We say it casually. We mean well. “Make me proud out there, kiddo,” we say as they trot out onto the soccer field. “Make your parents proud,” we say as they head off to college. And when they do great stuff, we reward them by letting them know that they have made us proud. We want this to motivate them. We use it, oftentimes unconsciously, to hold them accountable.
But is this the way that it should go? Doesn’t it sort of imply that they owe us something? That our support is not unconditional or implicit?
As we’ve said before, our kids don’t owe us anything. It is we who are obligated to them, by virtue of our choice to bring them into this world. And yet how often do we, as parents, think about whether we’re making our kids proud? How often are we letting them down—with how we eat, what we say, where we work, or even choices we make in our personal lives? How often does that haunt us, the way feeling like a disappointment haunts them? The answers to those questions, if most parents are being brutally honest with themselves, are too much and not often enough.
We need to turn this around. Each of us should live as if it is our child that we are trying to make proud. Each of us should act as if we are being watched, judged, scrutinized. Because we are! You are not entitled to your child’s respect or undying admiration. You may get it for free, now or for many years—some parents may even manipulate or guilt their kids into giving it for a time—but in the end, this is something that must be earned. Day in. Day out.
We should be proud of them always, for everything they try to do. We should also be trying, always and in everything, to make them proud. To live up to what we’re capable of, to be great, to be an example, for their sake.