top of page

I'm SO Proud of You!

David Cowles

Jun 8, 2023

“To my ear, ‘I’m so proud of you’ is culture-speak for ‘I’m not proud of you at all.’”

It’s what every child longs to hear. It trumps I love you by a mile – 6 simple words that satisfy our need for Identity, that reinforce our sense of Belonging, and that affirm our Potency. It’s a heady cocktail…especially for underage drinkers.

What does it mean when someone says, “I’m proud of you”? It expresses the speaker’s satisfaction or pleasure at some thing you’re being or some thing you’ve done. 

Most parents won’t say directly, “Ok, now I can love you!” but those same parents are perfectly willing to say the exact same thing, provided it is encrypted. I’m proud of you is code for Now I can truly love you. For confirmation, listen in on the Litany of Life (composer unknown):

  • “Now I’ve said my ABCs, tell me what you think of me. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!

  • “You just got your first Little League base hit. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!

  • “I know it hurt but you didn’t cry. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!

  • “You got all A’s on your report card. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!

  • “You’re the first person in our family to graduate high school/college/medical school. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!

  • “You have a great new job. Refrain: I’m so proud of you!

  • “You’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Rest in peace! Refrain: I’m so proud of you!”

OMG, a lifetime wasted trying to make a parent proud so they can love me! To my ear, I’m so proud of you is culture-speak for I’m not proud of you at all. When someone says they’re proud of me, they mean that they are proud of some task I’ve performed, some goal I’ve achieved, or some role I’ve assumed. But my accomplishments and my personae are not me! They are costumes I’ve put on, usually at the insistence of some overbearing director.

You may have enjoyed my performance as the title character in Hamlet. You can even say you’re ‘proud’ of the job I did: I wish you wouldn’t, but you can say it if you must. What you cannot say is that you are proud of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark because, news flash, he’s not real!

Shop Christian apparel and merchandise at Aletheia Today.

Yet every time you say, “I’m so proud of you,” that’s exactly what you’re saying. What could be more foolish than to be proud of a fictional character! Oliver Twist, Stephen Dedalus, Rocky Balboa, and me. Yet whenever I assume some role, I’m just ‘getting into character’. I may be real, but the character I’m playing is not. You can be proud of me, but you can’t be proud of my character because, news flash, he’s not real!

One day each year, Halloween, I take on the role of a witch, a pirate, or a superhero. On the 364 ‘Anti-Halloweens’, I take on the role of ‘a good little boy (or girl)’, especially around Christmas. But I am no more that ‘good kid’ than I am that ‘superhero’. 

You probably wouldn’t say, “I’m proud of the superhero you’ve become,” so neither should you say, “What a good kid you are! I’m so proud of you.” When I hear you say those words, part of me hears them as “I’m not proud of you at all.”    

You could have just said, “I love you” and meant it. In which case you would have loved me, regardless of my achievements, or lack thereof, and no matter what roles I happen to be playing at any one time. Or, another idea, how about, “I respect you, I respect the person you’ve become, I respect the things you’re doing?” Hearing those words from you would be seismic.

I may be ‘unsheltered’ on the streets of Liverpool, or I may be well housed at #10? Are you ‘proud of me’ either way? Didn’t think so! But am I any less ‘me’ in Liverpool than I am in London? Either way, it’s still me! And who knows? Over the course of a lifetime, I might end up being both.

So, I’m proud of you has nothing whatsoever to do with me. It’s the semantic equivalent of Look at that gorgeous sunset. Except worse! People who say, “Look at that gorgeous sunset” usually don’t mean to take credit for it. (Exception: God, boasting in the Book of Job.) But when someone says, “I’m proud of you,” most often that person believes they had something to do with ‘making you the person you are today’. The only person they’re proud of is themselves.

So, I’m proud of you means that you are proud of something I’ve done, not of who I am per se. Deeper still, it means “I’m proud of myself for the role I played in enabling you to play your role, or perform your task, so successfully.” When parents say, “I’m proud of you,” they’re taking a victory lap!

This does not mean that you can’t say “proud”. You can certainly be proud of yourself for something you’ve accomplished. You set out to get an A in Chemistry and you did; it’s ok for you to feel proud…of yourself. But if I get an A in Chemistry, please don’t detract from my accomplishment by saying that you’re ‘proud of me’. What right do you have to be proud? You didn’t stay up all night studying…or helping me study. 

When I was 12, I moved from a neighborhood school to an elite school. I was lost. These kids could read…I mean really read: Dickens and the like, while I was still struggling with Dick and Jane

My grandparents swung into action. One or the other of them read every book I was assigned and laboriously talked me through each plot. When June came around at last, my grandparents were justly proud of my grades: ‘C minuses’ all across the board! (We weren’t looking for A’s!) They were entitled to be proud; they earned those grades more than I did. But that is the exception that proves the rule. 


So what’s the alternative? You could have said, “I salute you” or “I congratulate you”, but that wouldn’t convey the same intensity as “I’m proud of you”, would it? Pride attests to a powerful, not to say incestuous, relationship between two actors: a puppeteer and her puppet. So, I’m proud of you is not only code for Now I can love you; it’s also code for Now I can love myself

So can you never say “I’m proud of you” again? I wouldn’t go that far! Chances are your kids are used to hearing it from you and it might confuse them if you suddenly stopped. Try substituting the word ‘respect’ for ‘pride’; see if that works for you.

If not, if you must say, “Proud”, make sure you understand what it is you’re saying when you say it. Who’s proud of whom and for what? Deconstruct! Then try to convey to your children that you love them regardless of their behavior or achievements…then try to believe it yourself! 


Keep the conversation going!

1. Click here to comment on this TWS.
2. To subscribe (at no cost) to TWS and ATM, follow this link.
3. We encourage new articles and reprints from freelance writers; click here to view out Writers’ Specs.

Do you like what you just read and want to read more Thoughts? Subscribe today for free!

- the official blog of Aletheia Today Magazine. 

Have a thought to share about today's 'Thought'.png
bottom of page