A topic came up the other day that I found myself ill-prepared for, but should not have been. There was a discussion about a woman who had two daughters who were both undergoing in-patient treatment for anorexia and how their aunt was developing a way to emotionally support girls in her life by never complimenting their brains rather than their bodies. So, instead of “you look beautiful in that dress”, she says “you are really great in math”. While I agree that it’s great to compliment any child’s mind, the more I thought about it, the more I disagree about ignoring her beauty.
That seed sat i the back of my head, growing. Then, while at the playground with my girls, I overheard a conversation between parents about parenting styles. The discussion was on finding the happy medium between strict and laid-back parenting. I think we all know someone with extremely strict parenting growing up who, curious about all of the things repressed from their lives, went about exploring them recklessly on their own. We also know the parents who allowed everything from sex to drinking in their own homes so that they would know what was going on. Like the parents I overheard, I think we are all looking for the balance between the extremes and using our own upbringing to improve on the last generation of parents.
We hear about strict “no drinking” parenting all of the time, but the parents who (lovingly) neglect to address a girl’s outer beauty in fear of turing her focus towards it and away from her mind. Just like the balance between authoritarian and laissez-faire parenting, I feel that there should be a balance in recognizing a child for their mind and body as well. I’m of course thinking of this from the perspective of parenting girls, but this really should work for boys as well. Just as girls strive to be beautiful, boys strive to be recognized for their own strengths.
I certainly feel that all children should be recognized for their brains. I make a point to remind each of my children every night at bedtime for something that impressed me. I’ll tell them “you did a great job with the alphabet song this morning” or “you did an incredible job at dance class”. I also compliment their outer beauty and believe that I should. I’ll tell them that they looked beautiful in their pigtails and that the outfit they put together looked great. I don’t believe that this is setting them up for image problems down the road. I believe that I am helping my girls to create a well-rounded confidence. It’s important for them to know that their positive choices, from the pigtails they asked for to pairing up a dress with appropriate shoes, are good ones. They also need to hear that they did a great job taking turns on the slide and that their ability to identify all of the letters of the alphabet is impressive for their age. I don’t want to be selective in my compliments.
My family is anti-vanity. Growing up, I learned how to do my hair and make-up myself with many failures. I tried, with many regrets, to find my style in clothing. My family did an amazing job encouraging me and guiding me through math, science, and sports, but rarely said anything about the way I looked. There aren’t many things that I would go back and change in my life because where I’ve been has given me my beautiful family. That being said, I can imagine the impact if if I could go back and tell my 95-pound, 7th grade self that my legs were not actually “fat” and that with a different style, my hair wouldn’t be something to be self-concious about. If someone had taken the time to address my appearance and support the issues I was having with knowledge and guidance, I would have had more time and energy for more important things, like school and friends. There were points in my adolescence that I was absolutely crippled by self-conciousness. Relationships were destroyed as a result and the domino effect definitely showed in my grades and dropping from sports that I excelled in. Coming of age was a long process for me and I certainly feel that it is a part of development that should not be neglected or ignored in an effort to create strengths in other areas.
Back to present day, I want to create a well-rounded foundation for my children so that when they find their passions, they won’t have something from another area of life holding them back. Chloe has an amazing talent and passion for dance. She has incredible focus with it and picks up the skills very quickly. I will tell her that she’s a beautiful dancer. I’ll even tell her that her pink, glittery tutu looks pretty on her. When she is confident in the way she looks, she can focus on her pliés and kicks without worrying if she is appropriately dressed. My opinion means a lot to her, and I’m sure it will even into the years when she pretends it doesn’t. Is there ever really a time when your parent’s opinion doesn’t matter?
I’ll always encourage my children with both their strengths and weaknesses because I want to give them the best springboard into whatever they want to do that I possibly can. I won’t always be there to tell them that they are amazing, smart, creative, strong – and, yes, beautiful. But, I want to be a voice in their heads when they need to find the strength to know that they are incredible and can do whatever they set their minds to. I’ll help them with their studies, I’ll introduce them to the sports they are interested, and I’ll also be there to help with clothes, hair, and makeup. It’s all a part of the package and my girls need the best that I can offer them in all departments. I’ll consider it a great success if my girls are beautiful inside and out.
The next time this topic comes up, I’ll be prepared!