I've said it before and I'll say it again: parenting is hard. As a result, if anybody wants to compliment me on my parenting, please do so often and effusively. However, before you get started, know there are some basic rules for complimenting me on my parenting that I'd be over the moon happy if you'd follow.
I don't want to get all strict about it, and I probably won't correct you or anything if you didn't follow the aforementioned rules. This is by no means meant to scare you out of complimenting me or other parents. In fact, parents definitely do not get enough props for the difficult work we do each and every day. Raising kids is literally creating a future world for all of us. Please, please compliment the parents in your life on a regular basis. They may not even know they need it, but it will likely make their day, or week, or year, better. I know it would do that for me.
However, parents have enough to worry about without trying to determine the meaning behind, the intention within, and the hidden messages throughout your compliments to them. So, if you follow these simple rules for complimenting me on my parenting, you'll be able to get your point across and the parent you're praising will be able to hear the true intention behind your words.
Don't Use Stereotypes
There's a fine line between complimenting someone about their parenting and complimenting someone on their kids. Don't get me wrong, you are absolutely welcome to say wonderful things about my wonderful children, who are crazy amazing if I do say so myself. Still, there are certain things that seem like default statements to make about people's kids that can, at best, feel hallow and, at worst, feel damaging.
My daughter is more than just beautiful. When you call out her looks over anything else you could highlight (her unique way of seeing the world, her kindness, her brilliance, etc.) you're reinforcing the societal message that the most important thing about a girl is her looks. Similarly, my sons are more than their strength, penchant for getting dirty, and their future ability to "break hearts."
Seriously. A compliment doesn't mean anything if it's obvious you're lying. One great example is when I've just yelled at my child for misbehaving and you commend me on my ability to stay calm. Really? You can trust that I'm already ashamed of having lost my temper with my kid, so there's no need to add judgmental salt to the wound of self-deprecation.
Now this is certainly not a requirement. Hell, I'm still just figuring this parenting thing out. However, if you can add constructive and compassionate tips to your compliment, I'm not going to say no to that.
Think Before You Speak
I recommend using this helpful tool some of us parents teach our kids about social communication. Before each compliment ask yourself:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful/Hurtful?
Does it need to be said now?
Does it need to be said by me?
Don't Insult My Children
Here's an example of a compliment that's actually an insult to my kids: "Wow! You're a great parent! I could never deal with behavior like that." That's right up there with, "Great job! I'd never know she was autistic!"
Parenting is challenging, as you've heard me say before, but I love my kids and will defend them with fire.
Don't Force It
One of my constant sources of anxiety since having children is that other people will feel burdened by them. As a therapist with a penchant for going deep, I feel confident connecting this particular neurotic tendency to my own childhood experience of hearing adults being put out by having kids around.
If you're disingenuous about your feelings about my parenting or my kids, I'm going to know it.
I always want to connect with others on a heart level. You could say, perhaps, that's the reason I'm on the planet. (Spoiler alert: it's totally the reason I'm on the planet.) If you've got a compliment for me I totally want to hear it. Like, really hear it from you and from your heart. Connect with me when you tell me. Look me in the eyes and perhaps give me a heart-to-heart hug.
Too squishy? Too many feels? Nah. That's just me.
When someone compliments my parenting, it's pretty easy for me to decipher whether or not they have kids. I am not at all critical of people without kids who would like to compliment my parenting. In fact, I hope they do!
However, people without kids whose compliments involve unsolicited pieces of advice? Yeah, I'm not really about. For example, my child-free-at-the-time brother who responded to my compassionate parenting style toward my (at the time) undiagnosed autistic child with, "It's great you're nice and all, but maybe the behavior would go away if you just showed her who was boss."
Don't Use A Backhanded Compliment
Please don't give me a compliment that's actually a criticism veiled as a compliment. This isn't just for parenting compliments, either. It applies to any compliments at all. Criticism disguised as compliments are not at all helpful. In fact, they're pretty damn hurtful.
Plus, you're not fooling anyone. We all know it's a criticism, so just be honest about your intentions.
As I've said above again and again, parenting is challenging AF. I've learned and grown in ways I didn't even know were possible since becoming a parent. I know it's easy to assume I have my sh*t together, but I'm honestly just as log as everyone else is when it comes to parenting.
What parents really, really need is for you to be kind to us. We're figuring this entire thing out as we go.