Life Doesn’t Come with Cheerleaders

February 09, 2011 Tagged with: life

My 9-year-old daughter Gabrielle was making our bed yesterday. it’s her only chore. She has to do it every weekday.

When it was done, it was horrible. The bedspread was all askew, the pillows were a mess, etc. She had totally phoned it in. Now, I’m not anal-retentive by any means, but, at the same time, this is the girl’s only chore and she’s going to do it well.

I called her out on this. I explained the bed looked horrible and that she could do a much better job. To this, she calmly informed me:

It doesn’t matter if it’s good, Daddy. It only matters that I did my best.


In the process of 30 seconds, I suppressed my flash of anger and explained to her, calmly but firmly, that in the real world,it does indeed matter if it’s good. This wasn’t her best work, but even if it was, that’s no excuse. If your best isn’t good enough, then you get better.

Is that kids are learning these days? My kids go to a Christian school which I like to think is pretty conservative, so I don’t think she got it there. But she got it somewhere, and I’d like to know where.

Now, for something like sports or a game or something, this is true – I don’t care if my kids are good in sports, only that they try. But how do you clearly draw the line between that and other, more important things, like chores. How do you prevent this meaningless platitude from becoming a crutch?

I read a great book this summer called The Narcissism Epidemic. it’s about how a generation of kids are being raised on the idea that they’re “special” and “unique” and all they have to do is try hard and someone will praise them up, down, and sideways.

Sadly, the real world doesn’t work like that. God certainly thinks your special and unique, but your boss probably doesn’t and he’s not going to give a crap that you tried really hard on that botched report that made you lose the big account. When our kids get out of school and leave home and there are not people around them all the time to praise them for everything they will they react to that?

I remember an article I read years ago. The author was watching a mother and child in the park. The kid was sliding down the slide, and the mother was gushing:

That was the best slide I’ve ever seen! you’re the best slider ever! I can’t believe how good you are at this!

The author said this mother was setting this child up to fail by praising every last thing he did. This kid, the author claimed, probably got this treatment all the time and would grow up thinking that everyone should treat him this way. The real world was going to be a shock.

I was a little horrified when I first read this – I mean, who doesn’t want to praise their kids? But, in the years since, I’ve come to understand and sympathize with the author’s point of view. I think we should appropriatelypraise our children. My youngest came home with a fistful of “A” papers the other day, and I told her she did fantastic and I was really proud of her. This is appropriate praise.

But for the kid on the slide in the playground, maybe just let physics take the credit for that. That kid needs to learn to take pride in his own accomplishments, lest he grows up thinking that if someone doesn’t praise him for it, nothing he does is worthwhile.

Life doesn’t have a built-in cheerleading squad. Woe be to the young adult who find they can’t function without one.


David Morefield says:

You’re preaching to the choir on this one. But over and above your (quite correct) moral objections to such pap, you could have called your daughter out on purely logical grounds: If the job she did that day was demonstrably worse than her usual performance – and it must have been, to raise your ire – then it only follows that she did NOT do her best. Her best looks a lot better.

This is another pitfall of the whole “praise mediocrity” approach to parenting. If you set low standards, so will your kids, and “best” is defined on a sliding scale that only goes down over time, never up.

If my kids tried this, I’ll call them out for plain old lying. “You KNOW you didn’t do your best, so you’re not only lazy, you’re a liar.”

But maybe that’s just me. Hey, I must be doing something right; just the other day, Jason (7) told me, “Even if I get a second Dad someday, I’ll still love you best.” You can’t get more devoted than that, right?

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