Compliment or Criticism?


We were checking out at the grocery store and the babies were crying in unison.  My nine year old, wishing to be helpful, goes to the end of checkout and starts bagging things coming down the line.  I'm semi nervous that the checker won't appreciate this and ask her to get out of the way.  But mostly I'm distracted trying to get my card processed and answering questions about if I'd like to donate to whatever the latest campaign is. "Yes", I can spare a dollar for hearts today.

Finally we are on our way.  As we walk to the car, I look at my daughter with appreciation and give her a "thanks for being helpful".  We get everyone buckled in and I begin to load the goods into the back. I check out the bags as I put them in one by one and notice that Ellie has put the sandwich buns in the same bag as the olive oil. Ohhh great, smooshed buns, ugh! As I push the cart into the corral I find myself preparing my lecture to her about how to properly bag groceries. And then I stop myself amidst my inner ramblings.

I flash back to my last marriage. Where seldom did any good intention or action get rewarded at face value. Every single compliment had a qualifier. "Oh you lost five pounds...did you save any money this week?", "This breakfast is nice, but these eggs are overdone.", "Thanks for doing the dishes, but I never put knives in the dishwasher.", "I'm glad we had sex, but why didn't you do this?"

In the early years I didn't deeply know or value myself and so I was more than happy to get in with the when is Krista going to finally get her shit together party. In fact, I was determined to help plan and host that was going to be the greatest party ever!! Until after too many years, when I became tired of party planning that never ended. As soon as I got my shit together in one area, he was quick to show me the 1,000 more I hadn't even touched yet. "I'm never ever going to be enough for you" I remember screaming at him when we'd arrived at the beginning of the end. He insisted otherwise, but even as he blurted out what he admired about me, it was followed by all of my shortcomings and ways that I wasn't meeting his needs.  

In all fairness, I was not even close to being a great partner. And I regret that as our dynamic towards compliments with a you're not enough feel to them became the norm, I didn't do more to understand my partner's fears and help him feel heard.

As I divorced and made space in my life (in time) for a new partnership, I knew that I would never ever again be with a person who followed every compliment up with a BUT. And I've gotten what I wished for, a partner (and a ME) who loves and admires and honors me. And I want that for my children and my spouse and every person I care about.

There are moments for talking about how to bag groceries, and this was not one of them. This was a moment to let my daughter feel good that she had listened to her inner voice when it suggested she be a helper. This was a moment to encourage her and show her that her efforts are appreciated and she is valued and is most certainly "enough". And one of the best things I could do as someone who loves her is show her the good that I see and leave out the BUT.