As I reminisce about my childhood, I realize that, like most children, I was genuinely motivated by an overwhelming desire to please my parents. Hearing “I love you” certainly meant a lot to me; however, to be completely frank, I never doubted their love for me: they consistently prioritized me and my siblings above themselves, something you would only do for someone you truly love.
What, then, was I seeking to hear even more than “I love you”? I think, like many children, I really wanted to know that they felt their love and support was generating the outcome they were hoping for and, therefore, I was really seeking the most coveted of praises a son or daughter could receive from their parent: “I’m proud of you”. Hearing those words somehow made everything better and made me feel invincible.
So what’s the big secret? What is it that I only realized now that I’m a forty-something about “I’m proud of you”? There are two epiphanies for me:
1. I might be a parent myself, but I never seem to outgrow the need and desire to hear those words from my parents. In fact, if anything, I think they’re even more meaningful to me now than ever before. After all, “I’m proud of you” at this point represents a much larger set of decisions and achievements than when I was merely ten or eleven years old. I now realize that I will always need those words to motivate me; I’m forever driven to make my parents proud.
2. I recently decided to do something completely out-of-the-ordinary for me. Having never played American football, as a child or otherwise, I formed an adult flag football team on a whim. Whats more, many of my friends declined the offer citing that it’s well-known people our age hurt their knees, Achilles, and a myriad of other body parts resulting from throwing twelve men on a field and telling them there’s a score :-). I was lying in bed considering what in the world had motivated me to do this. Was it that I wanted to hang out with my friends and this was a convenient excuse for us to get together? Was it another middle-age crisis where I was trying to prove that I’m not too old to compete? No, it really wasn’t either of those things. Instead, I realized that it was motivated by something much simpler: my children.
My two sons had recently taken a liking to the sport of flag football and currently play it in a local children’s league. I must admit, I’ve always felt a bit insecure about a sport I knew so little about. I had started to learn more about it so as to be able to discuss the games with the boys. But did I really join an adult league just to learn more about a sport I could’ve just watched on the couch like most men my age :-)? What I wanted was to hear something. Last night, I heard that something: after my second flag football game, my son told me how proud he was of me…and I was on cloud 9 all night.
Really? Am I destined to be generationally-sandwiched between wanting to hear those words from both my parents and my children? I’m afraid that answer, at least for me, is an emphatic yes.
More importantly, as a parent, I am more aware than ever of how important those words are for my own children.