Bragging about your kids: When is it cool and when not

bragging about your kids

 There is always a certain kind of behavior that may slot parents down as unpopular or ‘unliked’. Most parents do have a tendency to spill the glory (seldom the gore) about their kids, to an extent that it can come across as unpleasant, annoying or sometimes even obnoxious to others who didn’t sign up for this when they decided to include themselves in your social media. There is a Yiddish word for it, “kvelling”. It’s when a person is bursting with pride or pleasure. For want of a better word, we call it boasting or bragging.

While there is a line people draw at bragging about themselves, there seem to be no holds barred while talking about their children. When you’re a parent, you’re bound to be fascinated with each and every achievement of your child, whether it’s eating on his own, using the pot for the first time as a toddler, or being a carrot at that fancy dress competition. Every move a child makes for the first several years of his or her life is celebrated with applause, pride and yes, updates on social media to make the achievement all the more official.

I often wished that my parents bragged a little bit about me when I was a child, given that I was an accomplished one by conventional standards, but they didn’t. Perhaps they didn’t want others to feel left out, or maybe they just didn’t think it was nice, but they didn’t. I still don’t know if it was right or wrong.

“Parenting is tough enough,” Bruce Feiler wrote a few years ago in the New York Times, “can’t you take a victory lap every now and then?”

Sure you can. It’s okay to leave your bragometer on every once in a while as long as you follow certain guidelines:

1. Make it about effort, not about accomplishment

It’s one thing to say your kid loves reading and quite another to say that she reads books meant for eight year-olds at five. Of course you can praise your child’s ability to read books and read them fast, don’t take it to the next level by quantifying it and saying he finishes reading all the library books by the time you reach home. When Re was a toddler, I used to constantly cancel out parents in my head who said their child could speak 12-word sentences. Not cool.

 2. Make it about your good fortune and not about your parenting skills

Most of the time, bragging about your child is a backhanded compliment to yourself. When parents brag, they want you to notice their amazing parenting skills and not their child’s natural abilities. “See, I made this,” they seem to say.

As if it was all your doing and the child had little to do with it. But the truth is that his/her awesomeness is sheer luck anyway and has little to do with you or your parenting skills. I have seen many nice parents with obnoxious children and several obnoxious adults with really nice kids.

  1. Do not belittle when you brag.

You may not realize this, but bragging about your child sometimes undermines the abilities of another child who is still trying but hasn’t got to that stage of accomplishment. But you are obviously too busy basking in your own gene pool to notice this.

Case in point: I told a friend how Re, at age 4 wasn’t keen to learn Tamil at all, despite my mother and I making efforts to speak in it. To which she bragged about how her child is one part A and one part B and one part C and one part D (the letters referring to the respective native languages of her grandparents) and how, as a result, she said every word in four different languages at 11 months.

Or friend A who, when I told her how Re hated writing at age five even though every other child in his class enjoyed it, said to me that her son not only wrote long word sentences but also had started reading by the time he was four. Not cool.

  1. Cancel out your brag quickly with some un-brags.

This means say something your child is struggling with soon after announcing that she won a Math Olympiad. But for some braggy parents, even the counter-negative might end up being boastful. These are the humblebrags. Like, “Her room is so messy, I might find a Calculus breakthrough in it someday”! #mygirlisamathgenius

While I do love talking about Re as well, I think I try to do it in a self-deprecatory manner or just in awe. Most of the times, Re reminds me of the things I am not, and therefore the conversations I share about him are as reflective of my conditioning than they are about his thought process. If any of those came across as bragging, I am guilty too.

  1. Get over it quickly

If you have to brag, do it quickly and get out. Don’t divide your twitter feed into 20 parts, each part holding forth on some sterling quality of your child. Or a series of Facebook posts with different trophies or milestones highlighted. Whatever you do, do not hashtag your brags.

  1. Boasting is not necessarily proclaiming love:

Your child may be extremely smart, wise beyond his years, and achingly cute. She may be as close to perfection as you can imagine. Your love for her may be greater than anything else you feel, but that doesn’t give you the license to boast about each and every milestone. Of course you can do it with your spouse or with your parents, but before you put it out there, remember that boasting is not love. It does not do for the child what unconditional love does.

  1. Time it well

When you are in a forum where everyone is talking about how much trouble they are having getting their kids to eat well, it may not be the best time to proclaim that your cherub is an ace eater and has been eating on his own since eight months. Not cool.

  1. Do not make it about report cards

Report cards are weird things, and people’s perception of them is also rather skewed and however cool a parent you may be, you would still prefer As over Cs. So avoid paper boasts, which is what I call them.

  1. Listen to the ones who don’t brag

The next time you are at a brunch and the talk turns to what your kids are doing and the bragging begins, notice that mother who is sitting quietly, not saying much about her kids. May be she is struggling with something. But she loves her son or daughter just as much as you do.

  1. Think about how would someone who is reading your outpourings (and is not necessarily in love with your child) would perceive it.

I usually follow a simple rule of asking myself three questions:

  1. Is it truly exceptional?
  2. Might it cause others to feel left out?
  3. Does it have entertainment value?

My focus is usually on no. 3 and so far, so good.

 

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 5th October, 2015)

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Next time you push your children, push yourself a little bit too

So this is going to hurt a little. But often, I find that the most problematic thing about teaching children is their parents.

They come in all shades. The over-protective parent. The helicopter parent. The pushy parent. The lazy but ambitious parent. They may request special attention, feel their children need to be challenged more, give teachers pointers on their teaching, make excuses for their children not completing their assignments, advise house parents on communication skills, want their children to be more competitive, expect school staff to respond to e-mails within the hour, the list goes on.

It’s as though parents send their kids to alternate schools for the right reasons, and then start expecting the wrong things. They think about success. They think in comparisons. They think about milestones, achievements and shiny trophies. It’s like they have already scripted their children’s lives and whatever the child says or feels is irrelevant. Needless to say, children are confused.

I meet them every weekend. I can smell them from a distance.

“Can you give me a list of phrases he can use so his language can become better?” asks one mother. The father is busy looking at the sky, as if to say, “I don’t know how I got here.”

“I am still looking for those,” I say. “Besides, it’s not Math. There is no formula to good writing.”

“But his spellings are so bad! I read his emails and he makes so many mistakes.” She seems flustered by now. She turns to the father.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as he is still writing you long emails and telling you what he feels,” I reply.

They stare at me. “An English teacher who doesn’t care about spellings! That’s weird,” they seem to be thinking.

Another one asks, “So how’s K doing?”

“He’s having fun,” I say. Another stare.

“Give him more work. Tell him what to read. Make him read,” she tells me.

I often wonder, would you tell a doctor or a chef how to do her job? Then why does it become okay to tell teachers?

A third says, “She doesn’t read!  During the holidays, she watches TV all the time or is on Facebook!

“Oh! What do you read?” I ask him.

“Me?”

“Yes. Do you read?”

“Well, I want to, but I hardly get the time with my work,” he says. He seems offended. I have my answer though.

It goes on.

“How’s H doing?”, asks his father.

“I think he has really opened up, and is writing without inhibitions these days. He used to shy from putting words on paper, so this is big,” I say, beaming.

“But his grammar is bad, no?”

When I moved to be an English teacher at a residential school, I came to a bunch of students, even the best of who didn’t know the difference between its and it’s and to whom, books were either fiction or non-fiction.

I could choose to do one of two things: tell them all that was wrong with them, their spellings, their punctuation, their grammar, their sentence construction. Or I could teach them to find their voice, to write without inhibitions, to express their thoughts without the fear of making mistakes.

I chose the latter. I chose well. There was a time when a paragraph would make them groan. Now I give them 500 words and they go, “What? That’s it?”

Here’s the thing. We read words visually. If a child has put a word out there, he/she knows what it means and how to use it. If children are corrected or reprimanded each time they use a wrong spelling, they may fall out of love with words very soon.

To every parent that is constantly dissatisfied with their child, I want to ask this: When was the last time you tried something that scared you? When was the last time you taught yourself how to make a Dragon’s Egg? When did you last read a genre that intimidated you? When did you last tell yourself, ‘I am not very good at X or Y, so let me take an online course.’? When did you last do something knowing fully well that you would get it wrong?

So take some risks. Break some barriers. And don’t tell your children what to do. The best thing you can do for your child is to set them free. Allow them some control over their lives. Ask them what classes they want to take. Give them the opportunity to make some decisions and watch them smile in return.

And above all, listen. Listen when your children speak. When kids feel like their parents truly listen to them (about spotting a nightjar near the art room to the 100 metre race they almost won), they feel more connected. This increases their self-confidence and increases their overall happiness. They are more likely to take healthy risks. They are confident and secure in their decisions. They learn that sometimes people make mistakes, but there is always a chance to right a wrong.

I know that in the age of social media, conversations are old fashioned. But have them. They will last longer than your smartphone.

 (This first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 2nd February, 2015. If you have something to share, mail me on mommygolightly@gmail.com)