Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Cheerleader, take 2

Every little achievement is celebrated. The first smile, the first time sleeping through the night, the first time sitting up alone, the first word. On and on it goes. Every triumph is met with ecstatic cheers from adoring fans, aka parents. Parents wear many hats while raising a child and one of the most common is cheerleader. We are the encouragers, the ones who sit on the sidelines of our child's life and clap and hoot and holler. They are the players in the game of life and we can't do it for them, so we root them on no matter what happens.

As I watched my child Frankenstein-walk across the den yesterday, I wondered at the real need for all the cheerleading. Am I creating a monster (pun intended)? Her highness refuses to walk on her own accord. The only time she even attempts it is when we ask her to stand up. If she feels like it (50/50 chance she doesn't) then she will do the downward dog, shakily straighten up and walk a few steps. All the while we are "yeah yeah yeahing" like maniacs. In fact, last night she waved her fist and said "yeah yeah yeah" in self adulation while stumbling to her daddy. When she inevitable falls there is rarely any desire on her part to try again. I know she is thinking, "show's over people, move along." Then away she scoots on all fours. I know she is proud of herself in those few seconds, I can see it all over her funny baby face. Mouth open, eyes wide, squeals in abundance. But I wonder, is it the walking that is getting her excited, or our cheering? She does not seem to be particularly interested in walking as a way to get from one place to another. What she does love is an audience and it is a bonus when said audience is applauding her every move. This leads me to my next question--should we stop cheering and just let her figure it out for herself with no encouragement? At some point she is going to have to realize that eventually no one will cheer when she walks. It will become mundane and not a major accomplishment. If she goes ahead and figures that out now, maybe she will quit waiting for prompts to "entertain" us and start walking because, well, that is just what you do. You walk instead of crawl. You don't see mommy and daddy waiting for you to clap when we walk across the den, do you little missy?

Her obvious desire for a cheerleader makes me wonder if we are setting her up for a lifetime of disappointment. There are not always going to be people cheering. Sometimes you have to be great for yourself. I have heard experts say that my generation was ruined by feel-good parenting. We were told, "just try your best, good job, all that matters is that you tried." However, once we entered the workforce, we all realized that just trying is not actually enough. You have to actually be good at your job in order to get a paycheck. While I do think my parents expected a lot of us growing up, there was a "just do your best" feeling that lingered in the air. To this day I respond best to positive reinforcement and praise. I wonder if that is my personality or if I am a product of that style of parenting. I suspect that it is more about me and less about my childhood. Mostly because my brother does not have the same need to please and is more prone to hard work (rare and brutal honesty here folks).

Who am I kidding? I will cheer and cheer and cheer until she looks at me and says, "enough mom." The problem is, I don't really know any other way to parent than to dance around like a Spartan Cheerleader, clapping and smiling and nodding profusely. I suppose that could probably be toned down slightly. Also, my adulation for simple everyday things could be cutback a little. I do say "good job" approximately 1,023 times a day about everything from using her fork correctly to laying still while I change her diaper. Maybe that should be reserved for things that really are a good job, like trigonometry and marathons. Yeah right. Have you seen her? Pure perfection in all that she does, big or small. Except walking. No more cheering for that. (Wonder how long that will last???)

originally posted 5/12/11

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