penelope and bumblebee

Good grammar costs nothing.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Good Enough

My daugter amazes me. That is not of course, a statement that I lay exclusive claim to as a mother, but believe me when I say it.

I am amazed by the way that she gets the pasta onto her little fork, and the little fork into her mouth. I am amazed by the way she goes down the slide by herself. I am amazed by the games she makes up with a bucket and some blocks and a little perch to sit on. Why, just this morning she amazed me when she took the pants from my outstretched hand and delivered them ‘to daddy’, as I had enthusiastically instructed.

And every time she amazes me, I stop myself from from exclaiming my amazement.

Not because I don’t want her to know how proud I am; not because I think that she gets too much praise for things that she should do without expecting praise, and not because I think that she must already know that I think she’s amazing. No; I have refrained from doling out deserved praise because my instinctual response, praise-wise, seems to be,

‘Good Girl!’

And, quite frankly, that is not the praise I want my daughter to want.

I don’t think, and I don’t want my daughter to think, that being a good girl is what she should strive for. There is more to life than being good. There is more to expect from a little girl than being good.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not looking for a bad girl; I don’t think that my toddler needs more of an edge – heaven knows, I may be pining for the thing I am eschewing once bumblebee turns, say, 14, but for now – for now, I just don’t want everything she does to become a reflection of her behaviour; of her character.

I don’t want my daughter’s accomplishments relegated to some archaic measurement whererby to be well-behaved is to be valued. I don’t want her to do things just to please me, or to prove to me how good she can be.

And so, I must come up with a new lexicon. After only 16 months of mothering, I must rethink that which, for some reason, is coming so naturally to me, and stop telling my daughter that she is good.

I’d like her to know that I appreciate her, so I will say thank you.

I’d like her to know that I am proud of her, so I will praise her efforts.

I’d like her to know how much I love the things that she does without me asking, so I will let her know how I value her independence.

I’d like her to know that she adds joy to my life, so I will let her know how much she is cherished.

I’d like her to grow to be confident, smart, loving and trusting of both herself and of us.
If I can get her there, than I will know that we’ve both done ok.

And that is as good as it gets.


  • At 5:57 PM, Blogger metro mama said…

    I've recently started to become aware of the language I use. I've stopped telling her how pretty she looks. When she does something well I tend to say good work instead of good girl.

    I hope she doesn't follow the rules too much. I'll just have to set the example. ;)

  • At 6:39 PM, Blogger Christina said…

    Good thinking about considering the language we use around our kids. I've been known to say "good girl" more than a few times, and when I do I generally feel bad afterwards for not thinking up something better to say.

    But you've got some good ideas to try!

  • At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Naomi said…

    This is such a hard one for us.

    There's an interesting article on the Alfie Kohn website about this...

    Have a look, and let me know what you think. We've tried to avoid the "good boy / good job" thing, but it's really hard. Finding substituties is the most difficult.

  • At 9:24 AM, Blogger cinnamon gurl said…

    I cringe when I hear my husband saying good boy but wasn't exactly sure why, so we haven't discussed it yet. But we will now.

  • At 11:12 AM, Blogger sunshine scribe said…

    I got caught up with this when my son was the same age. A preschool teacher friend of mine suggested trying things like:
    - "great job with your fork"
    - "good listening"
    - "awesome sliding"

    I sound a bit like a fool but it works for us :)

  • At 12:48 PM, Blogger nomotherearth said…

    I'm with Sunshine Scribe.

    -when The Boy obeys instructions, I say "Good listening!"
    -we say "off limits" instead of "no"
    -when he figures out something on his own I say "Good problem solving!" or "You figured it out!"

    ..and so on. He may not understand now, exactly, but someday he will

  • At 4:44 PM, Blogger Lisa b said…

    I try to do my best with this too. Parenting is hard, hard work. I feel like for every trap I manage to avoid there is just another one waiting.
    you're doing a good job P.

  • At 6:37 PM, Blogger Her Bad Mother said…

    This is so wonderful (I know - so banal to say, but so true.) The simplicity of 'thank you' or 'well done' or even just 'I love you,' in response to anything, are too often forgotten.

  • At 11:00 PM, Blogger crazymumma said…

    Great post. I found myself doing the good girl thing centuries ago. I turned it into words such as: Good Work!, Excellent, Thankyou, Thanks for helping.

    A big one was , yes you are beautiful, but more imporatantly you are smart, brave and strong.

    She is lucky to have so smart a parent as you....

  • At 11:37 PM, Blogger lisalou said…

    I don't have kids...but I have 500 kids. And, of course I remember all of the language related lessons the 50 billion child psychology courses I was required to take taught me and I still think that if saying "Good Girl" to your sweet little baby makes you happy, and it makes her happy then Fuck it! Fuck the rules.
    "Good Girl" It isn't going to kill anyone. Trust me.

  • At 11:40 PM, Blogger lisalou said…

    Besides, when it comes to chidcare and education, the rules are always changing....And, exactly who is making up these rules? Obviously, someone who doesn't know the amazing talent of your clever Bee!

  • At 10:13 AM, Blogger penelopeto said…

    great advice, ladies.

    lisalou, I just know that you are your students' favourite teacher. One day you will be your child's favourite mother.

    Nomo - we're with you on the 'no' thing as well; when we say NO we want it to mean something, so we try to find alternatives with that one as well.

    Sunshine - I have absolutely no problem sounding like a fool if it makes my kid happy. In fact, I very often sound like a fool, with no motivation or payoff whatsoever.

  • At 1:15 PM, Blogger bubandpie said…

    It's really absurd how long it took me to think of saying "good job" in preference to "good boy" (put it this way: it was well after Bub started telling his sister "good boy," speech delay notwithstanding!).

    He really, really loves to hear "good job" and will say those words himself whenever he feels he deserves them (which is often).

    With him, I feel like I have to keep it simple and clear, but SS and NoMo have some great suggestions too.

  • At 1:38 PM, Blogger mad_hatter said…

    Oooo. I say "good girl" all the time. I also say a million other things as well but "good girl" just trips so easily from my tongue.

    In my parenting I repeat so many of the catch phrases that I have heard my Mom and my sisters use over the years. The feminist undergrad in me (20 years ago!!!) would have rebelled against all this and consciously chose a language of her own making. The feminist 40-year-old who misses her now-deceased mom relishes all the little verbal flairs that feel akin to a birthright. And so I will continue to say "good girl" but I will also say "thank you for being helpful" and "you are so brave" and "I love everything about you."

  • At 4:15 PM, Anonymous mamatulip said…

    I really like this post. It's true -- the quick, easy phrases like "Good girl!" are quick and easy to say but really don't cover the kind of ground that should be covered when it comes to kids and us striving for them to become decent little beings. I do say it to Julia, but I also say, like you said, other things -- thank you, I love you, I'm proud of you...stuff like that. You're on the right track. :)

    And, uh...don't hate me, but you're not going to see any Bon Jovi on my music list. LOL -- I never embraced Bon Jovi the way so many others did. One of my best friends is crushed -- she's seriously like, stalking Bon Jovi.

  • At 8:27 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chicky said…

    Fantastic points! I've been training myself to praise my daughter with the correct terms but I admit I slip into the old standby "Good Girl" from time to time.

    I was told once that it's not enough to praise our children but to encourage them to keep thinking about what they've done to get that praise. For instance, if my daughter (when she gets to that age) paints me a picture I shouldn't just tell her "Great picture!" but "Tell me about this wonderful picture you just painted." A very interesting idea, I thought.

  • At 1:44 AM, Blogger Haley-O said…

    Wow, you've given me a lot to think about. For me, I just consciously try to connect with my little one as a fellow human being and not just as my child (as weird as that sounds...hard to explain). I think sticking with this frame of mind will help inform the language I use. Here's hoping, though. Thank you for sharing your phrases and inciting me to think about this! :)

  • At 1:52 AM, Blogger Lady M said…

    With just my sister and me growing up, we never heard "good boy" (obviously), so that sorta isn't in my ingrained vocabulary. We used "good job" and "you did it!" a lot. It's wonderful to get all these other suggestions -thanks!

    I still tell Q that he's cute a lot, but that needs to taper off. I half-kiddingly/half-seriously follow up with ". . . but cute isn't enough. You have to work hard and be kind too!" sometimes. Not that he gets it yet, but it makes me feel less superficial.

  • At 9:04 AM, Blogger something blue said…

    You and me both!

    As you know I've been struggling with my words and I know that what might be a simple word has a bigger impact on a developing child. They really are sponges absorbing everything.


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