A few weeks ago, we had our daughter’s 12-month assessment. It was the second one she’d had, the first having taken place a month or so earlier, but concluding unsatisfactorily when our little girl was deemed to have not met all the criteria. Fortunately, there was no such problem this time around. ‘She’s doing great,’ the health visitor announced kindly, going on to make reference to the areas where our girl hadn’t met the target last time.
As the lady spoke, as lovely as she was, I bristled with annoyance. Who was she to assess my daughter in this way, because she’d come to walking ‘later’, because she’d only recently learnt how to grip a pencil? Who was anyone to determine that these would be the measures of success for my beautiful child? What about the fact that she was now able to show love and would throw her arms around me spontaneously? What about the fact that she could laugh uproariously at her dad pretending to be The Gruffalo, her strong, powerful giggle reverberating around the room in joy? What about the fact that she was kind and would always try to share her meals with others? What about the fact that she could put a smile on anyone’s face within seconds of meeting her, and had brought more happiness into our lives than we could ever have envisaged? How did none of this count towards the whole, how come these weren’t considered when carrying out a review of my daughter’s first twelve months on earth? I appreciate that this was a developmental assessment to identify concerns but still, as a parent, it jarred.
Then later, I had another thought. And it was far more worrying:
This was only the start.
This was just the beginning of a lifetime of being assessed, of being reviewed against changing standards to determine whether my girl was ‘good enough’. It would be there in school, with tests and exams. She would have it in the workplace, when sitting nervously in interviews or stepping forward for promotion. She would experience it when applying for a loan, or mortgage. And she would even experience it in relationships, when prospective partners would assess her against their own set of personal expectations. This benchmarking, this being held up to scrutiny would be inevitable. It wouldn’t all be bad either; indeed, it could positively encourage and empower her. But without doubt, this process of assessment, at one year old, was just the start.
I can’t change that. But I can change how ‘being assessed’ impacts upon her as an individual.
And I can do that by helping to build her self-esteem. Since becoming a mother, I have come to the realisation that the best gift I can give my child is a belief in herself. This will make her resilient and able to deal with the tough times, but also humble and measured when celebrating success.
How to do this, however, is another question. Fair to say I’m no expert: some days it feels like I’m winging this parenting thing. But, I do have some thoughts about how I might be able to help her self-esteem to grow.
I can ask her questions and truly listen to her answers; that doesn’t mean I will always give her exactly what she wants but I can let her have her voice so that she feels valued. I can also ask her questions for her to answer herself; from my experience of coaching, I know that finding out you had the solution inside all along is incredibly empowering. I can also empower her by helping her to learn and increase her own capability; I can give her some responsibility, however small, so she feels equal. I can praise her, but not excessively, and I can distinguish feedback about what she has ‘done’ from her as a person. I can be careful about the labels I use and endeavour to not pigeonhole her as ‘sporty’, for example, as she may subsequently believe she will only get her worth from playing these roles. I can also try and watch the language I use around her so she doesn’t grow up with a negative self-image; this extends to how I talk about myself in front of her. But above all else, I can just love her, so she knows that she’s loved and loveable no matter what she does in life.
These ideas sound great in theory but implementing them will be a challenge. But I will try. Because I want my daughter to grow up knowing her value, her worth as a person, regardless of what feedback or purported ‘failures’ she endures in her life. I want her to be proud of who she ‘is’ above what she ‘does.’ I want her, ultimately, to be happy.