By Debby Shulman
I am standing in line at Starbucks, waiting for my venti vanilla blond (room for cream) and listening to the white noise that has become my morning “wake up” music because I can’t make words before coffee. I am overhearing, once again, a yoga-clad middle-aged mother go on and on to her friend about the absolute perfection of her children.
Of course, she is talking in what we would define as an ‘outside’ voice because she is DESPERATE to be heard by anyone who happens to be listening.
I am standing with my mouth hanging open as if to infer, “Are you kidding me?” and I feel the need to wave my hands in front of her face just like I do when my own children are spewing bullshit so fast I have to give them a visual cue to stop talking.
Maybe the coffee will burn her tongue.
I think back to the whip smart women I raised my incredibly gifted children with and I truly don’t have a memory of too many perfect mothers discussing their talented kids. There were always a few who stuck out and we ditched them, you know, because we knew our kids were so much brighter, their children might spoil the magic that made ours so unique and special. When my kids went to preschool, it was simply a way of filling their time … they knew the damn alphabet because we read them educational books and volumes of poetry. We didn’t need to tell everyone how outrageously smart our kids were because it was evident! They tied their shoes first and rode bikes earlier than any of the other kids and to be honest, when they puked, they never missed the bucket. I never reviewed letters in the eye doctor’s office; it was assumed little Joey would get an A. I always considered myself so lucky that I didn’t have to deal with a child who stuttered (lie), reading enrichment because #3 couldn’t read (lie) and spending sleepless nights dealing with a child who had irrational thoughts about our house getting robbed (lie, lie, and LIE). So, I ask you dear readers: What is going on?
Of course we love our kids … maybe I love mine a little more than you do, so it’s okay for me to tell you that Timmy is in language immersion and he’s become quite the little soccer prodigy. Naturally, I am going to compare my children to yours by continuing to discuss my (college age) daughter’s accomplishments through the infamous back door brag … “You know, she is so bright and just loves Stanford but now wants to be an artist! Honestly, with all those brains, do we let her study art?” Take a moment and reflect quickly on the people you know and I can promise you right now, someone just popped into your head, and you might be just a wee bit tired of listening to what they have to say. Let’s face it – every single one of our kids has schtick – every single one has had some bizarre issue at some point in their lives and every single one has something that’s JUST NOT RIGHT.
So how did we get here?
One of my friends said it so beautifully: “Kids have become the new project.” And I retorted with, “Gifted is the new black.” Ahhh.
Can’t we both be right? That way, we both win.
So what happens when little Timmy hears us talking in that Starbucks line just a little too loudly (or too often) about that home run, or our genuinely bright daughter overhears a conversation speaking of her in a way that seems a bit too extreme? There is a fine line here and I acknowledge that it’s easy to cross it in the moment – that proud, fierce second where you are so excited for your child’s accomplishment, you sound the bell. Tell your bestie or your sibling – trust me, they’re the ones who really care. The rest of us are happy to hear the story ONCE but keep it going over a period of weeks or months and you’re going to get the history of my daughter’s drama career and the years I spent watching her be a tree. BUT SHE WAS THE BEST TREE EVER AND SHE HAS A VERY PROMISING CAREER PROFESSIONALLY PLAYING A TREE.
The irony here is that the people I know, with the most incredibly talented and exceptionally bright teenagers, stay unusually quiet. There’s no Facebook Hall of Fame for them, because they don’t care!
It’s their personal and private moment to share with their child, and when they do, everybody wins, especially their teenager.
Having Mom and Dad brag out loud often creates some pretty hard expectations: What happens when I screw up (you will), what happens when I flunk a test (you will) and what happens if I strike out (you did)?
So what’s behind the chronic brag and the loud talk really about? Maybe it’s about Mom dealing with the attention she wanted and didn’t get when she was a kid. Maybe Dad wasn’t the athlete that his kid might be and the inflated sense of self is a bit too vicarious. But when they hear us talk about their accomplishments so much, it creates a funky dynamic.
Am I working hard because it makes me feel good about myself or am I working hard because I need my parents to be able to brag about it?
That’s the real question we most definitely don’t want Timmy asking himself.
The bar is raised so high; it’s out of reach. We are left with kids who are hollow; they know what you’re saying is so beyond and so embarrassing. They just want to have fun, get good grades, and be themselves without being the topic of conversation or the focus of Mom and Dad’s emotional affirmation. The projecting is simply making up for what is lacking elsewhere. We want our teens to take authentic pride in what they do because they love feeling good about working hard and achieving their goals. What should remain is the incentive and emotion that is derived by feeling good from the inside out.
That bragging is the white noise that most of us tune out – we have our own kids and our own set of issues. We are all exceptionally gifted enough to know that you’re talking loudly because (hopefully) nobody is really listening.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.