Recently, I had something of a lightbulb parenting moment. As if there isn’t enough to feel guilty about, or worry about how you must be screwing up your kids, or not a good enough parent…..but this one has really stuck with me.
My husband and I were driving my daughter (hereafter referred to as ‘M’) to her dance class (late, obviously) when I absent-mindedly asked her whether she wanted to do some painting or colouring later this afternoon. Her reply: “No mummy. I don’t want to colour or paint anymore. I’m rubbish at colouring and painting”.
I was absolutely horrified by this.
Now, I am anything but the parent of the year. I make pretty much every parenting faux pas going, and I’m usually the mortifying mum who hasn’t quite got her head round the fact that she is in fact, an actual real live mum, and should probably not hit the wine quite so much, play on my phone and gossip constantly and generally act like an obnoxious teenager. I still feel like I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m doing, and I feel like that every single day. However, I am huge on enthusiasm, praise and encouragement. I try to acknowledge my daughter’s little victories whenever I can. Whilst of course I will always want her to keep pushing and strive for improvement, I don’t want to be the sort of parent who focuses on the one poor exam result and ignores all the brilliant stuff. I heap praise on her, not just because I genuinely think she’s fabulous, but also because I figure before too long school is going to come around and give any self-esteem I’ve managed to instil a run for its money, so better lay it on thick now.
So, I questioned M on this point and asked her what she meant. She went on: “I can’t paint or colour. Mine are all rubbish. I’m just no good at it”. She’s three for god’s sake. THREE. Where did this crisis in self-esteem come from?! How can she believe she is so poor at something that she wants to give up at this age?! How can she be feeling bad about herself already?! This is just not cool at all. I started blubbering some stuff about how she’s a brilliant painter, and silently resolved to hunt down the little shit at nursery that has obviously poisoned my child’s mind.
I didn’t have much time to dwell on this because we were seriously late for her dance class. So late, in fact, that there was no parking left. My husband pointed out a space I might be able to squeeze in to; a tiny sliver of a spot outside of the building.
But I had to reverse park.
Reverse Parking. Two little words guaranteed to send me into an absolute frenzy. Coupled with the fact that there was a row of cars piling up behind me, we were moments away from outright hysteria. “I can’t park there!, I’m absolutely rubbish at reverse parking! I’ve never been able to reverse park, I’m terrible at it, we’ll have to go somewhere else!”
And therein lay the lightbulb moment.
I do realise that this is probably completely obvious to every other parent on the planet, but this hit me like a tonne of bricks. Everyone knows you don’t do daft things like fret about your weight or call yourself ugly in front of your daughters, and I had some vague grasp of the concept of being her role model. But I never quite appreciated the full extent of the effect the way I react to the world and view myself and my abilities had on her. No wonder the kid is putting herself down at this young age; I am constantly expressing insecurity and self-doubt over the most mundane of tasks. Sometimes I do it almost as a disclaimer; I reckon it will probably work out okay, but just to cover myself, I’ll call myself rubbish at something so it isn’t too embarrassing if it goes wrong (“just warning you that dinner is probably going to be rubbish tonight, I tried something new“…). This is, of course, a completely crackers way of going about things. And I do it all the time.
The fact is, I probably have all sorts of unresolved shit from my misguided youth that I could probably do with working out, and no doubt that feeds into all this negative self talk. I’ve done this for years and it doesn’t seem to have caused me any major difficulties in my life. The wider issue of self-esteem, however, has caused me some mega problems (one day I may write about some of these problems, but I run a very real risk of my husband divorcing me immediately and without hesitation if I do…). But when it affects her, I need to take notice.
I realised how powerful the mummy role model thing is. I think its cute that she uses the same sort of phrases and sayings that I do, tries on my shoes, and desperately wants her nails painted. But it’s easy to forget that I’m her sole blueprint on what a woman should be, and she’s watching my every move to try to figure it out. So when I am constantly expressing self-doubt, or focusing on what I can’t do rather than what I can, even in jest, it’s sending her a very strong message. It tells her that I don’t believe in myself, I don’t want to try, I don’t want to keep at things that don’t come easily to me. I send the message that I expect to fail, and in turn she becomes to believe the same about herself. After all, you don’t hear daddy speaking in this way, do you?!
I want my daughter to be the kind of person who jumps in, gives anything a go, gives it her best shot. Yes, she is her own person and is developing her own personality completely independent to my own, but I want to lay that foundation for her. So she knows it’s okay to try things, and to have the confidence to do so, even if they don’t always turn out so well.
So, the moral of the story is, no more shit talking myself and no more hesitation. I may be rubbish at parking the bloody car, but I just need to get on with it and give it a go without getting into a massive flap about what might go wrong, or what people might think if it does. I’ve let my own various gremlins cause me a fair bit of trouble in my life, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to let them do the same to hers.
And for the record, I nailed the parallel parking. On the first go.