Ups and downs, ins and outs, curve balls and random collisions. Who said Life was going to be easy? As I sort it out, here's a collection of my essays, newspaper columns and mental meanderings about family, friendship, ecology, politics and a world that goes bump in its fright.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Competence Trumps Self Esteem Any Day

My daughter recently let me know that she has applied to go to Haiti to assist with the recovery efforts there. On the one hand, my maternal instincts instantly went into protective gear and I wanted to physically restrain her from leaving her nice neighborhood in Northern California for the hell that is now Haiti.

On the other hand, I am full of admiration and respect. She wouldn’t be the young woman I know and love if she didn’t feel compelled to offer her service. As a mother, I don’t want my baby to suffer; as a human being, I can’t imagine anyone better qualified to offer compassion than my highly skilled, deeply kind kid.

In fact, if I were in a heap of trouble of just about any kind, I can’t imagine anyone I would rather see coming over the hill than my son or daughter. Useful, capable, competent, neither is inclined to helplessness or handwringing. When there’s work to be done, they are both pretty much a drama-free zone, looking for what needs doing, rather than proclaiming their unhappiness or discomfort to anyone who’ll listen.

My daughter has a master’s degree in nursing and works as a labor and delivery nurse in a big urban hospital. My son is master carpenter for a professional repertory theater that does challenging, interesting work. Each of them has been smart enough and lucky enough to find mates who are exactly right for them and equally competent, useful and generally nonplussed.

I consider my children’s competence to be the greatest possible acknowledgement of my parenting skills. As a single mom, I didn't have the energy to fret much about their self-esteem—although my son did have some dark days in high school that had me praying incessantly for a solution. That solution turned out to be … more competence. He wasn’t having a very successful time of it in regular high school, although he was certainly smart enough to do well academically. But as soon as I relented and let him slip out of the academic track and into the technical track, his outlook began to improve. He learned to weld, to do carpentry and engineering, he started feeling useful and began to see a future for himself.

As a newspaper editor for many years, I had the privilege and sometimes the curse of dealing with a number of interns who were still in school or “baby reporters” just out of college and in their first year on the job. I could tell very quickly whose families and schools had focused on building the young person’s self esteem and which had insisted on competency. The ones who were competent were confident. The ones for whom self-esteem was the prize were an endless eddy of narcissism, complaint and need.

If I could pass along one value to parents and educators now, it would be this: Stop worrying so much about whether that child is happy and start making certain she or he knows a thing or two and has the internal resources to accomplish useful tasks. Once a person is capable and knows how to produce results, self-esteem tends to take care of itself.


Anonymous Jo said...

If only my mother had red and understood this 50+ years ago...I'm beyond thrilled the Samurai Mama is back on my screen! XOXO JO

8:00 PM

Anonymous Mary Jane Brimhall said...

Well said and well done, K.C.

9:09 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home