I was in the airport restroom yesterday attempting to wash my hands while a young child about three years old stood on the counter trying to throw a hand towel into the trash receptacle.
He kept missing, but the mother kept shouting “you can do it, you know you can”, as if she was coaching a future NBA hopeful. He finally made it , which led her to go into high gear with multiple shouts of “Good job, good job, see how special you are”!
Over the years I have heard a plethora of parents using this language. Telling children their special whenever they accomplish even the most ordinary acts has become the new metaphor for parenting.
However, it doesn’t just stop with the rhetoric. Prizes, certificates of achievement and ceremonies that are akin to the Academy Awards are also part of the process to increase feelings of being “special”.
I suspect that some parents are giving their kids a gift if they get out of bed and go to school.
When did the concept of being special become so watered down and what’s the point? I know my mother loved me but I was only considered special when I did something that was beyond what I was expected to do. And even then her praise was analogous to the act. If I washed the dishes she said thank you but she did not jump up and down or do cartwheels across the kitchen floor because that was what I was expected to do.
She did manage to be more exuberant when I graduated from college which made sense since it is a few levels beyond scouring pots and pans.
I don’t remember the good Sisters of St. Joseph going out of their way to make any of us feel special. If you studied, worked to your potential and were courteous, they gave you a pat on the back and told your parents you were a good student. If not you were relegated to icy stares that made your hair fall out.
My piano teacher occasionally told me I had potential, but she never went overboard or tried to book me into Carnegie Hall. She might have if I had extraordinary potential, but she wasn’t about to delude me into thinking I did by telling me I was “special”.
The message was clear, you had to do something pretty amazing to be nominated for a prize, like discover a new planet. Here’s the bottom line, if everyone’s “special”, is anyone really “special”?
Loretta LaRoche writes the Get a Life column for the Patriot Ledger.