Being a mom means there is a constant chorus of “Am I doing it right?” and “How can I do it better?” playing in my head. There is absolutely no way of knowing that you are doing anything right or that you are making anything better. You ask others – mainly, your own mother – for advice and you automatically judge those who you know are doing it WAY WORSE than you are. (Be honest. You know you do it.) But, there’s always that little voice in your head at 2AM when you can’t sleep, anyway: “Are you a good mother?” And then, you have no hope of sleeping for the rest of the night.
One thing that I know I must do for both of our boys is to work every day at helping them to gain self-confidence. I had self-confidence, I think, until my self-awareness trumped it. In about third grade, I began to notice that people called me names because of my weight and people disliked me because I was smart. I never thought that being smart could be a bad thing, and thank goodness I never put myself down because I was intelligent. The weight, on the other hand, proved to be a giant obstacle from that point on and continues to be one of the biggest challenges and paralyzing forces in my life. I can go from feeling like I’m having a great day, to catching a glimpse of myself or seeing one of the million pictures the little guy took of me with my phone that day, and think, “Ugh. There it is again.” And it’s on those days that I feel like people are looking at me and judging me more harshly than others. And, it’s on those days that I pull into myself and try to get as small as possible so people don’t see ALL of me. I put that seed of doubt in my mind, and I convince myself that others see me as I see myself. It’s ugly. I’m working on it.
Knowing my own hang-ups makes me worry even more about being a good mom. I don’t want any of my self-confidence challenges to become apparent to our very sensitive boys. I constantly am on guard, trying to build up their self-esteem and their self-worth without being a helicopter parent or making them feel like they are perfect children. And I try to push down my self-doubt and portray myself as a very together, confident mom, wife, and woman. It’s a balancing act, and I don’t think I’ve fallen off the parenting wagon yet.
Then, I realized that their self-confidence meters are not solely controlled by me. Our older son had a significant expressive speech delay. I didn’t even think “delay” was the correct term for it, no matter what all of our evaluations and IEPs said. I thought it was more of a there-is-no-speech-coming-out-of-this-child’s-mouth-and-I-don’t-think-he’s-ever-going-to-talk problem. We started working with local agencies and our pediatrician right around his first birthday and were doing baby sign language by eighteen months. After grueling speech therapy, medical and psychological testing, and several creative games devised by yours truly, our son is speaking circles around kids his age in terms of his vocabulary, including emotional literacy. He’s not on any of the spectrums or labeled with any of the abbreviations that so many parents and teachers deal with on a daily basis; he just had a tough time getting his mouth to say what he wanted it to say. He’s scary smart and has ideas and language skills to back it up. I could not be more proud of his hard work and dedication to become the talker that he is today.
But, I see how his continued struggles with a few enunciation patterns are dogging him. He uses synonyms or flat-out descriptions, just to avoid having to say certain words. He whispers words that contain his “trouble sounds” because he doesn’t like to be wrong or misunderstood (more on that damn perfectionism issue we’ve got going on in this family in an upcoming blog post, for sure). This smart cookie of ours who scored off several of the pre-K and kindergarten and first grade and second grade charts for vocabulary and problem solving at age four doubts himself and allows his lack of confidence in his speaking ability to impede him from doing things I know he wants to do. And, it breaks my heart.
I watch him want to sing along to songs kids his age have been singing for years; yet, he stops himself just as he starts to let the first sound fly out of his mouth. He never has sung “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” He never has really sung the alphabet song, though he has known his letters forever. He won’t sing any of the songs at school that I’ve been dying to sing and act out with him: no “I’m a Little Teapot” here! I’ve been told by our saint of a speech therapist that it’s because he’s afraid of not being able to keep up, and that he doesn’t want to be embarrassed if he can’t. More of that perfectionist issue he inherited from his mother, which is more of that guilt complex I’ve formed for myself since I first held him in my arms.
I watch him at the playground and park and other social situations with kids, and sometimes I’m in awe of him. He is afraid they won’t understand him when he says his name, but he says it anyway. And then he asks them how old they are. He’s developed his own icebreaker, bless his heart, because he knows most kids love to report their ages to one another. And, he knows that when they ask him for his age, it’s a short answer that they will understand.
I watch him walk over to a mother with a baby and ask if it’s a boy or a girl and stand and talk about his own brother for long stretches of time. He’s coming out of his shell on a regular basis, and I allow myself one thought: “I might actually be doing something right!” I want to do cartwheels and a little cheer. But I stop myself. People would laugh.
Thank goodness my kid has more self-confidence than I do. What the Hell?
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