new work meet the maker

Don’t Say The “M” Word

I banned a word from my household.


I don’t wanna hear it again. But the sorry truth is, I was the one who started saying it. “oh, sweetie! What a beautiful drawing! It’s a masterpiece!”

So, like any kid who hears time and again that their art/writing/music is a masterpiece, my girls started thinking that everybody considers their work the be-all end-all. They started saying things like, “when will they play my song on the radio?” “When will they hang this in the museum, Mama? It’s a masterpiece, right?” Of course they assume these things, I mean, I practically brought each and every piece to the MOMA myself, hammer and nail in hand. I’m positive Simon Cowell would be blown away by my girls’ talent, and I’m tempted to get on the phone with Random House Publishing to see if I can secure them a book deal…

It wasn’t long before I realized I had to check my praise, lest I end up with two little girls walking around thinking they’re the next Renoir, Steinbeck, and/or Beethoven, when really they would be on the fast track to becoming the next Lindsay Lohan.

When the girls were babies, “A” and I listened to an NPR story that talked about the way parents encourage their kids. At one point, the parenting trend was to say things like “You can be anything you want!” “You can do anything!”  “Of course you can win/succeed/achieve!” Problem was, this resulted in an era of kids who grew up thinking that yes, they can do anything, without ever considering the fact that they would have to work for it.

After hearing that, we decided we would emphasize hard work, effort, practice, the ol’ try, try again. Our girls now know, with complete certainty, that they will have to put their nose to the grindstone and work for what they want. And if they choose to do so, they could study, practice and persevere so that, yes, perhaps one day their work will be in a museum.

I’m their mother, and it’s my right to think every creative thing they do is pure perfection. I delight in every detail of what they make, and I praise them to a certain extent but nowadays, I stop myself before I declare it the “M” word. But, between you and me, when the girls go to bed at night, “A” and I ogle and shake our heads in admiration at that their latest achievement. Their seminal work. Their masterpiece.

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16 responses to “Don’t Say The “M” Word”

  1. Angela

    Gosh, I so get it. I have to watch it too. It’s such a balance. My daughter actually went to school one day and told her friends she was smarter than them. Eeep!! Those are some kick-a** paintings though!

  2. Ann Aubrey Hanson

    Amy, this is a great blog post. And so true! I think we’re all amazed at our own children, delighted by the fact that they learn so quickly and exhibit skills and talents that make us proud. It’s natural to praise them and to display their work.

    But, as you say, that praise must be tempered by our own knowledge that they are unique, but not necessarily geniuses. Uniquely fashioned and beautifully formed and gloriously talents, but as are all the other children in this world.

    As adults, they will look for the praise, the awards, and the applause…if they have it constantly as children. On the other hand, if we praise them when they are children, but also tell them that there are others out there who are at least as talented, they’ll know they have to work for their merit.

    That said, the girls are wonderful artists!

    Good parenting, Amy and “A”!

  3. Sharon P

    That kitty DOES have his grankitties eyes, though. I love it. Love what you have to say Aim.

  4. EKR

    do the books come in a boxed collection? I am dying to learn about Grankitties.

  5. Valarie

    Hi Amy,
    This is a great post. It’s a master piece. I recently heard a talk by Kim John Payne author of Simplicity Parenting, where he was speaking about the “praise generation”. It was a really an interesting talk and gave me pause. If Random House won’t take them you know Audrey Press will . :)

    The only part of this post that I might just disagree a little and that’s in the phrase “I don’t want them thinking they’re the next Steinbeck,Renoir etc. They are their very own little geniuses. I’ve always told my kids that if you are passionate about something then do it. One only really goes the extra mile of try try again when they really love the process of discovery. All of those great artists you named were masters of discovery and communicated that through their art.

    We modified over here how we commented on their creations. Instead of giving them an evaluation of that’s great or It needs work, we started asking them very open ended questions like” Tell me about this”, What thoughts were you thinking as you made this and questions of the sort. It took everything away from the weighted evaluation process of “good” and “Bad” and more towards “enjoy the journey”. I love your girls work . I’ve lost complete objectivity. 😉
    Coming to Boston September 30.

  6. mandy

    oh, goodness, i love this post.
    every piece they make is a masterpiece and i also use restraint with the praise(…sometimes).
    i remember reading an article somewhere that pointed out parents now, when asked what quality they want most for their children the response is “good self-esteem” or “self-confidence” and this article was pointing out that you can be a total ass and have good self esteem. it also said that two generations ago what parents wanted most for their children was “resourcefulness” or “to be kind”. I certainly want my children, above all else, to be kind and so much of that comes from a genuine feeling of worth rather than pride. I wonder where praise falls into this difference?

  7. Jacqueline

    Oh sweet Amy, i do it too to my little nephews! And i totally agree with all that were said here…so true! I will have to try to watch it as well tho i think it’s gonan take me a while to not say the masterpiece word to my little nephews. haha You little girls are really talented just like you!! Have a lovely merry happy mid-week and love to you!

  8. Francesca

    It’s difficult to find a balance, but life eventually teaches that, and growing up believing that we can be can be prince and princesses, or little masterpiece makers is part of the aura of childhood. In this country, the tendency in general (outside the family circle) is the opposite, to point out mistakes and stress how it should be made better, and there’s never enough praise or positive encouragement.
    I love the “he has his Grandkitty’s eyes” book – that IS a masterpiece!

  9. Mousy Brown

    I have so much I want to say but a head cold is making it all come out wrong! So I will just leave a 😀 and maybe pop back when my brain is working!

    PS There is something going on at mine tomorrow that I think you would enjoy – if you have time! 😀

  10. Kate England

    Ha ha! Good point, and you made me laugh too!

    Seriously though, this topic has been on my mind too. Partly I’ve thought about intrinsic (things we do because we love to) and extrinsic (things we do for external rewards) motivation‎. How important it seems to me that we get a bit of both, and that we don’t let external rewards like praise or money or recognition take over our whole lives.

    I was also talking to a friend who’s a psychologist around this theme and she mentioned the very same approach as Valarie did in her comment above. Trying to not evaluate everything, as being good or bad.

    Having said that – love to see what your girls have created!

  11. ella | lifeologia

    I’m learning so much from you Amy 😉
    I need to watch myself also – although mine is only 4 – I think I’m still forbidden to say that something is just ‘ok’ 😉 but I do like the advise above to stay away from evaluations. I will definitely keep that.

    Your girls’ work is so sweet – your whole house must be bursting with creative inspirations.
    That is a great place to start shaping their creative journeys. Even without you praising them, they still get lots of encouragement and inspiration from both of you. Lucky girls – and lucky parents 😉

    xo. Hope the show was a great success 😉

  12. Nicola

    Such a good reminder for me. Your girls are hardworking talents! 😉

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