Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A life without sticky stars - what a learning curve

I didn't realise that I was a kind of girl who needed validation until the validation stopped.

In life, there is a clear grading system available, if you're the kind of person who likes a grade. Or maybe needs one. At primary school I worked hard to get my body weight in sticky stars, which progressed to the rows of neat ticks, the certificates, the A's, a First... Work was no better - there was the standard ladder, plus publications, presentations, little ego boosts and rough proof that 'the girl done good'. But always, always, the validation. The thing to aim for, and then the knowledge that achieving it meant I'd done well. Was on track.

At the time - as in, for the majority of my life - I didn't realise that my aim to do my best was so strongly linked with the need for someone else to notice my best and acknowledge it. I'm not enjoying admitting this, but it would seem, on closer inspection, that my pushing to always be better at what I do, or who I am, isn't just about self-improvement. 

I like the sticky stars.

Now, I'm a wife and a mum. There's no grading system. There are no sticky stars. And I'm completely thrown.

When I think back to how ingrained this sticky star quest has gone, I zip to aged three or four where my mum used to make me maths sheets, and give me lists of words to turn into stories - at my request. I'd complete them instantly and hand them back to be graded. I loved doing them, but I loved being told how well I'd done too. I can't really remember a time when there wasn't a marker to aim for, and someone telling me 'well done' once I got to it.

It was last night, after pregnancy hormones and tiredness turned a routine scrap with my husband into a full on mental breakdown, that I took a moment to try and talk myself down and I realised why the breakdown had happened.

An innocuous comment, thrown in a lighthearted way, had been tossed into the breech by my husband and I hadn't seen the funny side. The reason? I heard the comment and immediately felt like I was being given - not a sticky star - a black mark. Not something I have been accustomed to all that often. Don't get me wrong, 3 years of creative writing workshops culminating in the immortal words 'never has anyone written so eloquently for so long about nothing at all' will enable you to take criticism with the best of them.

However, neither wifing or parenting have right or wrongs. As far as I can see, it's just a big old blur of possible options which may or may not turn out to be positive in the eyes of your family and the unique characters therein. There are no manuals (that should be really taken as such anyway), no tried and testeds and no sticky stars. This, I could probably cope with if there was some clear black-and-white-here-is-the-answer or with-the-right-research-it's-likely-this-could-be-correct stuff elsewhere in my life, but right now, there isn't. I research and research to try and get the right fit for us, and am managing to largely stumble onto stuff that seems to sit right, but it's pretty nebulas. If the plan goes to plan, this is it for a while. I am me, wife, mother and owner of a spaniel with anxiety issues. In no part of life is anything a clear cut 'do this to achieve X'. That means anything that goes well is a good day, anything that goes wrong is my fault. (Ok, in a healthy mind, maybe that's not the case, but in mine it is.) And it wasn't until last night that I realised this. And it's a bit of a problem.

So firstly, I admitted all this to my long-suffering man, who needed no confirmation that his wife has a few issues. He pulled his usual 'oh dear, love', sighed, gave me a hug and told me I was a Nellie. As is to be expected. So that's good, because now he can tell me when I'm being silly before I go supernova on him over nothing. (And sometimes telling me might make things better, not worse. Sometimes.)

It's mostly me that needs to try to reprogramme, and that's going up take time. Interestingly, this has all coincided with me looking into non-rewards-based parenting. I'm far from done with my reading and thinking phase of it, but I think the self awareness moment I've just had helps to add another dimension to it. It's not just parenting, all these decisions we make about how to raise our children. It's a potential programming of how they're going to think and define themselves in the future. I'm not for one moment suggesting my parents did it wrong. Not all children turn into odd driven beings with self-esteem issues. My munchkin is, so far, quite similar in attitude and temperament to me, though, which could indicate a following of similar patterns of behaviour if given the same parameters.

The biggest challenge for me with non-rewards-based parenting is that it's just so alien to me. My immediate response to anything the munchkin does is 'well done!' My encouragement of a well-inserted jigsaw piece falls into 'brilliant, now do it again with another piece!' This is not ideal verbal interaction, if the writers on this area to be believed.

What a beautiful thing...
More research needed, I can feel myself erring towards this form of parenting, which can only mean one thing. A big dose of relearning for me, and a life void of sticky stars in the future. Apart from on art projects, obviously. Maybe that's where I'll learn to get my hit.

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