Coffee and Conversation: May I Have a Compliment, Please?

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday again – time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my familywas driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own…

Last week, my friend Julie Persons posted this new picture featuring Claudia, a sweetly sassy little porcelain doll.

Image cedit: Julie Persons. Used with permission.

I always love Claudia – but this photo struck a nerve.

I know what it is to fish for compliments. I can still remember the day I learned that phrase. I was thirteen years old.

I had recently begun developing an embarrassing case of acne, and I was plagued by typical teenage self-consciousness as I entered the awkwardness of early adolescence.

When I was younger, she had once complimented my “peaches and cream” complexion. Thinking of the spreading rash of pimples, I asked her, “Mom, do I have a peaches and cream complexion?”

She turned from the stove and scowled at me. “Don’t go fishing for compliments. What are you, conceited? Wait for someone to give you one.”

I didn’t know what exactly I’d done to make her angry, and I knew better than to ask, because that might be seen as “talking back”. I bit my lip and tried to keep the tears from gathering in my eyes.

Conceit hadn’t motivated my question. Uncertainty had.

That’s natural at times of rapid change. My own body and mind seemed suddenly strange, and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I was, at once, excited at growing up, and trying to cling to the younger girl who didn’t worry about so much, and whose skin had not turned traitor.

And there was also the uncertainty of living with my mother, who was fond of assigning nicknames, particularly to me.

It seems sweet – but most of the nicknames pointed out what my mother saw as my flaws. I was more a bookworm than an athlete, and I tended, as now, toward a state of dishevelment. One of the less embarrassing nicknames I garnered was “Physical Wreck”, which had the effect of making me painfully aware of every clumsy motion, every tangle in my extremely long, thick, wild hair….

And every newly erupting skin blemish, too.

The truth is that I fished for compliments not out of vanity, but out of a need to feel my mother’s positive regard. My questions, really, were, “Mom, do you still love me? Am I worth something to you? Is there something wrong with me? Am I a freak?”

These questions are ones I hope my own children know the answer to, because I compliment them, frequently and sincerely, and because I make expressing my love and regard many times each day, and in many ways, a major purpose of my life.

My guess is that, when my mother was a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, she was told something similar to what she said to me. I don’t think she meant to hurt me with her words, or even the nicknames. As she often told me, my childhood was far kinder and gentler than hers.

And yet, at 44 – long past childhood, and far less concerned with others’ assessments of my appearance – I still remember the sting of her words, and of the tears at the back of my throat. I was searching for acceptance and reassurance, and I was told that I was wrong to do so.

Blossoming, in a compliment-rich environment.

I have a daughter. She is nine and a half, and she looks a lot like her grandmother. I find her enchanting and lovely (and I accept that I am biased). She’s bright and exuberant, physical in a way I’ve never been, and she is confident in herself, her appearance, and her place in my heart.

She’s blossoming early, this girl of mine. It’s awkward, for her, to have a body poised for puberty while her interests and experiences are more in line with her actual age. Sometimes, she needs reassuring that the moments of clumsiness, self-doubt, sadness she can’t explain, loose teeth, occasional pimples, and the like, are not Who She Is.

That it’s okay to think she is beautiful, and also okay to think she’s not. That, either way, she is far, far more than how she looks, or her stage of growth.

I never want her to feel badly when she needs this reassurance. I will not call it fishing for compliments; I will see it as a sign that I need to spend more time and attention on her, so that she knows she matters, and that she’s enough, just as she is.

And when I see her eyes return to dancing, hear the song in her voice,see the joy in her steps, and the uninhibited way she enjoys her life, I will imagine that I am also giving that to myself, when I was young, and to the girl my mother was, too.

Oh, and Claudia? You are both lovely, and an awesome angler! =)

Do you give compliments? Wish you got more? Need one? I’ll replenish your cuppa and say something nice; let’s converse! =)

You can find more Claudia (and critters in hats, too!) at Julie’s Etsy shop!


12 comments

  1. I ALWAYS give compliments, because I always need them so I assume others do even if they don’t think they do. How could a compliment ever be anything but helpful to the spirit?

    • Gretchen,

      I am so with you on this one. An honest compliment just lights people up. Yesterday, I complimented a waitress on her pretty smile (she was young, she made mistakes, and service was slow, but she was so happy, I tipped her well, besides – I’ve been a waitress.)

      Compliments are a goodness the world needs more of!

    • Stephanie,

      There was a time when I wouldn’t believe that I was so damaged in my own childhood, or that something as simple as being sweeter and more respectful of my kids’ selfnesses could bring so much healing, not just to them, but to me.

      But I was, and it does, and I am so glad we found this way of living together! =)

  2. I do try to give compliments. I think it’s a nice thing to do for others. I think it builds self-esteem in others. It’s a act of kindness. And I think I would be lying if I didn’t enjoy a compliment every now and then. Especially when it comes from my hubby. And I agree with Kassandra. Society has made us feel insecure about receiving a compliment, as if it was undeserved. Or its an act of conceit as you mentioned. Ah, we’re all messed up. lol. Good post Shan! 🙂

    • Karen,

      I love hearing that others enjoy giving compliments! I know it can brighten someone’s day. I often will make an extra effort to say something kind to a mother and child who seem to be having a rough moment in public; especially when the child is little and the mom frazzled – I’ve so been there!

      Having worked in several service jobs, including waiting tables and retail, I make it a point to meet the eyes of cashiers and tell them we came to their line because of their smile; or to assure a waiter that they’re doing fine, and I know how tricky it can be. Especially, I’ll compliment someone who dealt with a hostile or rude person ahead of us…I’m hoping to soothe a bruised ego.

      I still feel awkward when someone compliments me. I used to demur; I’m learning to smile and say thanks or just smile and say something nice back. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to just accept a compliment without embarrassment…

      But my kids can. And that makes me extremely happy. Maybe there’s hope for all us messed up grown-ups, and more for kids who aren’t made to feel guilty about others’ positive regard.

      I always love when you stop by to share your thoughtful comments, Karen. =)

  3. This is a wonderful post, Shan. I try to make sure kids around me all know their value (and adults, too). I was that very insecure girl myself, so I can so relate. Thanks for posting this.

    • Rhonda,

      Welcome, and thank you!

      I often try to interact with kids in a way that shows them that I want to know them better as people. My kids have never attended school, and I’m often struck with the way strange adults, and sometimes adults they know, talk to them in scripts they’d never use with another adult. “Oh, and how old are you?” “What grade are you in?” “Oh, do you have the day off school?”

      Doesn’t work with my kids. They’re happy to have a real conversation, but they really don’t do scripts. And, when I think about it, they are very disrespectful. Kids who are in school might not want to “talk shop” when they aren’t there – they already have homework, usually – than a grown-up might.

      So I try for honest compliments and interaction, and, even then, sometimes I get foiled by the parents. At a candy store with the kids the other day, I saw another girl, about 11, wearing the most lovely turquoise coat and hat (turquoise is my favorite blue; I adore blue!). I told her it was very beautiful, and her mom intoned in a low voice, “Say thank you.”

      I understand that she wanted to enforce manners – but it turned my simple little compliment into a chore for the girl – not what I wanted!

      If I had a magic wand, parents would make sure they thanked people and treated them politely, modeling it for their kids. The “say thank you” thing drives me nuts. No one would say that to another adult, so it seems wrong and minimizing to do it to a child, as though adults have the right to put words into children’s mouths.

      I wonder, watching my kids and their unschooled and respected friends, who carry themselves with the confidence and self-possession of people who know they are free to express themselves, ask for what they need, and have the adults around them do their best to provide it, how much the casual disrespect our culture shows to children, and the way it trivializes their selfness, is a big reason for insecure children…

      Wow! I think you inspired me to pull out the ol’ soapbox with that one! =)

      May you continue to treat children and adults sweetly, and reap sweetness in return. By the way, I love your happy smile! I dig smiles! =)

  4. I try to give compliments when I have the opportunity. I’m always happy when I can make someone’s day. But I do enjoy getting them, too. I don’t have to have compliments about my looks. I would rather have compliments about my “niceness” or my intelligence.

    I always tried to praise my children and give them positive reinforcement. I know I wasn’t always successful, especially when they were driving me crazy, but I hope they look on their childhood as happy and healthy. I do feel both my sons have lots of self-confidence, so maybe hubby and I did our jobs in that area. 🙂

    • Lauralynn,

      I’m not perfect, by any means. My kids get lots of compliments about lots of things, but I have a personal principle that I only make sincere compliments.

      Also, I give them to many people, and my kids hear some of that. They are both far more likely to say something kind than something unkind (of course, they aren’t perfect either), and I think that says something about the life they are living.

      Self-confidence would seem to say that you and hubby got it right more often than you didn’t, indeed! =)

      I see it not only as a gift I give to the kids, and, vicariously, to myself and my mother, but also to the world my children will grow up into, and the one there generation will create.

  5. Another great post, Shan! Our society is so negative that people aren’t even allowed to accept compliments without dissembling, much less fish for them. If someone says,” Nice dress,” we’re expected to say, “oh this old thing.” I do hope most of the younger generation is getting a different message, like you are giving your kids.

    • Thanks, Kassandra!

      I write posts like this in the hope that someone might question some of these inherited beliefs. I’ve noticed that many of us have ingrained attitudes, behaviors, and ideas that we carry without even being conscious of them.

      I think we’d all be so much happier with life and ourselves if we knew what we believe and why, and got rid of what doesn’t fit. That’s been a huge part of my life, these last few years.

      Always a pleasure to have you pop by! =)

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