Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When no one's clapping

When BG had just turned one, we managed to teach her to hold up one finger. When we would ask her either "How old are you?" or "Are you one?" She would hold up one finger and say "DA!" with a huge smile on her face.

I remember telling one of my friends, "I'm almost certain she doesn't know what it means, but she knows that when she does it we cheer, so she does it. It's like I'm teaching her to do tricks, i.e., this is the secrete to education."

He laughed and said, "Well, isn't that the way it is all through life? You work hard for the grades, and then for the girl, and then for the job and the raise?"

I smiled and said, "Well yeah, so how do you know you've done a good job if no one claps?" And I thought about it for a second. "Actually. That's the secret to education."

The secret to education, and I suppose to parenting, is to eventually make yourself irrelevant. To teach them how to learn, to self-monitor, to evaluate. To make it so they don't need the clapping to know when they've done the right thing.

I win at teaching. Maybe I even win at parenting. But I don't so much win at life.

I still need the clapping. Actually, I need it a lot.

But I always got the A's. The awards. I never interviewed for a job I didn't get. I won teacher of the year. I have thank you letters from students that take my breath away.

When I was in high school, my friends threw me a party to thank me for taking care of them and helping them with their problems. That doesn't even sound real.

It's normal to need to feel appreciated and respected. It's human. It's healthy. And maybe I'm not getting enough of that these days. But, at some point, I need to learn to do it without the clapping.

I take criticism way too hard, and I take rejections way too personally. I don't know that I'm doing a good job unless someone is handing me a prize. I measure my worth as a human being on things like my blog stats and my twitter mentions. I beg for approval and stroking.

I hate that about myself.

(Yes. I hate my own low self esteem. No, that's probably not even the most counter-productive thought I've had today.)

I want to be the kind of person who can separate her own worth from other people's opinions of her. I want to care about and try to address other people's needs, but not be owned by them. I want to take pride in things I do, even when no one notices them. I want to believe that I am good and smart and have value, that I matter.

I don't know how to do that.


  1. You know what, I think that each and every one of us still needs the clapping and we lie to ourselves when we say that we don't. Humans are social beings and we derive happiness from interacting with others . . . it is necessary for our survival.

    That being said, it is also vital to clap for ourselves. I don't know about you but my depression stripped me of my confidence, my ability to pat myself on the back and say "good job".

    I wish I could tell you how to learn to value yourself and feel confidence in your abilities but I don't know that myself . . . man I wish I knew that. I suspect that it takes us opening ourselves up, allowing ourselves to not feel self-centred when we recognize that we have totally rocked it out of the park . . . whatever it might be.

    I shall end this novel of a comment with one last thought . . . I think that you are amazing. I think that you have been a vital part of my recovery and I treasure the support, your words that you share here and the fact that you are you. My wish for you is that you soon see yourself the way that I do.

  2. I so get this. It is so hard to not get that validation that we all need and want. I told my dh that I just wanted someone to tell me that I am doing a good job at being a mom. I want that validation at work too. Even when you get the promotion you still don't get the respect and recognition you want. Sending you huge hugs. You are doing a great job. My coworker told me that wisdom comes from experience and that I will stop caring about what others think.

  3. I know exactly what you mean, and I think we are similar in the aspect of the "when I was in school" analogy.. I got praise for doing well in school, as a librarian I was told so, so often from various people that I was doing a great job, how vital I was... and now I don't really get any feedback at all and even though I know I'm doing a really, really great job in a stressful environment... there are times when I don't feel appreciated at ALL and that really eats away at me sometimes. (Okay, a lot of the times.)

    It's so easy to talk a big game about how we don't care what other people think but I think it's also natural and normal and totally okay to want some validation, too. Basically: what Jenn said about being social creatures.

    But. I also know that I wouldn't have done very well through the past few months without your ENDLESS support and advice and listening and reminding me ways that it'll be okay in the end. And that BG is a happy, smart little girl because you are her mother. xoxoxoxo

  4. When you figure that out, please let me know.

  5. Oh my gosh. This is something I've been trying to write about for a long time. I am working on this so hard too, because I need the clapping. Ugh. But sometimes I think it's okay to need the clapping. Always trying to find the balance. Anyway, thank you for this!!

  6. I wish I had the answers, because I have the exact same questions, especially today - I was already questioning myself when somebody (who didn't know how hard my morning had been, and was only trying to help, in their own way) inadvertently decided to add timber to my emotional pyre.

    I hate being so dependent on a cheer squad that doesn't even exist most of the time. But I've always been like that. I think part of it was my desire to not brag if I knew I had done something well - but I'd take it to the extreme and turn it into self-deprecation. Funny thing is, when others complimented me, I couldn't even accept *that* graciously. I had to downplay it, and it actually ended up making other people think I was just fishing for more compliments. I guess I was, but not consciously, or deliberately. And not just to be the centre of attention.

    So yeah, I don't know. But for the record, I want to thank you (and applaud you) for your reaching out to me, and so many others, with support and online "mothering". To me, it sounds like you're doing a great job with BG, and I hope we can both figure out how to have more confidence in ourselves.

  7. I can't believe that we just found each other through twitter, like, today, and then *this* is the first post I read on your blog. I have this response: me too, lady. Me. Too. And I hate it. In fact, I once had the following interaction with a therapist:
    Me "Why are you disappointed in me? You look so disappointed."
    Therapist: "Wow. I am actually trying to keep my face as neutral as possible, because I have noticed that you look to me for approval. I don't think it's productive for you to spend our time together telling me what you think I want to hear. I want it to be ok for you to be honest in here."
    Yep. I wanted clapping from my therapist. Thank God for good therapists.

    Also, children completely and totally learn that way. My big sister is a developmental psychologist who studies babies and teaches developmental psych 101, and she told me that even though she *knows* that her kids learned to say "Mama" because she got so excited every time they said sound resembling "Mama" in her general direction. But that doesn't make it any less thrilling. It's a survival mechanism for babies to repeat whatever gets them good feedback. I don't think adults are all that much different.

  8. I know how you feel - I did well at everthing I tried for a long time so I hadn't even realised how much I thrived on the clapping to keep me going. Now that the clapping has stopped, I have no idea where to even begin to find the drive I need to achieve new goals...and no real idea what goals I want to set either.

    For what it's worth, I think you're amazing,warm, and talented and I would give you an ovation anyday.Your un-ending support, even on days that you're struggling too, is worth it's weight in gold. Thank you for that.