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Dear Thursday: Raising Confident Kids

So the 3rd thing on the list of things that have been keeping me up at night re: my upcoming motherhood: how do you raise a confident kid, when you yourself aren’t as confident as you wish you were?

The Killdeer. One of nature's most well-known worriers.

The Killdeer. One of nature's most well-known worriers.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably already guessed by now that I’m a bit of a neurotic mess. I second-guess myself, it takes me a long time to make a simple decision — to the point that I often just ask other people to make them for me, I tend to need reassurance,  I’m so self-conscious that I have a hard time talking on the phone — even to friends. I worry about anything and everything, and sometimes I feel like I’m just full of fear .

A lot of this has to do with the self-awareness is takes to be a (hopefully good) writer. Though, I should note I’m a lot more confident about writing than I am about most things.

A little of this has to do with being rather unpopular when I was growing up — though I’ve always excelled at just being myself, I’m still surprised that many of the adults I like like me back. And of course, I also have to assign some blame to my mother dying unexpectedly when I was 19. It’s funny, b/c you never know how a loved one’s death will affect you, but hers humbled me greatly. There’s nothing wrong with humble, but I do find myself missing my old obnoxious confidence.

My family teases me a lot about being such a monstrously arrogant child, but often I find myself wishing that I had half the confidence that I did before I turned 20. I wasn’t the nicest person in the world, but I didn’t have to deal with constant anxiety, which gets really old, really quick.

Strangely enough, the older I get, the more I remind myself of my mother.

As I hope you don’t know yet, people usually come up to you at funerals and tell you what they liked or admired most about your dead parent. I was very, very surprised that almost everyone said that my mother was intelligent. A lot of people described her as one of the smartest people they knew.

I’d always thought my mother was nice and I could tell she thought hard about how to be a good mother and even read books about it — which not every mother did back in the day. She spoke proper English like me, and was really stern about me not cursing or using bad grammar, even when I pointed out that speaking like I did made me sound like a freak at my mostly-black school. I also knew that she was the only black woman in her accounting department for quite a while and that it had taken her a long time to get through college, b/c she had changed her major a few times, but it never occurred to me that she was particularly smart.

Mainly because she worried about everything. A lot. Also, she took a lot of really poor treatment from my father. And she didn’t have any friends outside of her large family. She was maybe the least confident woman I knew when it came to her own life and I just hadn’t made the connection that she had brains, while she was second-guessing and underestimating herself at every turn.

My many aunts and uncles all kind of did double-takes when I was in St. Louis two weeks ago. They hadn’t seen me since I had cut off my dreadlocks or gained my baby weight or started wearing glasses again, b/c my eyes had dried out too much to wear contacts — yet another pregnancy symptom. “You know, you look just like your mama now,” they said.

I know I do. I see her in the mirror all the time now. Which is actually nicer than you think it’d be. The one upside of having a dead mother: You don’t mind turning into her when you get older. And I understand why she let me talk back to her and say awful, arrogant things to other people. She would rather I’d been overly confident, than under confident and liked by everyone. She really wanted me not to inherit that aspect of her personality — but I did.

I fight hard against the inherited fear. If something scares me, I try to do it anyway. I try to solve the things that are really bothering me before they get out of control and paralyze me. And if I’m afraid that something I said was less than humble or obnoxious, I force myself not to apologize for it. Funnily enough, I have never lost a friend out of perceived arrogance or obnoxiousness — in fact, some of my favorite people are either a) arrogant or b) obnoxious. Sometimes both.

But given that I’m doing a series about the Things That Have Been Keeping Me Up at Night this week, I obviously haven’t beaten my tendency to worry about everything. It’s very frustrating. And I wonder how to teach my future children how to not worry about what others think of them, how to live their lives confidentally and without fear, how to make decisions and believe that they will be able to deal well with any consequence of those decisions.

In other words, I don’t want Betty to be like me. Or her grandmother, who she is named after. Like my own mother, if I had to choose, I’d rather she be confident than humble — I don’t really see much point in pursuing humility, especially with girls, since society tries to humble us in so many ways anyway.

But how to instill something in Betty that I don’t have myself? That is the question. Suggestions welcome.

. photo credit: Doug Greenberg