Friday, July 29, 2011

A Sense of Self

If you read my blog enough, you recognize that from time to time I feel like absolute shit about myself. I'm not getting enough crap done. I haven't hung pictures in my house that have sat on the floor for four years. I can't keep crap food out of my mouth. I use up all my patience with the outside world and sometimes have none left for my family. I'm a slow runner, etc., etc., etc.

Usually these cracks in my self confidence show the most when I start comparing my life to how others appear to be doing. I see their successes and wonder why I'm so defective. But I don't utter these things out loud, usually, unless I look distressed and a friend asks me what's up. Instead, I save them for written spaces.

This week has been a hard week in the parenting sector. Yes, my child has been doing a lot of whining. Yes, he's been waking up grumpy as all hell. But he's comparing himself to other kids a lot this week at swimming and at Lego Camp, and he's been falling apart at the seams not only when we get in the car to go home, but also during lessons and when he's at camp.

X-man asked about a friend in swim lessons and at what level this friend was at. X-man is a 2. He's been a 2 since last November in Urbana (they call it Sunfish over there). I checked the list and it said that his friend was in a level higher than his, but his friend is also younger. I pointed out that they had more lessons than he had. But the damage was done. "Let's leave," he said. "Why?" "Because I want to leave." Then he erupted in tears. I got him to sit down and calm down, and explained that the more he swims the better he'll be. Plus, water is a lot of fun to play in on a hot day. He seemed to accept this and then went into his lesson.

I wrote the other day about how X-man doesn't like the pressure of timed events. Well, he also has issues building in a group. A group build requires a plan and follow through, and X-man has some issues not just going with his own mental flow about building. Zen Lego Design is usually his method. Yes, he his five, and he's one of the youngest in the group, so he and the other five year old are often paired to work on their own projects with a counselor working next to them for when they get stuck or need help. But in group work, they shuffle the kids. And big kids who know how to work in a cooperative group environment do well. My child isn't used to building the same project with other people. He is used to playing with what he's built with other people via pretend play.

He also notices that he can't build structures as detailed as the bigger kids, and so when he looks at his work, he says he feels like his creations aren't any good, because they're not as "special" (I'm going to assume he means complex.) I have a feeling this kind of comparison also sprouted up in the All Star II class over reading skills, but he just couldn't use his words enough then to describe how he felt.

As an adult, I look at the crisis of confidence and wonder how to turn the tide. And I feel like the kettle calling the pot -- you know? Are self-esteem issues genetic? As far as I know, I'm usually pretty open about when I make mistakes and then I correct them. Sometimes I do utter a curse word or two when I foul things up out of frustration, but I never call myself stupid or talk to X-man about how I wish I could do something as well as someone else... I try to model self-acceptance. But maybe what I should have been modeling was a solid sense of self-confidence, because my son doesn't appear to have any.

It's also hard because when he sees others getting trophies or Max the Cat reading certificates or even camper of the day certificates, the first thing he does is get in the car and ask when he'll get one. I point out that his turn will come, but the reality seems to him that his turn is far, far away, because he knows he has trouble controlling himself.

I know that some people are all for everyone getting a trophy, and I know that some like the idea that only exemplary behavior or performance should be rewarded -- because if everyone is special that means no one is. I like the balance of both. For example, the winners get the bigger recognition, but just for having the courage to try something new, everyone gets a little something. No one goes home empty handed.

X-man keeps wanting to try new things to find something he's good at. But he's had self-confidence set backs even at things that are supposed to teach self-confidence. I've had to coach him through doubts in Tae Kwon Do, swimming and reading. He has a hard time when it looks like kids that are younger than he his or who started something after he did are excelling where he just feels like he's standing still. I talk to him about how he has to put the time and practice into something to get better, and then he does it, but  sometimes, someone might just be naturally more inclined to one talent than another. For example, he rocks at T-ball, is a supportive teammate and follows the coach's directions to the letter (even sometimes to the point of trying to boss the other kids when they don't follow his directions, sigh).

But if you heard the loud crack of my heart breaking yesterday around 4:55 p.m., it was when I buckled my son into his seat and he asked, "Mommy? Why don't people think I'm awesome?"

Without hesitating, I told him he was the most awesome person in my world. But in my head, I was wondering how if I haven't learned to navigate those waters successfully all the time at 35, how in the world was I going to help him navigate them?


Debra said...

Poor Bubs :(. I really do think that many children struggle with this. It takes time to figure out what you are good at in life and sometimes you have to try lots of things before you get to something you are good at. Unfortunately no one can be good at everything. There just isn't time to practice and perfect everything we'd like to perfect. I have natural physical ability for sports and a huge competitive spirit but I would have to work very hard and for years to be coordinated enough to dance... and even if I could move decently to a few songs, I would still be such a beginner! So I think part of it is accepting that you can't be good at everything and you just have to find things you do enjoy and are good at. And some of these issues take time to develop all the skills necessary. I bet by next summer he will be much more intricate in his lego designs but it is SO hard to get a child to have the patience it takes to build these skills. I feel you on that one. K hates trying things he hasn't first mastered in his mind and gets very discouraged if he doesn't do it perfectly the first time. Okay so that was a novel but all of that to say, we deal with this sort of stuff too and I am no great example of great self-confidence either. Maybe its the subtleties they pick up on and we just have to teach them ways around it?

Jess B said...

I can totally relate. I already worry about that for Camille. I have 'Optimistic Child' on my reading list.

By the way...I think you're awesome and inspiring on a daily basis. I'm usually wondering where you find the time and energy...and will!