My parents always thought I was pretty alright. And I realise I’m lucky in this respect. Too many kids don’t have the benefit of having decent parents let alone ones who encourage their curiosity and support their interests. Hell, many kids don’t even have food in the house let alone parents who come to watch their ballet concerts.
It’s widely understood that the most basic tenent of being a good parent is making your child feel loved, valued and safe. I think we can all agree on that as a parenting baseline. What’s new though, is the idea that kids should feel brilliant. Not just brilliant to their parents but brilliant in the world. Really, really brilliant.
Also new, is the obsessive way in which we’ve come to believe that bullet-proof self-esteem is up there with food, water and shelter as being crucial to a child’s well-being.
Let me give you an example. Or three.
- Your 7-year-old has their athletics carnival and you are instructed to provide a large safety pin to be worn on their shirt. This is to attach prize ribbons. But my child can’t run all that fast, you think. They might not win any ribbons. YOU ARE SO VERY WRONG. Because prize ribbons are now handed out to kids with wild abandon in a manner similar to Oprah handing out cars. Not just to those who come first, second or third but also fourth, often fifth and frequently to every child who shows up. You manage to cross the finish line? YOU GET A RIBBON. AND YOU GET A RIBBON. EVERYONE GETS A RIBBON. By the end of the carnival, your child will be so heavily weighed down with ribbons pinned to their chest, they will be walking lop-sided.
- Your 4-year-old finishes kindergarten. There will be a series of celebratory events to mark this momentous (is it though?) occasion over the final weeks of the year culminating in a ‘graduation’ ceremony in the middle of a work day attended by all parents where the tiny children will wear college-style hats and gowns and receive thoughtful gifts. Speeches will be made. Certificates handed out.
- Your 11-year-old completes year 6 at the same school where she will be going on to high school. In the final weeks of term, there are a series of formal and informal events organised by the school and the parents to commemorate this fairly ordinary transition into year 7 despite the fact that 99% of the children will simply be walking 20m across the playground to the senior school. Every child who is leaving to attend a different high school has their own farewell party. Speeches are made. Yearbooks purchased. Certificates received. Gifts are given to everyone, from everyone.
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If you’re in the orbit of a child, you may have noticed: we seem to have become incapable of embarking on any aspect of our children’s lives without enormous fanfare. Rituals can be lovely and important, yes, but I fear we are creating an entire generation of needy humans incapable of doing anything (let alone achieving anything) without a ticker-tape parade and a commemorative tea-towel.
By no means is this a smug or sanctimonious judgement. I am very much complicit in all of this with my own children. But I’m also saying I think it’s a bit nuts.
Back to my parents. I knew they thought I was great but not because they told me so constantly. I just felt secure and loved in ways I can’t really articulate.
But my kids? Yours if you have them? Oh man. They know they are great because they march through their lives to the constant drumbeat of banal praise.