When accepting one of her Emmy awards a couple weeks ago, Tina Fey thanked her parents for "somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done. That is what all parents should do."
I couldn't agree more, Tina -- about the job of parents, not your looks or abilities. (For the record, I think Tina Fey is one of the most brilliant women out there, and lovely to boot.)
I was also raised by parents who gave me confidence well beyond my looks and abilities -- even though they didn't have much confidence in their own looks or abilities -- and I am constantly grateful. In hindsight, I realize my mother struggled with terrible self-esteem, but she somehow projected all her hopes and dreams onto me. She told me every day that I was smart and beautiful and could do anything; she never missed an opportunity to tell me she was proud of me. (And the worst punishment in the world was to hear her say "I'm disappointed in you" -- I feel sick just thinking those words!) When I think about it today, that self-confidence was the best gift my parents ever gave me. It's carried me a long way, far beyond my own looks and abilities.
But when is confidence boosting just too much? When are you crossing the line into nonsense? For instance, when they're little, we praise pretty basic things. I praise Sweet Boy every time he pees on the potty or washes his hands or eats his broccoli, for goodness sake; today I told him I was proud of him for playing so nicely on the playground! When is he going to just tune that out and think I'm blowing sunshine? Or worse, when will he start thinking his poo don't stink because I'm soooo proud of him? (Of course I also yell and chastise the kid fairly often, so perhaps that's the balance.)
I suppose this is one of those play-it-as-you-go situations (isn't that true of all parenting?). And I'm sure it's not an easy job, to continuously boost your child's ego without making them egocentric, tempering the praise with the reprimands. But somehow the Feys were able to walk that tightrope successfully, as were the Mellos. I hope I can do the same.
(I'm thinking, too, it's even more important to praise the little things as kids get older, especially as they get more eye-rolly and your patience gets shorter: Hey, kiddo, good job on that spelling quiz; I knew you could do it. I'm really proud of the way you ran so fast to first base. Excellent choice in not wearing the micro-mini skirt that shows your butt cheeks to the mall. Way to go, stopping and counting to three at that four-way stop!)