Children Need To Be Told They Amazing

My response to Karren Brady’s recent article in The Sun. Find it here

I think the word ‘amazing’ gets used a little bit too much these days. And don’t even get me started on that whole ‘sha-mazing’ thing. Boy was that annoying. But when it comes to my children, I’m very happy to tell them they’re amazing. Incredible. Awesome. Beautiful. Wonderful. Precious. They are all of those things and more.

So, when I came across Karren Brady’s article in The Sun this week and I read the title ‘Parents need to stop telling their kids they’re amazing’, I was naturally intrigued. She went on to argue that if we don’t stop telling our children they are amazing ‘they’ll struggle to cope in the real world.’ Uh-Oh, I could’ve thought. I’ve really dropped my kids in the brown stuff. I’ve ruined their lives. I’ve accidentally removed any chance they had of being able to cope in the real world. I’ve failed them. They are doomed. I am the worst parent ever.

I could have thought that. I didn’t. But I could have. Instead I fiercely rejected every point that the article made.

Basically, in a nut shell, Karren Brady believes that we are over praising our children. She thinks that this results in them struggling in the world of work as they get older because they expect ‘continuous praise and instant success’. She goes on to say that one of the key issues she encounters during her work with young people is their ‘raging sense of entitlement’. They, basically, expect the world on a platter because they’ve been told that is exactly what they can have.

I tell my children they are amazing every single day (although, I change up the vocabulary from day to day to keep it interesting). That is because that every single day they do, or say, something that makes me proud. That might be something as little as putting their dirty washing in the right place (although, I must admit, that doesn’t happen very often!) or being kind, understanding, tolerant. My children are pretty amazing. (It’s now even irritating me at how many times I’m using that word!). Sod that. They are incredibly awesome. Without fail, they make me proud to be their mum. Every. Single. Day. Why shouldn’t I tell them that? And if I do continue to do this, is Karren Brady to be believed? Is it really going to hamper their chances of coping with the real world if I do?

I don’t think so.

I used to teach at secondary level a number of years ago. The number of children I met with low self esteem and low self confidence was astounding. It was the type of low self esteem that was as limiting as a ten foot brick wall surrounding them. They couldn’t escape it. They could not break through that wall. For some children it revolved around their appearance. For others it was about their academic ability, or their ability to make friends and ‘be popular’. They felt that they were at floor level and everybody else was up in the stars. That sort of mindset has a long term effect. Karren Brady is concerned about young people turning up for work with an expectation that they will be successful, or an expectation that they will be promoted quickly or believe that one day they’ll be running the place. I would be more concerned about the young people who wouldn’t even have the confidence to turn up for the job interview. Or apply for a job in the first place.

Being a young person isn’t easy. It’s far harder when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin and you lack the confidence to be yourself. I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently on the power of affirmations and it is no different to what millions of parents are doing every single day in telling their children that they are amazing. If you tell someone something for long enough, they will start to believe it themselves. Tell your children they are beautiful, they are clever, they are going to change the world, often enough and they too will believe it. From that place will grow confidence and self esteem. From that will grow ambition, drive and pride. How can that be a bad thing?

Karren Brady also explores the theory that working parents over praise their children because they feel guilty about not being around more for them. She’s right about the guilt thing – every single time I leave my baby at nursery on a morning I feel guilt. Every time my son asks to do something fun during the school holidays and I have to go to work instead, I feel guilt. But that’s not why I tell them they are amazing. I tell them they are amazing because they are exactly that: amazing.

Karren goes on to say that children who grow up being praised all the time will at some point enter the real world and realise the ‘unpaletable truth’ that praise has to be earned and that you have to work hard to become the best at anything. There is a huge presumption here that because we praise our children, we are not instilling a strong work ethic in them and that’s wrong. I believe that the bigger we build our children up, the bigger they will dream to achieve. If we tell our children they are capable of conquering the world, they will dream about conquering the world. That gives them ambition, drive and determination. As long as we promote a strong work ethic and continue that conversation by reminding them that whilst they are capable of conquering the world, they have to work very hard to do so, they will not expect success to fall at their feet overnight.

Karren closes her article with a suggestion that our over-praised children can’t grow up and even begin to consider working in a business because they won’t even have the capacity to ‘connect with real human beings’. This still puzzles me. I think that one of our biggest jobs as parents is to make our children aware of their capabilities. We should be making them feel like they could rule the world standing on one foot with a blindfold on. We need to reinforce the need to aim high. Dream big. We need to tell them ‘you are good enough’ , ‘you can achieve anything you want’ ‘You are who you are and we are so proud of you’. As long as we use our praise as a tool to drive our children forward, a tool to encourage them to dream big, a tool to reinforce a strong work ethic, then those children will aim high. They will dare to dream big and they will do their very best to achieve those dreams. But without that self belief they won’t get off the starting blocks. We need to believe in them so they can believe in themselves. And we do that by telling them how incredibly amazing they are.

I took Class A drugs During my Pregnancy.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? ‘I took class A drugs during my pregnancy’. I bet you are picturing the worst mother in the world. I bet, as I speak, an image of a toothless Jeremy Kyle-esque character is unfolding in your mind.

I’ve got friends who abstained from drinking coffee for the full nine months incase it had any ill effects on their developing baby. I’ve got friends who quibbled over taking half a paracetamol when they were hit with a migraine. Me? I took morphine every single day. Twice a day. Sometimes more.

 

Am I a bad mum? I certainly felt like it. Every single time I swallowed one of those pills, I felt a punch in the gut of my stomach. Guilt. I thought about my poor, defenseless, innocent, developing baby and the damage that was potentially being caused by, what felt like, the most toxic poison I could have been feeding her.

 

The reality was though, I either took that morphine, or I didn’t continue with the pregnancy. I’ve been on a stonking dosage of morphine for seven or eight years now. With a chronic pain condition, other medications just don’t cut it. It’s not the type of thing you can suddenly stop and without it, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed on a morning – physically and mentally. I’ve been consumed by pain before and it is hell on earth; life without pain management would be no life at all. Going medication free wasn’t an option and after ten years of trying to conceive a second child and eight years on and off fertility treatments, not continuing with the pregnancy was not an option either.

 

However, I would be lying if I said that in my darkest moments I didn’t have doubts. I contemplated, very deeply, what I was doing to our baby and whether or not it was fair to continue. I googled way too much. I googled every possible bad outcome I could think of. I felt guilt as the Doctors explained to me that my baby would be born dependent on morphine and that they would have to go through the withdrawal process, being given smaller doses of the drug to help their body copy with the withdrawal. I wondered if it was moral, if it was ethical, to put a baby in that position through no fault of their own.

 

When I think now about those dark moments, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. Sick to my stomach that I, even if for just thirty seconds, contemplated life without her because I was so terrified of making her poorly.

 

It wasn’t easy. Nine months of swallowing down a medication that you know is going to directly impact on your baby has its own side effects (pardon the (very poor) pun.) Namely, guilt. It didn’t matter how many Midwives, Obstetricians or Doctors reassured me that taking the morphine was necessary and that the situation was more than manageable with the right plans in place, I still felt guilt.

The sort of guilt that makes your heart pound so hard you can hear it in your ears whilst lying perfectly still in bed during the dead of night.

 

She was born perfect. A little earlier than expected, but she was born perfect. It was incredibly difficult to watch her go through withdraw in special care and I was utterly guilt ridden throughout it all but that light at the end of the tunnel came three months following her birth when we administered her very last dose of morphine. I will return to this at a later date and I’ll write about our experiences during her withdrawal in the hope that it helps someone else facing the same situation. I found medical journals and articles all over the internet but they definitely weren’t written in a lingo that I understood very well. I searched, hoping to find a parent’s personal experience of it all to no success so I will definitely dedicate a future blog post to our experience of it all in the hope that it helps someone somewhere in the future.

 

Coincidentally, my hubby and I were looking at photographs of her today, and the difference in how she looks in those early weeks to four to five months later in mind blowing. She looked very poorly. It breaks my heart to see those photographs, even eight months later. She is unrecognisable from the big, wide eyed smiler that she is today. It was a difficult journey but we made it. Do I still feel guilt? Every single day. I feel guilty that she had a traumatic start to life and still feel extremely responsible for that. I know technically speaking I didn’t have a choice, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. I still feel very personally responsible for taking that medication. But the idea that, in those darkest moments, I contemplated not putting her through it, makes my heart plummet to the bottom of my stomach. Because the world would have truly missed out on a beautiful soul who has already, in her short life to date, brought an immense joy that is simply indescribable.

 

Get out of the Baby Parenting Competition Now!

Our first ‘child’ (when your boy starts sprouting a moustache it feels ever so slightly inaccurate to call him a ‘child’. A ‘mini man’ or ‘man in progress’ sounds a bit more on point) is almost fifteen so we’ve been out of the baby game for a number of years. A high number of years, at that. So, when I became pregnant with our daughter, who is now eight months, I was abruptly reminded of the competitiveness that comes with baby parenting. It’s like as soon as those two blue lines show on the pee stick, you are automatically entered into some sort of insane parenting league where you compete against your nearest and dearest friends as if you are life long rivals. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be competing in that league. You’ve got no choice. You’re pregnant now. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to grip on to the idea that it is undeniably ridiculous to compete with one another on such a subject as parenting, you are drawn into it, against your will, and before you know it, you catch yourself saying something like ‘In my twelve week scan my baby signed the lyrics to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ with its bare hands inside the womb, what did you see in your scan?’ and sounding like one prized muppet.

Months later I sharp remembered the competitiveness that surrounds birthing. This is something I will never understand. There are two camps with this one. You can enter the competition for the ‘Best Birth Ever’ or the ‘Worst Birth Ever’. Who in their right mind would compete against each other for having the worst birth experience? Why oh why? Having had lots of friends and acquaintances who have had babies (and enjoy discussing their birth experience in GREAT detail), I can say with absolute certainty that people do. Whether it’s the biggest birth weight squeezed through the smallest hips, the highest degree tears, the injuries sustained, the longest labour, the worst midwife – mums compete for the ‘worst birth’ title with steely determination.

Then there’s the ‘Best Birth Ever’ camp. This tends to be the competition that the pain free, drug free, hypno birthing, pushed-out-in-fifteen-minutes-while-the-midwife-was-on-her-lunch-break mums enter. I’ve seen mums fiercely compete against each other for who gave their baby the most peaceful, relaxing, smooth and tranquil transition into the world.

As a C-Section mum, one time round out of the two, I have experienced feeling rather lost in these discussions at times, like I don’t really have a place in this oh so special league. Not that I would want to be competing. But, you know what I mean. I’m a none-breast-feeding, C-section mamma. The worst kind! It doesn’t matter why I didn’t breast feed. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t personally elect for a section, or not to breast feed, actually. I’m judged on the start to life I gave my baby, whether I actively opted to give her that start to life or not. And I didn’t, by the way. But the very fact I felt I needed to justify that, is what makes it so sad.

I think that being a mother is the most challenging, the most rewarding, and the most important job in the world all rolled into one. We all know it’s damn hard. It’s nigh on impossible at times. We wouldn’t change it for the world, but there is no denying it is tough. So, why do we compete? Why do we make the job harder by entering into discussions that could potentially leave us feeling extremely inadequate and negative about our own ability as parents? Why are we so judgemental? Why are we drawn in to pathetic conversations where we debate who had the worst / best birthing experience? Fast forward a few months and we’ll be competing about Baby Led Weaning, or whose baby has moved through the weaning stages quickest, who makes the most exotic home made purees, then whose baby is sitting up unsupported first, then crawling, then walking, then speaking – who knows where it ends. My boy is almost fifteen, and I’m glad to say that I definitely haven’t been drawn into silly competitive chat in a while. However, I do take great pleasure in announcing his excellent grades on Facebook. Those posts are 99% fuelled with pride. 1% fuelled with ‘you told me my baby wouldn’t be as clever because he wasn’t breast fed. Well, there you go. A* in English. Boom.’ So, I suppose, there’s an element of competition no matter their age.

I would very much like it to stop, though. I don’t know why, as grown and mature adults, we are drawn into that sort of behaviour. It’s not a fantastic example to set for our little, milestone-meeting darlings. Take birthing for example: giving birth is not a day out at the races. Naturally done or otherwise. It is hardcore stuff. Physically and mentally gruelling. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and some of us are genuinely left traumatised by our experiences. To have to listen to others dreamily recall every minute of their ‘perfect birth’ can be hard. Really hard. I don’t think there’s many winners in this sort of competition. At one stage or another we will all come away from a playdate (the type of playdate you have at Costa) googling ‘what should my baby be doing at x months?’ after being made to feel like someone else’s baby, or their parenting, is better than yours.

We need to stand up and acknowledge that us women are nothing short of amazing. What our bodies are capable of doing, when ‘growing’ and giving birth to a baby, is miraculous. We get through those birthing experiences, whether good or bad, fuelled by a mothers love. That love is strong. Powerful. The biggest love of all. What, as human beings, we are capable of doing in the name of being a mum, is astounding.

It’s the same for raising a child or children. It is bloody hard. Exhausting. Draining, too, at times. Yet there we are. Rain or shine. In sickness or in health. There we are, doing the most amazing job in the world: Being a mum. Sod the competition, that’s something to celebrate right there. We are amazing, ladies. Pop the cork on that bottle of Moet that’s been sitting in the fridge waiting for a justifiably ‘good enough’ reason to open it; we’ve got something to celebrate. Withdraw your entry from that competition. It’s not worth competing in. You know why? Because we’re all bloody amazing, that’s why!

Next time you overhear a mum preaching how good or bad their birth was, or arguing that their child is more advanced than yours, congratulate them. Then leave. Leave with the knowledge that you are just as amazing as them. Because you’re a mum. And all mums are amazing.