"You are so beautiful, a classic gorgeous girl". "You are so smart!" "you are such a good driver". On top of many reassurances that "its not your fault, its the circumstance" or other such ways of not taking responsibility for my situation.
As I saw a person in traffic the other day that made me think "damn that cat drives like my mother!!!" I realized that I too used to drive like that and my mother used to praise me for it. "Oh Annie, You are such a good driver". What??? I remember riding with her and stomping on the passenger side imaginary brake and thinking I would never ride with her again and yet I used to put the fear into my passengers as well. Jaymon has bitched many a time about my driving. Never a crash but was I just lucky.....I digress.
An aha moment simultaneously cringe with humility and smile worthy at seeing that driver got me thinking. This praise is how my mother, with her probable good intentions, played a significant role in stunting my growth. From a young age I was told I was "so beautiful" and "so smart". This sounds like support but in hindsight I see that it stunted and froze me in time. It created anxiety in me. I feared anything and everything that I was not at that very moment of praise. I stopped trying to be better or more and wanted to stay the same. Exactly. the. same. If I moved or changed in any direction I risked being ugly or stupid and consequently I stopped growing all together. What is living without risk. Fear is my lifelong nemesis. I am stepping up my game.
Now, I want to feel self worth in that I work hard, I stick things out, I am rational, I am thoughtful, I tried and kept trying even when I didn't reach my goals. I want to have a strong capable body that I worked to make that way. That's beautiful to me. I want to be flexible and adapt to change and KEEP MOVING FORWARD. I want to take responsibility for every choice I make. I want to know my own worth because I see directly how I made it. This is not to say that I don't like hearing my lover say I am beautiful or that he sees how hard I am working to improve my mind. The difference is I believe it and don't "need" him to say it.
So with the spawn I choose to praise how hard they tried, and that they did a great job working, as well as gently reminding them that they have more than they might think they do and should keep working.
They can find joy in the work. I support them when they make mistakes, remind them to relax, and encourage them to keep trying. When they keep learning and growing they will have new experiences and opportunities. I don't tell them how smart they are. That is something they will figure out on their own when they put themselves out there and try. They will discover their own self worth and it will mean much more to them over the long run. They won't be dependent on someone telling them they are beautiful or smart.
One example I have of stunted growth is in math. The idea of pushing into difficult thinking is frightening. I used to hate math. I feared that if I couldn't do math than I would be stupid so I tried to get out of it any way I could. I was hostile and pushed hard not to have to try AT ALL. If I didn't try then no one would know I failed. Failure was a known evil that I could ignore.
I was not shown or told that I could learn to love math and push into what I find difficult. Running is hard and yet I can push into that even when its uncomfortable. I don't run away from it I run to it. I have to remind myself of this and consciously push through discomfort. Hell, I have learned to love foods that I use to think I hated and it was all a matter of changing my mind. Changing my mind. My perspective. Practice flipping the hate to love. Believing and trusting that I will feel comfort and satisfaction again even if this very moment seems insurmountable. I tell my spawn this. I hope they remember hearing it. That and seeing me try.
I did some math yesterday and was humbled and found that humility empowering since I knew that I was making changes in myself that were a long time coming. I could feel my brain muscle growing. It felt good. I felt beautiful.