Monday, March 2, 2009

Too Much Praise

We spent the weekend at Hockley Valley Ski Resort, about an hour northwest of Toronto. We had a special deal arranged through the Teachers' Union, or we would never have been able to afford such a luxurious little vacation.

We got a little lost on the way there, which turned out to be a little bit of extra fun. As we drove through the rolling hills of Caledon, Holly and Jasmine slept while Anna sang along to a CD of silly songs. It was perfect--she sang "She'll be Comin' 'round the Mountain when She Comes" while we drove around long bends in the road and up and down the slopes and valleys.

There is something about hills and forests that seems to feed my soul. I loved looking out the window at the scenery, and I dreamt of what our lives could be like if we purchased a house and a couple of acres out there. I am longing for a big clothesline and a big garden and a big front porch and maybe an orchard and a pond. I want my kids to be able to ride their bikes all over our property and I want to grow some of our own food and I want a few chickens and ~~gulp!~~ a dog!! I have such a romanticized notion of a simple-life-in-the-country. The hard-work part of it doesn't make me want it less. It makes me want to share the experience with my children, to give them the gift of learning about a different kind of life. I mean, there will always be Toronto.

On our first day at the hotel we swam twice and had a tractor-and-wagon ride and checked out the ski slopes and skiers and went to a bonfire. The next morning we took the kids to the ski shop and rented equipment for them. Since I had Jasmine asleep in the carrier, I was not much use at pulling Anna and Holly 15 feet up the Teddy Bear Slope and helping them slide down, so Partner-Guy took them up in turns. Anna had been eager to try, but after coming down twice while clinging to her dad like a nearly drowned cat, she had had enough.
By contrast, the more times Holly came down, the more she enjoyed it. I managed to pull her up the hill a little way and then I stood on the back of her skis and told her to bend her knees and put her arms out straight. She did and I stepped away and suddenly she was skiing down the hill all by herself. Amazing. After another 20-or-so trips back up and down the hill she started to complain that her ski boots were too tight and we were done.

Partner-Guy and I were delighted by Holly's tenacity and determination and courage and SPUNK!! We praised her and hugged her and felt all proud of her. And then we each immediately felt drawn to praise Anna, in spite of her total lack of enthusiasm for the sport. Yet even as I was saying "Anna, you did such a great job of TRYING" it felt empty and patronizing. I thought back to an article I had read last week by Naomi Aldort, a parenting expert whose theories and practices always make sense to me. In an article called Getting Out of the Way, she says:

At first, I thought that commenting, acknowledging, and praising children
for their achievements expresses love and builds self-esteem. In time, I realized
that these well-intended interventions do just the opposite: they foster
dependency on external validation and undermine the children's trust in
themselves. Children who are subjected to endless commentary, acknowledgment,
and praise eventually learn to do things not for their own sake, but to please
others. Gratifying others soon becomes their primary motivation, replacing
impulses stemming from the authentic self and leading to its loss.

So I knew I shouldn't be giving her false praise but I wasn't sure what to say. I asked her "So what do you think of skiing?" And she, being smarter than me, spoke the truth. "It's not really my thing." No kidding. So I said, "Right. It's not my thing either. But I might learn someday. Do you want to try again with me someday?" And her perfect response, "I want to go swimming now."

In my haste to not hurt Anna's feelings by focusing on Holly, I had ignored Anna's feelings altogether. She didn't care about skiing. At all. Holly liked it, and that was OK with Anna, and now she wanted to go swimming. In fact, it didn't bother her at all that we were proud of Holly and she instinctively knew that we can love her and Holly at the same time and that they don't have to be the same or do the same in order for us to love them. What a great kid. Again, I am humbled by her innate sense of self. Her total authenticity fills me with a deep respect for her and an even deeper resolve to do better and be better for her. For Holly. For Jasmine. For Partner-Guy. For myself.

No comments:

Post a Comment