Monday, January 23, 2012

Just Say Thank You

Dear Delilah,

I recently went through two days of training on "Nurturing Parenting" for my work as a Parent Coach. They were an incredible two days filled with bonding with my coworkers, learning how to better serve the families we work with, and a healthy helping of self-reflection for good measure. On the first day, we did an exercise on giving and receiving praise. Before we broke out into small groups to give and receive praise, we discussed the tendency of many people, particularly women, to downplay or refute the praise we receive.

I do that. All the time.

If someone compliments an article of clothing I'm wearing, I'm not likely to just say thank you. I'm more likely to say something like: "Oh, this? I got it for $1 at Goodwill!" If someone compliments my hair, I don't say thank you. I shake my head and look embarrassed and say: "Oh no, it looks horrible. I'm getting it cut next week!" When your father and I were first dating, it was a running joke that he would say something like "You're so awesome!" and I would reply with "No, I'm just okay." These days, when he tells me, and he often does, that I look beautiful, I usually roll my eyes and say something like: "Gross; I didn't even shower today. I look disgusting!" That last scenario in particular is a biggie, because when I take the time to look at your father's face after I discredit the compliments he gives me, he looks defeated. Crushed. He has told me more times than I can count: "You know, you could just say thank you."

He is right. I could just say thank you. I should just say thank you. That was one of the rules for the praise exercise. We were to tell our peers whether we wanted praise for "doing" or praise for "being". Then, when they gave us praise, we were just to say thank you. We weren't allowed to argue. Just say thank you. It was hard for me, but I did it. It felt strange. It felt wrong to accept praise without making some sort of self-deprecating comment. It felt boastful to accept a compliment without explaining why I'm not really that great, I'm just okay.

As part of that whole self-reflection thing, I started to think about what sort of message it might send you to constantly hear your mother arguing with any praise she receives. If I don't find myself worthy of praise, what sort of value would the praise I give you have? It troubles me to think that you might grow up thinking that praise is a burden, something that must be disputed and quibbled over, rather than a gift to be accepted with gratitude and grace.

So, I'm working on it. And I've got to tell you, it's hard! A number of things have happened this past week that have brought me some praise. I want to argue with it. All of it. I've done better at just saying thank you when your father shares his appreciation for me. Some things, though, are more difficult for me to resist the urge to argue about.

In the past week, I've received a number of compliments for my writing. These are the hardest for me to graciously accept, because I can't help but think "No, you're wrong" when someone praises my writing. Truth be told, technically speaking, I'm not a good writer. I use too many commas and use them where they don't belong. Microsoft word is always throwing angry green zig-zags under my many, many fragments. Any dialogue I attempt to write is awkward. And I start with sentences with 'and'. I use those single quotation marks improperly. And does the punctuation go inside or outside of the quotation marks?

So technically speaking, I'm not a good writer. I'm average, at best. But my friends and family probably aren't technically speaking. Maybe they're referring to my ability to express what I'm feeling with the written word, which I've always preferred to spoken word for those purposes. Maybe they're just happy to see that someone else has written something that relates to a way that they have been feeling but couldn't find words for. Either way, they probably don't care about my excess commas, punctuation mishaps, or fragments. Either way, I should just say thank you, and be grateful that I'm able to touch others through writing, because good or bad, I love to write. It heals me. It helps me to better understand myself and the world around me. If someone else appreciates what comes out of that, I should just say thank you.

I will do better. I will strive to model accepting praise with gratitude and grace, so that you will grow up to know how worthy you are of the praise you receive as you move throughout your life.



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