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Protecting self-esteem in an culture hungry for accomplishment

June 19, 2017

So I'm sitting in a hall way with a few other parents I don't know. There is the faint sound of a piano being played through the closed door, and I am incredibly nervous.  I'm at my 11 year old daughters piano exam. We have been working on the same 5 pieces and 6 scales since September for this 20 minute event. She gets one shot to play everything to the best of her ability and then she will be given a mark. 


  I can hear every note through the closed door and  that isn't helping my nerves. I'm trying to present the cool laid back mom look on the outside, but I'm freaking out on the inside. I want her to do well; she has worked so hard this year. I want it to end with a success. Who am I kidding: I've worked hard getting her to practice and driving her to lessons, and paying for them. Doesn't that matter to the examiner?




She comes out and immediately starts to tell me what went poorly (although I could hear mistakes for myself). I stop her and say "why are we starting with what went wrong, lets start with what went right. The Minuet was awesome after all".


But I need to take it a step past this. This after all shouldn't be a conversation about what went well and what didn't. I as the Mom I have a big chance here to build self esteem in a way that the examiners mark could never do.  In fact, I have a chance to bolster her self esteem and my own. This the season of "winding up" events. This won't be the last time she "does" something and is marked for it. And she has 4 other siblings...all in the same boat.  After all, what do you do when on the same day, one kid passes their swimming level and the other fails it. And the other kid won't get in the pool at all. 




Well I borrow a concept from my friend Jen who borrowed it from Dr. James McArthur. Everyone's self esteem is made up of 2 boxes. The be box and the do box. We live in a world that really values that do box.  The tag line of the do box is "I have worth because I do great things". The piano exam, the swim lessons, scoring a soccer goal, standardized testing...etc. We are obsessed with that box. Actually I think we are sometimes assaulted by it.  I let that do box freak me out sometimes. That drive to achieve. I'm driving all over the city to feed that drive to achieve.  That kind of language begins to permeate the way I think about my kids, the way I compare them to other kids, the way I talk to them. 




The be box is equally important, and as parents, I might argue even more important because of the skewed culture we live in. The be box tag line is "I have worth because I exist". 


In that hallway after the music exam. Or, when greeted by the dejected face of the kid who failed the swim level, I have to stop and think be box thoughts. These are my children. They have worth because they exist, not because of how well they are "doing". I love to watch them dance. I love to hear their music. I love to read their stores from school. I want to watch them play soccer. If they "fail" at something, we will ignore, for the moment, what's in the do box and focus on what's in their be box: what makes them inherently unique and lovable, things they don't do, but things they are.




If we take this one step further, you as their mother have 2 boxes as well. A be box and a  do box.  You might show up late to every single soccer practice. You might be hitting snooze on that alarm clock over and over on these last days of busy school mornings.





Veggies at dinner time might be more and more inconsistent. But you have worth because you exist as their parent. Yes, you do many great things for them. "But what your kids really want for dinner is you." (D.H. Oakes)."






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