this icing is bitter

August 30, 2012 | 30 Comments

Moustache painting and friends

Emma made a moustache painting for our moustache-loving friend, Kat, and I grimaced when she gave it to her.

She was beaming proud as she handed it over. My insides reflected Emma’s outsides, beaming, too. Until she spread on a thick icing of Need for Approval.

I am intimately familiar with this icing. I use it on the majority of my social interactions, cleverly disguised as smiles and deep breathing. Sometimes not so cleverly as “DO YOU LOVE ME? I AM FUN, RIGHT? DO YOU LOVE ME? I’M FUNNY TOO YES YOU CAN TELL ME I’M FUNNY IT’S OKAY I DON’T MIND I GET IT ALL THE TIME. YOU LIKE ME, RIGHT? DID I OFFEND YOU? WAS THAT FUNNY? DID YOU LAUGH? WE’LL DO THIS AGAIN, RIGHT? CALL ME OKAY HERE’S MY NUMBER LET ME CHECK YOUR PHONE TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE MY NUMBER YES YOU HAVE IT AND I CAN SEE IT SO I KNOW YOU HAVE IT SO YOU’LL PROBABLY CALL ME SOON GREAT THIS WAS FUN.”

Emma asked if Kat liked her painting and where she would put it and if she would keep it forever and tell her future grandchildren the story of The Moustache Painting on warm summer nights. The next day we saw Kat again and Emma attacked like a starved jungle cat, “DO YOU STILL LIKE THE PAINTING? DID YOU HANG IT BY YOUR COMPUTER LIKE YOU SAID YOU WOULD?”

I kept my parental mouth shut during the first attack, giving Emma space to be. The second time I was unsure enough about stepping in that I did. “Ha-heh-erm easy, Em. Don’t pressure Kat. Now that you’ve given away your gift, you have to let her enjoy it how she likes, and let your pleasure be in the memory of the making and giving.”

One of the highest places you can get to is being independent of the good opinions of other people. -Dr. Wayne Dyer

I was sharing with a new friend how I felt about blogging after a long absence. I told her people have always been really complimentary of my writing, but I worry it’s because they’re nice or biased or don’t get out much. Most people respond to that with more positive commentary about my writing. Rachael stopped me and said, “What matters is how you feel about what you write. Don’t write because others like your writing; write because you like it.” And my god how many times have I heard some version of that, but something about the timing and her delivery splooshed in my face.

I want this for my Emma. I want her to paint moustache-shaped love onto canvases and be moulded and grounded by that love and her ability and thoughtfulness. I want her self-worth to be separate from feedback. I hope for her to observe desirable and undesirable responses without being defined by them.

I want this for myself, too. Oh lordy do I.

Last week I snapped at Emma for repeating herself three times when no one responded. It’s one of her habits that’s a button-pusher for me. I am impatient with her neediness because I’m drowning in my own. I was unkind, trampling her dignity with my correction.

I had been thinking about it the following morning while she was still asleep, feeling badly. I read about attachment parenting and “discipline that is empathetic, loving, respectful, and strengthens the connection between parent and child.” I needed to apologize. Emma woke up and came down in her bedhead and pjs. We cuddled on the couch while I apologized and she wiped the shame off my cheeks. She settled her head in my lap as I traced her face, brushing her hair back the way my mom did at bedtime before coming in for a kiss.

It felt like a good time to have a follow-up conversation about the need she had for Kat to love her painting. I asked her to picture something hard to break and something easily broken. She came up with a couch and a house made of unglued popsicle sticks. I told her they represented two kinds of self-worth.

The couch kind is built on good, healthy thoughts. It’s built on what we know about ourselves, what we do well and what makes us feel great. The unglued popsicle stick kind is built with our fears and other peoples good and bad opinions of us. We talked about which one would hold up better in a storm. We talked about storms being things like hurt feelings, a learning disability or someone rejecting your moustache art.

I explained to Emma that basing her self-worth on the the external is not only bad news for her, but for others, too. The people in our lives can’t be expected to shoulder the making or breaking of us. That’s our power to keep.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” -Alice Walker

I confessed to her that I’m only figuring out now, at 37. I shared what Rachael said to me and the impact it had on my thinking. If Emma could start internalizing this at nine instead of 37, her self-worth will be couch enough for any variety of wonderful or stupid life boomerangs her way.

But some days we’re still going to be needy and that’s really okay.

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Join the conversation

  • http://bellejarblog.wordpress.com Annabelle

    Oh man, I can identify with this so much. It reminds me of a quote from Melissa Banks’ The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing that has been haunting me since my early twenties:

    “Making jokes is your way of saying Do you love me? and when someone laughs you think they’ve said yes.”

    Sometimes I feel like that is how I live ALL THE TIME and it is exhausting. And not very fulfilling.

    • Shannon

      Oooh. I loved that book. I did not remember that quote, but it’s great. Exhausting and unfulfilling, indeed.

  • N

    So happy.

    Call me if you want to share revelations!

    • Shannon

      Huh?

  • Andrea

    This was so perfect. So perfectly worded. Beautiful sentiments that you feel you want for your daughter, yourself, I have a 5yo and feel the same, but I know it’s slightly soon to try to push into her thoughts, because it would feel this way to her at five. But what you’ve done here sounds so sensible. Weird word. I never seem to feel it as a mom. Thank you for sharing and for guiding your little one in this way. I’d send you love but I barely know you and would that be weird? ;)

    • Shannon

      “Push into her thoughts.” I love that. I’ll take all the love you’d like to send. I don’t think it’s weird at all. I love people. I give love away freely. There are lots of peeps I don’t like and wouldn’t choose to have in my life, but I’ll love every last one.

      Thanks for being here! I really like your blog. :)

  • http://www.sarakeepsdancing.blogspot.ca Sara

    Can you be my mom? Or at least my jiminy cricket?

  • http://www.stillhatepickles.com kiki

    I am impatient with her neediness because I’m drowning in my own.

    Holy crap–yes! I find myself horrified that the people I get most annoyed with are people that have aspects of ME and THAT’S what annoys me and then I freak out about my own self and wonder if I read just like that person who is driving me crazy does. aaaaah! That’s a lot of worrying about what other people think, sheesh. But yes, I think there is a sense of us where we get frustrated at the actions or character flaws in others that we’ve already identified in ourselves.

  • Herb Schardt

    Very cool stuff. It’s really great Grow supports such art!

    • Shannon

      Thanks, Herb!

  • http://www.changethetopic.com Birdman

    We found a picture on a FB page called “Awkward Teens” that was four young girls, probably between 10 and 14. They sent in photos for the page admin to put together so people could vote on who was prettiest. One of the pictures was our oldest. We asked the admin to please take it down, and then had a talk with the 11 year old about how she should never need anyone else’s approval on how she looks, and that she was beautiful, funny, and smart. We tried asking her why she felt the need to be rated by strangers, but being 11, she just kept yelling to leave her alone and that she didn’t know why. We are kind of hitting a communication wall with her, because she just won’t talk to us. Everyone I talk to says that it’s the media that ingrains it in a girl’s head from when she’s a baby. This desire for everyone to think she’s pretty. That pisses me off.

    Anyhow, that’s basically one of the blog posts I have in the works, so you don’t need to bother reading if you see it.

    Great post and point, as always.

    • Shannon

      I’ve heard about this happening on Instagram. They’re called beauty pageants. UG. I’m sorry this happend, Chris. Yuck. Hopefully she’ll come around to talking to you. Maybe let up on asking her to explain why–because my guess is that she truly doesn’t know. I would give her some ideas why and mostly listen. Just keep loving her hard.

      Thanks for sharing this with me.

      Oh… maybe see if she’ll talk to a trusted friend? As a kid, I wanted to talk, but sometimes just not to my parents.

      Good luck and hugs!

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