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Why humble-bragging parents should consider holding their tongues

It starts innocently: Running into an old friend, a fellow mom, conversation can quickly give way to a humble brag about their offspring’s accomplishments. Author Ylonda Gault shares her views on bragging parents in this NewsHour essay.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Finally tonight, another installment in our series of NewsHour essays.

    Essays are part of a long tradition on the NewsHour, and in the coming weeks and months, we hope to bring you a range of voices as varied as the ideas they will share with you.

    Tonight, author Ylonda Gault shares her view on a particularly challenging personality: the bragging parent.

  • YLONDA GAULT, Author:

    It will start innocently, a chance run-in.

    I will see a fellow mom at the grocery store or the park, maybe a coffee shop. I will say, hey, girl. We will hug. At least I will, because I'm a hugger.

    I will compliment her outfit. She may notice my new highlights. We will trade innocent gossip. I will ask about her work, then the family, to which she will respond with a sigh, as though fatigued, because, for moms, every season touts tired as the new black.

    Thus begins the humble brag, feigning exasperation. Said mom will half-giggle and wax self-mocking. Well, Sophie scored 2,200 on her SATs, despite this slacker mom, who forgot to get new calculator batteries. And Zach's fourth grade teacher recommended him for advanced calculus.

    Meanwhile, his dad and I don't still get new math, old math, or even everyday math. These kids, I tell you.

    A wan smile will wash over my face. It's the expression I usually reserve for my 8-year-old when he's regaling with my intricate details of obscure superheroes and their powers.

    When she laughs and throws her head back, I do the same thing on the outside. Inside, I wince, and whisper to myself, bless her heart, as momma would say.

    For black people, those sweet little words are a nice way of saying, how pitiful.

    It's a gracious phrase, and I mean it in the best possible way, because a part of me truly aches to see a grown woman, smart and accomplished in her own right, boasting about her children as though they were prized heifers at the county fair.

    And it's odd to me, because, growing up, momma always played down what my siblings and I did. It may be a black thing, but I think it's also an old-school thing. No one wanted their kids to get too big-headed, I suppose.

    Importantly, parenting wasn't an extreme sport back in the day. And, remember, there was no Facebook. Social media posts are the lifeblood of the humble braggart.

    I get it. They feel less secure in their own worth, so tethered are the kiddos to their own self-image, the offsprings' accomplishments become their own.

    Intellectually, I know most studies will show that mothers and fathers hell-bent on this image of perfection desperately need the world to take note of their kids' awesomeness. It's a way of saying, see, my kids are great. Therefore, I am great. Look at me. See? I'm a great parent. Really, I am.

    Do they believe it? Sadly, I don't think so. It's not that these parents don't have good kids. I mean, all kids are good, right, just like all babies are — ahem — cute.

    See, all moms lie. As the humble braggart prattles on, I pretend to listen. And when she's done, I put on my best girlfriend face and try to sound super astonished. I say, wow. Go, you.

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