Secular Thursday: The Approbation That Left Me

I have, in my files of "precious papers never to be thrown away," a test from high school. On the front cover of the blue book is a simple message.

"Simply the best. Thanks."

I should interject here that if you went to high school with me, you can probably guess within a teacher or two who might've said that and whose opinion would have mattered enough to me to keep it, but that's more or less beside the point.

It's been a long time since I was the best. It's been a long time, rather, since I've garnered any praise for any of my actions. I've read Alfie Kohn and I know I shouldn't give a rat's ass about outside approval, but guess what? I do. I was raised on a steady diet of A+, awards, and verbal approbation, and it's been a long hard hill to slide down.

I realized it might be out of hand a few days ago. Now, I knew it was weird when the spousal unit, or my parents, or wage-earning friends would describe an annual review in the workplace, and I'd feel a twinge of envy. I saw a passing reference last week, on the WTM boards, from someone who lives in a state where they are evaluated. It was about an idea she'd gotten from her evaluator. My reaction was a little telling - I found myself thinking, for a brief moment, "Hey! I wish I had an evaluator."

I desperately want one of Rachel Berry's gold stars.

Don't get me wrong; the spousal unit will dutifully tell me I'm doing decently, and I have friends that will tell me the same. It's been startlingly long, however, since anyone I would consider an observer or even slightly unbiased has been handing out the praise. The world's still not sure about stay at home moms, not now, and then I had to go and add something like homeschooling to it. Forget praise; most of society is figuring out how to get in a dig without my realizing it.

Hint to society: I'm smarter than you must think, because I catch those digs.

Why is this a secular Thursday topic, you ask? Don't all homeschooling parents experience these difficulties?

I don't know. I have heard tell, though, of churches and organizations of churches where homeschooling is expected. Women are praised for the work they do with their children. This almost sounds appealing, though limiting. I mean, if you don't want to keep homeschooling, then you're sort of stuck. So I figure, this might be worse for the secular ones. Especially those of us who have feminist leanings, who were considered smarter than the average bear, or just plain like getting noticed.

I really miss the positive comments, outside affirmation, and literal or figurative gold stars. It's going to be a long time before even the kids say "Thanks." I empathize with the actives on Dollhouse, always asking "Did I do my best?"

Until I get my answer and my confirmation, I'll keep my old test, and remember that once upon a time, I did.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, great post!

Melanie said...

I'm one of those people who don't give a rat's ass - never have. But even though I don't miss the performance evals or the gold stars, I'd be lying if I said I didn't appreciate every compliment or notice every dig. It's only natural. A girlfriend of mine would never consider homeschooling for that very reason. She said to me, "But nobody ever tells you you're doing a good job!"

We're Lutheran, and we're always the only homeschoolers in the congregation. People ask, "Why do you homeschool when there's a Lutheran school available?" After eight years, I'm still trying to come up with an answer that won't offend the elderly lady asking.

I think homeschooling is lonely work no matter who you are.

Daisy said...

Nah, most churches aren't like that either. I get more flack from my Christian friends about not sending my children to public school to be little missionaries then I do from the secular community.

What you say really resonates with me. My entire self-worth as a child was wrapped up in academics. Straight A's, Valedictorian, skipping grades, pats on the back, honor society, etc. I miss the pats on the back, too. There is a certain humility to be learned in working day in and day out without the gold star.

Perhaps we will eventually learn to be more encouraging of one another rather than focusing so often on tearing each other down.

Here's your gold star today. Your blog is an inspiration to me. Whenever I feel like being a slacker, I come here so you can kick me in the rear. Oh,and I'm addicted to seeing what you are all reading. LOL.

Heather said...

Goodness, I understand this so well, even as "just" as a stay-at-home mother. With the never-ending rituals of cooking, cleaning, taking care of the munchkins, I feel like I never get the gold star. Growing up as a "gifted" student, I was used to having my papers returned with written laurels. Now I occasionally get a "Oh, the house looks good!" or a "Yummy tacos!" More often then not, I'm in the cycle of a fussing preschooler or encouraging both kids to play nicely (oy!).

Things used to be easier.

Smrt Mama said...

I definitely haven't outgrown the need for praise. I think I have the similar "highly praised gifted student seeks praise as an adult" complex.

Of course, sometimes I feel like I've forced you into the role of my evaluator, so that you will give me those little gold stars. Perhaps we should start giving them to each other.

Gretchen said...

I've thought a lot about how feedback-free my life is these days compared to before. Particularly since I went straight from grad school to being with kids 24/7--so from all feedback all the time to nothing. I'm not sure which I prefer, honestly. Once I got to grad school, it was harder to get unequivocal praise, and that's really the only kind of feedback I like ;).

I also wonder how/whether my kids' perspectives will be different--growing up, as they are, in this world of school without grades (and without a classroom full of other kids to compare themselves to).

jonnia said...

The timing of your post really grabbed my attention. Just yesterday, I spent half an hour shivering in the attic reading a few saved teacher comments on old papers from school. Sometimes I just need a reminder that I'm not as incompetent and sir-headed as my perfectionist self keeps insisting I am! Maybe one day, I will outgrow this or at least get better at pretending it's not important to me.

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