• Fri, Feb 1 2013

My Kids’ Fathers Can Be More Objective About Their Talents Than I Can

daughter singingAre mothers less objective when it comes to their children than fathers?

I’m starting to think so because recently I’ve been posting on my Facebook page little clips of my daughter singing. I, of course, only put them up because I think she’s fabulous. Why would I post a clip of my child singing if I thought she sucked? I know she’s no Celine Dion, but for a 9-year-old, I think she’s pretty darn good.

I filmed her last singing lesson and sent a copy to her father. I called him later that night and asked him what he thought. “Well, I don’t think she’s going to end up on Broadway, that’s for sure.” Say what? Did he not see what I saw? Did he not hear her voice like I do? I told him I thought he was wrong (this has been our only parental disagreement ever) and that she IS going to end up on Broadway, not because I want her to, but because she wants to. I’m only doing what I can to help her by getting her singing lessons.

“I bet you $50 she will end up on Broadway,” I told her father. He took the bet. But then I added, “It could be off-Broadway too.” He laughed. But it really got me thinking. I used to be very objective when it came to my daughter. I always tell people – including her – that she wasn’t a very attractive baby. She is, however, now a beautiful girl. (Again, have I lost all objectivity? Is she really as gorgeous as I think she is? Yes!) So I showed my fiancé what I posted on FB, the clips of my daughter singing.

“Don’t you think she’s so good?” I asked. “Tell me honestly. I need to know if I’m being objective.”

He took a pause. “Well, she’s…good.”

I pressed, “But you don’t think she’s amazing?”

He answered in the negative and then told me that his ex wanted his daughter to try out for a higher level soccer team, and his response was, “She’s not good enough.” He says, “I can be objective. She’s just not good enough.”

So, now I’m feeling a little idiotic and a little embarrassed. I mean, here I am, posting clips of my daughter singing and apparently I’m the only one who thinks she’s awesome. Now I’m left wondering if all the people who watch her on my Facebook page are thinking, “That mother is insane! She thinks her kid is so fucking amazing and really she SUCKS!” and then they are laughing at me behind my back. Or, when they comment, “Amazing!” are they really just writing that to be nice?

When I spoke to my friends about this, and the fact that my daughter’s own father and my fiancé didn’t think my daughter was all that great a singer, they were all like, “Are you kidding? She’s great! She’s wonderful!” Of course, these are my friends and I do expect my friends to lie to me when it comes to my proud mommy moments.

I asked one girlfriend if she thought people would think that I was insane for posting clips of my daughter singing, even though, according to the two MALE figures in her life, she’s not amazing at all.

“They’re going to think you are a proud mother. That’s all. And they are going to think she’s cute and talented.”

How is it that I can’t be objective about my own daughter or son (he’s the cutest baby in the world!) but their fathers can be? My fiancé admitted to me that he didn’t think Holt was all that cute when he was born and just looked like any other baby, while I was like, “Oh my god. He’s the cutest little boy ever!”

Is it just a maternal thing? Do we have softer hearts? I’m not totally blind, or make that deaf, when it comes to my daughter’s singing. When I listen to her, I can hear when she’s off pitch, so I guess I can be objective. But still, overall, I think she is pretty good. Make that really good, unlike the men in her life, who I kind of want to punch for being so OBJECTIVE!

(photo: Phaitoon Sutunyawatchai / Shutterstock)

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  • CMJ

    I have been on stage since I’ve been about 8….My mother always thought I was talented (as did my father..I made him cry singing once and it still makes ME cry). My mother is/was my biggest fan and still travels across the country to see me in musicals. That being said, she was also a realist. She always said to me: “You are very talented. But I want you to know, there is always someone more talented than you are – A better singer, a better actor, or a better dancer.” It really framed my perspective on things. She was supportive, without being a stage mom. So, I guess I would say – praise your kids talents but remember – there is always someone better…and maybe that’s what the men in your life are being honest about. She is amazing to you (and that’s awesome because you’re being supportive) but that doesn’t mean she’s amazing to everyone…and that’s OKAY too.

    • Sara

      Yup, same here. I majored in music, and for a brief time I harbored dreams of being an opera singer. My mom is also a musician, and I remember one time she told me something that seemed so hurtful at the time, but I understand now why she said it.

      My mom went to college with a very, very famous opera singer by the name of Jessye Norman. They were students together and my mom told me that she would be walking through the halls and she could hear this girl practicing. Apparently, she just had IT–that quality that so few people have and separates the truly outstanding from the “pretty good”. One time she said to me, “Jessye Norman had that quality when she was your age. You have a beautiful voice, but I don’t think you have IT the way that these opera singers that you look up to do.” It seemed so harsh at the time (and you have to understand that this was within the context of a very loving, supportive relationship), but I know that she was trying to be realistic and not let me get overly confident or build up false hopes. And now that I’m older and wiser, I appreciate it.

      I think the most important thing you can do for your daughter is to make sure she knows that you love her and support her, but that if she’s not famous or if she changes her mind about being on Broadway (which she very likely will), that doesn’t change the core of who she is to you. Whatever happens with her journey as a performer and however long or short it is, it needs to be HER journey and not wrapped up in YOUR identity. I think that means, for starters, not posting videos of her singing lessons on your Facebook page. Lessons are where we learn and make mistakes–they’re where we’re at our most vulnerable. They shouldn’t be shared publicly, IMO. Videos of polished performances? Sure, with your daughter’s permission. But lessons are something else entirely. Especially if you’re getting the sense that she may not be as amazing as you think she is–girls this age are very sensitive and you wouldn’t want to put a video online that is, in fact, of her singing poorly. She needs to know that you’re in her corner and you have her best interest at heart, regardless of your own interest.

    • CMJ

      There are some voice lessons I’ve had (I record them for practice) that I wish I could wipe off the planet. I can’t even imagine anyone taping them and putting them on FB…

    • Not That Rebecca

      The child in question is 9. We’re not talking about a 17 year old who wants to drop out of school because she KNOWS she’s the next Anne Hathaway – we’re talking about a 9 year old. It is still totally normal and appropriate to tell a 9 year old they can be whatever they want to be.

      I wanted to be a ballerina, more than ANYTHING. I’m also very tall. When I was 15 and 5’11, my teacher gently told me that I was welcome to study with her for as long as I enjoyed, but I should be aware that it would be almost impossible for a woman who was 6 feet tall to be a classical dancer at a professional level. And that was completely ok. If my mother had told me it would never happen when I was 9? Heartbreak.

      I cannot believe I’m defending Rebecca Eckler. Blerg.

    • CMJ

      My mom never said I couldn’t do what I wanted to do…she always encouraged me to follow my dreams (still does). She also reiterated that nothing is easy and I needed to work hard for those dreams and no one would hand it to me on a silver platter. I think you can be encouraging and still realistic – even to a 9 year-old. That was my point (not, tell your child they can’t be a star).

      I wasn’t heartbroken when my mom said all these things to me. In fact, I went into auditions knowing I needed to show people everything I had. And, if I didn’t get a part, I was sad, but I would remember my mother’s words and still be a bit sad, but also know that it just wasn’t my time.

      I actually don’t have a problem with this piece and I think all parents deal with their kids’ talents differently. The only problem I have with this whole thing is a 9-year-old taking voice lessons…but that’s a soapbox for another time.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    I think it’s more of a personal thing/level of familiarity with the subject in general (is either man more musical than you are)? I sang opera for years, and my dad (tone deaf) was always the “It’s wonderful, it’s perfect, you’re amazing” kind of parent, while my mom would give praise when it was due, but never hesitate to offer a critique, because she was the musical one and could hear and understand the flaws. It also fit more with their personalities in general. So no, it’s not necessarily a gender thing.

  • chickadee

    I don’t think you have presented enough evidence to successfully make the sweeping claim regarding mothers and fathers and children’s talent. Going strictly from the article, all you can safely say is that you appear to be less objective about your daughter’s talent than are her father and your fiance.

    • rebecca eckler

      Every time you comment, chickadee, I’m left with one thought…..are you always this, um, “sour?” But I so do love your comments.

    • chickadee

      Ah. Well, I teach freshman composition, and I am always keenly aware of the need for writers to provide valid theses and credible evidence as support for their claims. As I tell my students, responsible writers avoid making general or sweeping statements that they aren’t really able to prove. They don’t want to sound like Fox News, after all….

      I sometimes use your more egregious attempts in my classes when I am focusing on logical fallacies and generalizations, so you do, in a way, contribute to the greater good. Regarding your ‘sour’ comment, I’m afraid it’s probably a knee-jerk reaction to the quality of your expressed thought processes. I’m usually impatient with sloppy or lazy work….

    • rebecca eckler

      I’m so honoured that my writing is used for your teaching! Maybe you should look at my more “journalistic” work. This is a blog. You do know the difference. While you go off and teach, I’ll continue this blog and am starting my ninth book. I really am starting to like you. You give me the giggles.

    • Sara

      I have to say that I’ve never really understood this viewpoint. It seems like good writing is good writing, and it shouldn’t matter whether it’s a book, a blog or whatever. If you take pride in yourself as a competent writer, why wouldn’t you hold yourself to high standards no matter the medium? Excusing bad writing in a blog by just saying, “Oh well, it’s just a blog” seems like a cop-out. There are a lot of bloggers whose blogs are beautifully and articulately written. I just don’t really understand the idea that some media are worth a reasonable standard of writing quality while others aren’t.

    • rebecca eckler

      The thing is, I don’t think my writing is bad at all. I quite like it. (more importantly, I enjoy it! Thanks for commenting.

    • chickadee

      Actually, what Sara mentions is precisely true…dashing off poorly-thought-out pieces simply because it’s for a ‘blog’ makes you a careless writer who frankly earns the contemptuous comments you occasionally receive. Language choice and sentence construction for a blog post will usually be less formal than for other kinds of writing, but it doesn’t excuse a lack of critical thinking on the writer’s part.

      I don’t feel the need to brag about my qualifications here, as you apparently do, but I will say that I have read excerpts of the books you’ve published, and they bear a striking similarity to your blog posts. I’m sure you don’t see that, but then I don’t expect you to be able to.

      Giggle away.

    • quinn

      Rude.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alice.longworth.7 Alice Longworth

      Basic Comp? God bless you. A Sisiphian task indeed.

  • lea

    Irrespective of whether she is brilliant or not so much, I think it is a big risk posting videos of her singing on Facebook. Performing is an intensely personal thing to do, and whilst performing, you are really putting yourself out there in a way that can leave you quite vulnerable. I think sharing with others should be her decision and hers alone.

    Obviously you know your daughter better than any of us, but at the very least, I agree with Sara that you should stick to posting up polished performances over lessons.

    Little kids singing are just so damn cute, but when you are a 15 year old looking at a vid of your 9 year old self you probably aren’t going to be able to appreciate that.

    JMHO.

    • rebecca eckler

      She BEGS to be put up. She begs to be on YouTube. I don’t do that tho.

    • Not That Rebecca

      And if, when she’s 15, she wants them taking down, you’ll do it, right?
      I really don’t see a problem here.

    • Natalie

      Why? Is it because she thinks that people will enjoy it? Not her relatives, but total strangers (assuming she does not have a personal relationship with everyone on your facebook)? No offence but she sounds like a narcissistic child.

  • AP

    I think being objective about a child’s abilities and potential is important. It’s great to encourage kids and their dreams, but there comes a time in their life where the outside world is going to weigh in on their abilities and talents, and they will have to choose whether they want to drop an interest, switch from a school activity to an at-home hobby, take lessons to improve, or pursue that interest as a career. And it’s hard to do that without a realistic sense of self.

    No one wants to discourage their kid- I get that- but no one wants their kid to be the William Hung of their middle school either.

  • Not That Rebecca

    Yes, it’s a maternal thing. IMO kids need both: they need a doting mum who thinks they can do anything and they’re absolutely perfect, and a dad who’s, um, a bit more in tune with objective reality. In my house, I’m overprotective and would happily have kept the training wheels on until they got their learner’s permit; my husband was the one who said “a few skinned knees won’t kill them.” Vive la difference.

    Oh, and I love the RE-chickadee dialogues. I know it’s a different kind of writing, but I would totally buy you a drink and chat for a while on the strength of those exchanges.

  • Liz

    My parents really struck a great balance with this kind of thing and I’d like to share it with whoever is interested. Pardon if it’s too long:

    I have always been really crappy at art and/or crafts. However, I loved them ever since I was teeny. When I was in Kindergarten and Parent’s Day rolled around, my parents would privately decide to wander off separately, pick the art out of the display that they thought was the worst & bet each other it was mine. One or both of them usually got it right & they’d have a giggle over it. Now, they didn’t tell me this when I was small but I started becoming savvy when my essays (where my talent actually lay) got much more fridge-space than my drawings. When I got old enough for constructive criticism – I got it without a lot of flowery bull. I was told, “nobody is good at everything – you’re very good at dancing, sports, writing… but you’re a bit rubbish at (X).” They also used themselves as examples; my Mum would say “I’m terrible at singing but I enjoy a sing-song, why not? I just know that I’m never going to be asked to take the stage at Carnegie Hall and that’s fine. If you enjoy painting (or whatever) – Do it as a hobby but don’t think you’re going to make a living from it” I actually do still paint but, yeah, try as I might – they’re awful. But I have fun. My Dad would mention that the only person who was good at everything was Leonardo da Vinci and there’s never been another like him, cos he was a one-off freak.

    When it came to my talents, school or work life, I have always been able to trust when they gave me a pat on the back and know they meant it, because they had/have no problem telling me when they thought I didn’t try my best or when my skills were lacking or when I just plain sucked. I’m honestly the only person I know who doesn’t think my parents are ‘just saying nice things cos they’re my parents’ when I’m complimented by them. It’s also made me feel very secure throughout my life, cos I don’t have to be awesome at everything, I know they love me if I’m terrible at certain things or make mistakes. Unlike my cousin, whose mother could not be convinced that he wasn’t absolutely BRILLIANT at everything & would argue with his teachers & anyone who dared say otherwise. I was present the first time he said to her, “Mum! Let me screw-up! Let me be bad at something!! It’s OK – I’M OK with it!!!” Her being blind to his faults actually backfired by stressing him out & embarrassing him.

    When I went through puberty, I was the gawkiest thing you ever did see. Making matters worse is that I had a Hot Mom (not her fault but it does kinda suck when you’re all limbs & acne & totally flat-chested & a crooked-teeth-brace-face and Mom… is a Babe. And you’re CONSTANTLY told this by other people. Why me, God?!?!) I cried to her about it and she got out the photo album and said, “you take after your Auntie Brenda. You know your Auntie is a beautiful woman, don’t you?” She was/is and I agreed (Thanks…everyone’s beautiful but me…) Then she opened the album showing a photo of my Aunt at my age looking almost exactly like I did at the time. She told me that, yes – I was going through a completely normal ‘rough patch’ but that I had beautiful green eyes, great bone structure, long legs that she’d kill for (she’s 5’2″) and that my red-hair was enviable (NOT ‘gross’) and that ALL these things would soon become a commodity. She told me not to worry that other girls were developing faster – “People can peak too early and they’re beginning to be treated like women when they’re NOT women, which has it’s own problems – WORSE problems. You’re going to look young for a long time & that’s a GOOD thing.” This cheered me up WAY more that a patronizing ‘You’re-my-daughter-so-you’re-gorgeous.’ And she was dead-on. When everything ‘slotted into place’ for me, I was more mature & able to handle the attention I got. A lot of those girls who I was jealous of now look like washed-out hags, while I’m still getting carded in my 30′s. And many men LOVE red-hair! :-) Mum didn’t fob me off with a line – She was honest.

    I had a really horrible time with my mother-in-law for a good few years. We just didn’t gel & she was VERY passive-aggressive & judgmental about me. I confided to my Dad & he called her up one day – Not to fight but to say, “I know my daughter can be pig-headed, she can be stubborn & she’s often very reckless & lively & loud & overly-enthusiastic (all true!) She can drive ME crazy sometimes. At the end of the day, I KNOW my daughter is not everyone’s cup of tea & that’s fine. But there’s a really great thing about her and that’s if you talk to her in a straight-forwardly, she will listen & try to meet you half-way. But you also have to make some changes otherwise you’ll both be miserable cos the kids love each other.” Because he took that route (instead of being defensive about me and, believe me, he didn’t have a lot of time for her, truth be told), he paved the way for her & I to have a better relationship. (Btw, my husband rolls his eyes whenever his mom praises him, even when it’s legit. That’s kind of sad to me.)

    All this has lead to me being able to cope extremely well when I’m brought up on something at work or with friends. Yeah, I’ve dropped the ball and made bad moves -everyone does – but when called out, I recognize it, own it, make amends & do better. It’s a quality that everyone I’ve worked for has commented on as a rare, likable & positive trait. And I’ve got Ma & Pa to thank for it.

    In summary, it’s like my Old Man used to say – “You’ll never be perfect, not with half my chromosomes. But perfect is boring!” There’s something very comforting in that. And objectivity is TOUGH so maybe, if you’re not sure if your kid is amazing at something – Wait for a reliable, trusted source to back you up on it before you brag. :-) You’re not going to wreck you child’s self-esteem by recognizing them for who they are – good AND bad. You’re only going to INCREASE their confidence in the areas they excel at by being honest, cos then, they can trust you.

  • Meghan

    I can’t believe no one has commented on this….you tell your daughter she wasn’t a very cute baby? Really? The truth of the statement is irrelevant. It’s like I told one of my fifteen year old students last week: of course it is best to be honest, but when your honesty serves no other purpose than hurting someone it’s best to ask yourself is it truly best to be honest or keep your mouth shut? The answer is keep your mouth shut. Of course you wouldn’t be doing her any favors if you told your child she’s a supermodel when she’s not, but telling your attractive child she was an ugly baby will only make her question your love, not laud your objectivity.

  • Natalie

    I know this is old but, yes it’s a parent thing (not neccessarily maternal though). My husbands sister is the same way as you with her 6 year old daughter. Her daughter loves to sing and dance for adults (she is a precocious only child). Her mother thinks she is simply amazing and above her age in talent. Hence she forces me to watch her daughter sing and dance, and expects me to comment on all the videos and photos she posts. Maybe its because I dont have childrren but I think her daughter is just ok. Nothing special. Not particularily talented. But I do get annoyed at her mom sometimes because I feel like she is forcing her daughters talents on me. I also hate to lie.