Little Victories, Big Celebrations: Parenthood, Praise, and Why I Will Never Be A Tiger Mom.

At 10:45 last night my girls were still wide awake, buzzing with excitement from the ballet recital. They had been in bed for an hour and a half. And by in bed, I mean, climbing the bunk bed ladder to exchange stuffed animals, going back and forth to the bathroom to get drinks of water, spilling the water on their nightstand, running down the hallway to report various concerns and misdeeds to me, and playing with their collection of stuffed birds that whistle and chirp authentic birdsongs when you squeeze them.

It’s been a momentous week here: field day, the last day of preschool, first haircut, dress rehearsal, and then the recital Saturday. We successfully managed teacher gifts and extra babysitting hours and  tricycle races and costumes with very large tutus. I am so proud of them. Of all of us, really.

Lucy zooming around the bend in the tricycle races.

I realize that for people who are not parents, these are exactly the sort of accomplishments that seem silly.

Tricycle races, going down the biggest slide, a few toe taps and plies on stage might seem unworthy of the gushing CONGRATULATIONS HONEY I AM SO SO PROUD OF YOU that I (and lots of other moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas and one awesome aunt who supervised the bubble station at field day with an AC/DC tee shirt, an enormous energy drink and a lot of tattoos) have been lavishing on my girls all week.I know it’s easy to make fun of parents for thinking our own children are special magical snowflake unicorns who deserve a trophy for falling out of bed in the morning.

I get that it might look outlandish, that the encouragement and joy and pride might seem disproportionate to the task at hand. But when you’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, years watching that little person grow into that moment, when you have such an intimate sense of their strengths and struggles, you know how significant the little victories are. It’s not that I mistook the Waltz of the Preschool Flowers for the Moscow Ballet; it’s that I know how many tiny steps they took before being pulled, hand in hand, like paper dolls onto a dark stage.

And I think on some level, it’s powerful for them to have an adult recognize the awesomeness of their accomplishments because they wonder if we are paying attention, if their little lives merit the same amount of focused consideration we give our own work, or our phone calls to other adults, or our conversations about the childcare schedule or the grocery list.

I know the Tiger Moms of the world might have criticized the arabesques as awkward, the plies as poorly timed. (One of those moms was on the phone outside the auditorium, complaining about how her daughter was embarrassed be to on stage with the other, apparently less-talented, kids in her class.) I know people get cranky about how praising children for inconsequential non-achievements gives them inflated self esteem and decreased ability and willingness to take on difficult tasks. But for me, those criticisms miss the mark. I see my girls get braver and stronger when they feel supported, valued, recognized. I overhear them praising and encouraging each other and I feel reassured, knowing they are looking out for one another even when I might not be looking closely. When I tucked them in last night I told them again how proud we all felt seeing them onstage, how loudly we cheered, their little faces positively beamed with joy and pride, and while I admit I hoped they would quickly drift off into sweet ballerina dreams, I understand the restlessness. It’s been a big week.

The comedy highlight of the recital came when Lucy insisted on stripping out of this costume in the middle of the cookie reception and about 30 crayons fell on the floor. Apparently one of the other little girls put crayons in Lucy’s costume when they were supposed to be coloring backstage.

Tomorrow is preschool graduation, complete with a crossing the bridge ceremony and an ice cream party. For us, this week marks the start of summer, of long days at home than can stretch into evening firefly parties in the backyard, of trips to the beach and the cottage, of washing our feet in the sink after pulling weeds and catching toads in the garden. We have campground reservations for our first family camping trip. We have plans for an elaborate fairy garden (Pinterest challenge to be completed this week!). I have writing goals, too, for the first time in a long time. This will be the summer that Margeaux learns to walk and the girls sleep in the tent for the first time—and you can bet I’ll be cheering them on.

Mom, I had A THOUSAND PIECES OF FUN at field day!


5 responses to “Little Victories, Big Celebrations: Parenthood, Praise, and Why I Will Never Be A Tiger Mom.

  1. I think the key is the right kind of praise: you worked so hard, look how it paid off! You had a hard time before, but you kept trying! Didn’t your heart feel awesome to dance? Didn’t it bring you such joy? I think the right praise goes a long way; empty praise simply loses it’s meaning.

    Nice to read such an upbeat post: We’ve been dealing with a 2-day meltdown from Robin, who apparently is retroactively freaking out about how long we were away and how much she missed her Dad. It’s been…. difficult.

  2. Sorry things are difficult on your end… But yeah, I agree that the kind of praise matters, and I see the girls respond to that. I have also noticed lately that Dorothy sometimes tells me she’s proud of me, and shes surprising perceptive about when that’s an appropriate reaction (when I squish ants with my bare hands, for example). So I feel like they get it, on some level, or are beginning to anyway. And I really do want them to sense that we see and value their progress- even if that doesn’t make sense to non-parents.

  3. Awesome. Truly awesome.

  4. I think that it is great that you are fostering an atmosphere of pride/praise regardless of how small those accomplishments seem to people more removed from your family. I don’t remember my parents telling me they were proud very often, and even though I knew that they were, I think raising the next generation to verbalize it is a much better plan.

    Also, as someone who gets stagefright, I don’t think your reaction is disproportionate at all. These accomplishments are building blocks to who they will become later, and are well deserving of celebration.

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