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Still working on that Better Parent thing …

August 12, 2010

Yesterday was a total mixed bag in the teen-land that is my house.  Lemon slept at a friend’s house, and despite her insisting otherwise, I really don’t think she slept during the night.  I tried texting and calling her at noon-ish, because I was heading to a hearing that was due to last the entire afternoon, and we had evening plans.  She was still asleep, and not answering her phone.  I don’t think she woke up until 1 or so.  Things ended up working out – eventually – but she was over-tired and exhausted, and I was not happy to be heading into an evening out and about with her when she was in that mood.

But then we had a great time in the evening – I had rushed home (early) to throw on comfy clothes and grab a picnic dinner that Writer Dude had spent the day putting together for me so that Lemon and I could go to Shakespeare on the Common with our friends.  She was sweet, engaged, and cuddly.  Despite the exhaustion.

All was good.

Now let’s see if I can make it better!

Be a Better Parent Challenge No. 3 — “No More ‘Good Job'”

This one needs some translation.

Gone are the days where I work not to clap for my kids every time they make it up a set of stairs, or balance a block on top of a tower.  Unlike when they were little, and the “good job” or clapping seemed to be welcome – even when not done in earnest – they don’t want to hear “that was great!” if they know it wasn’t.  They will roll their eyes at me.

But praise – empty and non-empty praise – is still something that I have to be very wary of.  We deal with it related to sports, theater, grades … all of these things that the girls engage in.

So that’s what I’m going to talk and think about.  Praise in general.

And for me, the issue is made even trickier with 2 girls close in age that have overlap in their activities.

My daughters are two very different people.  Lemon isn’t all that athletic, nor does she love sports.  But she loves to act, and she and a handful of her friends have a strong creative bend that keeps them busy and productive even during downtime.  In 4th grade, they started a newspaper.  In 7th grade, they had a podcast.  In 8th, the cake-making and decorating came in (they made some real masterpieces, I have to say).   Peppered throughout, she’s had a blog where she reviewed books, and she and various friends have played with making videos and animated pieces (The recent one is a white board animation to go with the Phineas & Ferb theme song.  It is very cool.)

Mousey, however, is very athletic.  She also likes to act, and does very well with it.  Really, almost anything she tries to do, she does well.  Things come very easy to her.  She’s a little less productive in her downtime than Lemon is, but also seeks out active play more.

And then there’s grades.  Oh boy.  Grades.

This was the first year where Mouse had real “grades” – in 6th grade.  Our school provides a letter grade, and then numbers on a 1-4 scale for “effort” and another for “behavior.”  This past year was Lemon’s third year with this system.

In the second quarter of this past year, Mouse received all As and A+’s, and all 1s for effort and behavior.  At the same time, Lemon had several A’s, but also a few B’s, and a C+ in one of her favorite classes.  Because Lemon’s teachers know her, and because they know what she CAN do, anything that was not an A+ came with a 2 or 3 for effort.  And because Lemon is a very outgoing and sometimes not-fully-self-aware person, her behavior #s were often 2s, and I think this quarter, she had a 3, too.

Mouse was very proud of her report card.  And I was very proud of her.  Lemon knew she had a tough quarter – she blamed it on the school play and on her own false sense of “I can pull my grades up in the end.”  At one point she told me that the C+ itself was a near-miracle.

When I was in school, I was worse than Lemon.  My report card would have been all 2s and 3s and B’s and C’s without the A’s.  And I don’t think it’s horrible that she’s not an “All 1’s” person.  She should be giving her school work her all, of course.  We have had plenty of arguments where she throws out the obligatory line, “so many of my friends’ parents would be thrilled with a B+, but it’s just not good enough for you!”  And how I expect her to be perfect, etc., etc.

Yeah, I do think that the B+ coupled with a 2 in effort, and a note that her test average was an A but her late and missing assignments brought her to a B+ should have been an A.  I do.  If she had a B+ with a 1 in effort and a note that she worked her butt off, I would have been happy with the B+.

The behavior #s, though … I don’t know.  Do I need Lemon to be a 1 in behavior?  What does it mean to be a 1 in behavior?  I think it means that she’s not Lemon.

I always knew Mouse would be an “all 1’s” (our version of the “High Honor Roll”) kind of kid.  She’s a people-pleaser.  She raises her hand, she smiles pretty.  She has very blond hair (yeah, I think that matters).  Lemon is less of a people pleaser.  She’ll disagree with the teacher.  She’ll scoff out loud if the teacher says something stupid.  She’ll start a debate in the classroom – which the teachers love – but not pick up on when it’s time to move on – which the teachers don’t love.

My friends with boys claim that the number system is designed for girls.  I don’t disagree, but I do think there are girls who aren’t typical “girls,” and who don’t operate in the way that receives the number system’s rewards.  Impulsive girls.  Slightly disorganized and chaotic girls.  Chatty girls.  Girls who always forget their pencil.  Girls who don’t thrive on praise.

And because that’s my Lemon – I stopped caring about the numbers. She can get 2’s.  I love her 2-ish self.  I think that most of the things that keep her from getting 1s in behavior are strengths.  Things that will help her later in life.  Things that come out in positive ways in non-number-ranking parts of herself and her world.

[3’s, however, are a different story.]

And that’s what I’ve been saying in my house for over 2 years.

But then Mouse comes home with the 1s, and she’s proud, and she’s happy, and she’s on the High Honor Roll and she has the As, and none of the B+s with notes about late assignments.

I had such a hard time that quarter – how do I praise Mouse for that without undermining what I’ve been saying to Lemon?  How do I help Mouse to keep striving for what she can do while she hears me saying “2’s are okay.”

And then in the final quarter of the year, when Lemon came home with all A’s and only four 2s!  Hurray! You obviously worked so hard!  What a great way to graduate from the school!  With Mouse in the background waving her 4th solid quarter of all A’s and all 1s saying, “hello!”

And that is my struggle with the “good job.”

Or – at least – one of them.  But what is up with my novel-length posts?

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