Pride. That’s the “P” word. Sounds mean, I suppose, to confess I don’t tell my kids I’m proud of them. But pride has no place in my parenting, so it doesn’t feel right to encourage it in the boys either. Before you go beetroot red and tell me how dodgy that is, I hope you’ll give me the chance to explain. And perhaps I should reassure you now, that even though pride is absent, praise is not.
Both “proud” and “pride” get frequent use in our culture. “Aussie Pride” is plastered on car windscreens and tattooed on bulging biceps. Telling kids we’re proud of them is encouraged as a tool to boost self-esteem. I have no doubt most of us use the word with wonderful intentions.
While it sounds OK to think of pride in terms of dignity; knowing I have value, that I deserve not to be treated like a doormat, not to be bullied at school, not to be overburdened by my boss, at the core, pride is focused on self. If selfishness takes a front seat in determining my worth as an individual, what does it do to my perspective on the world?
Kids choose the biggest piece of cake to eat, whinge about doing chores and want what other kids have (or is that only my kids?) Adults lack courtesy (think merging when a lane ends), strive to buy the latest trend for themselves and find it hard to give without receiving something in return.
We do all those things because we consider our feelings and needs more important than somebody else’s. Pride takes it even further. It translates self-focus into comparisons with other people and it can go two ways:
- We feel superior to others, e.g. because we think our achievements and accomplishments are better than theirs.
- Ironically, pride fosters insecurity and inadequacy, e.g. in the presence of others who we think are more successful than we are.
Worse still, from pride, judgmentalism evolves. To judge others or feel judged by others based on a belief of your superiority or theirs is ugly! But we’re all guilty of it. Every one of us is as flawed and imperfect as the next. None of us are more valuable than any other.
I’m not going to tell my kids I’m proud of them; not when they do well, not when they try hard, not even when they persevere or are resilient. I don’t want them to believe that what they achieve is the result of their brilliance or mine (as their parent). I don’t want them to think they’re superior because they possess a talent or skill others don’t. And I certainly don’t want them to assume their value is only linked to things I’ve said I’m proud of.
I believe God distributes character, talents, strengths and weaknesses. It’s always for a reason, but it takes time to recognise what they are and how he wants us to use them.
Instead of being proud, I want my kids to learn how to be humble and thankful. Each varying ability, passion and personality trait they have are gifts, given with purpose. Even those that seem dormant or undesirable now, the things I wouldn’t think to tell them I’m proud of, have potential to be fruitful in God’s hands.
One of my kids has sometimes involved himself in disputes between classmates that have nothing to do with him. He can’t stand to see a wrong un-righted. He’s landed himself in hot water for getting fired-up and losing control, especially if he thought the issue hadn’t been addressed fairly.
My husband and I used to get so frustrated to see him get in trouble. I would never have told him I was proud of this side to his character. It seemed so undesirable. I wanted to squash it out of him, to spare me another stern conversation with his teacher and the feeling I would be judged by others as a bad parent.
Thankfully, once the disguise of bad choices was removed, a deep-set passion for justice revealed itself in my child. I almost didn’t see this admirable quality because my gaze was set on looking for something to be proud of. What I viewed with annoyance, at that time, could serve him and, more importantly, others constructively in the future. But if I only encourage him in the things I’m proud of, I rob him of this God-given strength. I serve him better if I teach him how to harness and fine-tune his passion.
I want my children to know that they are wholly loved and accepted by me, their dad, God and others — strengths, weaknesses, flaws and all. By teaching my kids these things, I hope they’ll understand where their value truly lies. I hope it creates confidence in them stronger and more reliable than pride. I believe it will help them see and treat others as equals.
Last year I attended my 20-year high school reunion. It saddened me to hear that some chose not to come because they felt inadequate in their life accomplishments compared to what they thought others had achieved. I don’t want that future for my children. Life is too short for them to waste time caught inside fears of inadequacy or deluded by self-importance, all due to the negative influence of pride.
Rather than encouraging someone by telling them you’re proud, how else could you affirm them in both their strengths and their weaknesses this week?
“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did
not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
1 Corinthians 4:7