Friday, April 7, 2017

Why I Don't Tell My Daughter She's Pretty

Self-esteem, raising girls, raising boys

My daughter is pretty. She has hair the color of sun, and her eyes are as blue as the sea. And you know what? I try not to ever tell her that she's pretty because….Who cares??!! She won some sort of cuteness lottery. Her cuteness isn't something she worked for, strived for, gave blood sweat and tears for, so why be proud of something that is essentially just luck, and secondly could be lost in a moment.  

Do you know what she does strive to be? Kind. She strives to be brave enough to stand up to others who aren’t being kind. This is what matters most to her. How kind she is to others. How she can help her friends make-up when they argue with each other because that pains her on their behalf. How she can include the someone who is left without a friend because they are different, or had inadvertently hurt someones’ feelings, so were being ostracized from their group, or weren’t being played with because their friend was mad at them for something. Those are qualities she values.

She’s not just passively kind, but she works to bring out the best in others.  She steps up and has difficult conversations with peers when she doesn’t like their behavior towards others or herself. She wasn’t allowed to play at recess with a group of friends because the new friend decided that everyone in the group had to be the same nationality to play. My daughter used her prized Buddy Pass to talk with the girl about it. She directly asked her if that was the reason. When told yes, she went on to say she didn’t think that was nice, that that shouldn’t matter, that how a person acts should matter more.  She is absolutely right, and she is braver than me for having had that conversation. I am not sure as an adult I would have handled that situation with that level of maturity.  

Two things have recently happened that have brought this message home for me. She had some health problems earlier in the year, and that led to all kinds of tests and poking and prodding, and MRI’s.  One of the thoughts that went through my mind in the midst of this was, “What if they have to shave her head for this test? What would that do to her self-esteem?”  Then the second thought I had was, "I’m a shallow piece of poo for worrying about that of all things right now", but none-the-less, I wanted to feel out where she was with this.  So I said jokingly, “So, what if we shave your head?” She shrugs, and says, “Can we do that instead of getting an IV?” - So, I take it, it’s not really a problem.  

The second happened just recently.  Medical issues had been behind us for the most part for a while, and things were back to “normal”.  She wanted to get her hair cut over Spring Break, so she cut it to above her chin from the middle of her back (so her neck wouldn't get hot in the summer).  Right before the big chop, I asked her, “Are you sure?”  She looks at me and says, “Mommy, it’s just hair. It’s not me.”    

There is some point in her life that she will become painfully aware that looks matter, how she looks and how others look.  It matters.  Studies show that it even impacts how much money you earn.  It matters to adults.  It doesn’t matter to kids until we start signaling to them it matters, and then they pass those signals they picked up from us to other children (often in the form of making fun of someone for some perceived non-conformity).  Sometimes it is as innocent as making a big deal out of drastically changing their appearance. She has gotten a lot of attention for chopping so much hair off, and told how brave she is for this.  She doesn’t get it.  I mean she likes getting compliments, and she likes that people like it, but she doesn’t understand how that makes her brave or special. Sitting still for blood work again or another painful shot, is brave. Getting back up on her horse after she fell even though she cried through the next month of lessons is brave.  Standing up to injustice even when it’s a friend is brave and especially when the one you are standing up for isn't a friend.  Doing these things are what makes her brave, this is what makes her special. This is what deserves a shout out in a world where what is right loses out to what is easy or makes the fewest waves.  These are the things that we need to praise our sons and daughters for.   

kindness matters
So, I praise her for her courage, her tenacity, her resiliency, her kindness, for the time she puts into thinking about others. I praise her for taking responsibility for her mistakes and trying to correct them.  I'm proud of her as she does her best to maintain her kindness with others even when her medication causes crazy mood swings.  Sometimes, like all of us she snaps, but she does her best to apologize and try again.  These are the traits she has decided she wants to define her.  These are what she works at.  Sometimes succeeding and sometimes not, but always trying, and these are the things that can’t be taken from her.  These are the things that define who she is.  Not her hair, not her blue eyes. So, I don't tell her she is beautiful.  I tell her her soul is beautiful because she works to make it so, and I tell her often.  I want her to know that she IS so much bigger than her hair.

raising girls, raising boys

Other Friday Musings:
How to Change Your Kids' Behavior without Yelling

Is Comparing Yourself to Others Always a Bad Thing?

When Did We Become Alright with Calling Kids A**holes?

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