why my now 34 yr. old man-kid hasn't popped me a new one right in the nose for all we put him through.

    Sometimes justice demands we are proud of our kids, even if it's just for being civil at the dentist. Way to go dad. : )

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    1. Thanks! Great to get perspective from someone with grownup kids.

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  4. I love everything about this post. Thank you.

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  5. I caught myself telling my 5 month old I am proud of him, all for him growing his first tooth. Now there is some misplaced pride!! Candace

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    1. Exactly! Sometimes I think we have as little control over what happens as we do over when our teeth come in.

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  6. I think the main psychological arguments about saying you're "proud" of a kid for something is in indirectly emphasizing that their worth to you is dependent on their abilities...

    But, that being said, this can be overcome by emphasizing to kids that you love them no matter what. I have very little against just using the word "proud" itself and I think you're a great dad!

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  7. Do high-fives count? I do this a lot to my two year old. Mostly because there is nothing cuter than a two year looking for five as a reward for putting toys away or eating her vegetables.

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    1. I have no problem with high-5s. Always appropriate.

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  8. I tell my kids "good job" a lot, but now that I think about it, I'm not sure I've said "I'm proud of you." I think a lot of it has to do with them being young (three in July - much like your kids). This article really has me thinking about whether I've said "I'm proud" and if I should start.

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  9. My husband is similar in his doling out of praise with our daughter. He tells her she looks 'great' when she dresses herself, but I tell her she looks beautiful. His parents are also of the, ahem, stoic variety, as you phrase it. I'll tell you this though, going through school as a tall, chubby girl with a bad haircut and being the poor kid in a rich school, having had my self esteem bolstered by relatives telling me how smart and beautiful I was surely helped me get out mostly unscathed.

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  10. I think it can't hurt to boost your kid's self esteem with an I am proud of you every now and then . . . when my daughter does things that she is not asked to do, i.e., clean up after herself, I make sure to let her know she did a good thing. If she sticks up for a friend I make a point of telling her I am proud of her. I guess I don't understand holding back praise as long as they have done something worthy of it . . . could stem from my desire to hear it myself! ; )

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Don't hold back.

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