I don’t often feel like I have parenting wins. In fact, many days I feel downright defeated and wonder how many years my kids will have to spend in therapy to undo whatever damage I’m causing by attempting to give them a good life.
But sometimes, there is a glimmer of hope in the sea of tantrums and whining. And I’m not just talking about the moments the kids are sleeping or actually getting along and playing nice. Sometimes, something happens and I think, “Wow. Maybe I’m not doing too bad of a job after all.”
Last week my kids and I met a friend and her kids to go to a tent sale. I was lukewarm on the idea because I honestly hate digging through boxes with a bunch of other people, all looking for the best deal on a product that we will think is wonderful for five minutes and forget about the next day. I also believe that the older I get, the more my husband’s introvertedness rubs off on me like cooties. Once I would have loved the idea of this, now I try to avoid large crowds of people where I am expected to be perky and on my mommy game.
When we entered the area for the sale, we learned that there was a face painter there decorating kids to look like butterflies, dragons and basically anything else that was within her artistic ability. My friend’s son was quick to hop in the chair and transform into a dragon. My daughter was timid.
“Do you want to get your face painted,” I asked.
She looked at the lady, looked at her friend in the hot seat, gave me a wide-eyed look and blinked.
“No,” she said.
Hmmm. Okay. I thought she would be all about getting the butterfly wings painted around her eyes with pink sparkles. At home we like to play a game where we pretend to paint each other’s faces with crayons. My dad and I used to do this and as a kid it was always so fun to imagine whatever we wanted as we “painted” each others’ faces. It also tickled so it was a bonus. My daughter loves doing this now too and having her face painted was like allowing her to make the crayon drawing come to life.
A few minutes went by and I asked again.
“Are you sure you don’t want to get your face painted?”
“No. I don’t want to,” she said.
The face painter offered her a balloon creation instead and she happily took the bright “magic wand.”
I figured she was just being shy. She would usually prefer not to talk to strangers (Yay!) or go near people she doesn’t know (Double yay!). I let it go and we walked around digging through bins, looking for useful sale items.
Because I Look Pretty Without It
Soon we were on our way back to the car, but the whole face painting thing was still on my mind. I realized that I never asked her why she didn’t want it done while we were standing there and I wanted to understand. Sometimes she doesn’t want to do things she loves because of the whole stranger thing and other times she wants to do those thing (like soccer or dance lessons) but wants us to do it with her. I’ve found that the more I understand, the better parent I can attempt to be.
“Roo (my nickname for her), why didn’t you want to get your face painted?”
She answered without pausing.
“Because I look pretty without it.”
There it was. It was that simple and it made me so proud.
I was prepared for her to tell me she was afraid of the lady or didn’t want to sit in a chair or some other random thing she might throw out. I was prepared for a lot of answers, but not that one.
I didn’t say anything else to her about it the rest of the day, but I thought about it. I wondered if she could really be learning about how beautiful she was from me.
Building Girls’ Self-Esteem About Their Own Beauty
I make it a point to tell her she is smart and pretty. I make it a point to tell her that she is both. You may not think the pretty piece of the equation is not important, but I do and here is why.
A 2015 Dove campaign surveyed almost 6,500 women worldwide from the ages of 18-65 and 96% of them said they would not use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves. Ninety-six percent!
Not only that, but 78% of the women in the study said they don’t feel completely confident in their own beauty.
And there it is. That “completely confident” thing. That’s what I want my daughter to pick up and that’s why I tell her she is pretty and beautiful in addition to being smart.
I’m trying to build her up as much as I can before the world tears her down. I’m trying to get her to understand that she can do it all and that she can be it all. I am trying to get her to believe that she is pretty before someone else tells her she is not and starts shaping her view of herself.
We all know that girls can be cruel growing up – more so than boys. I already see it happening. When a friend of my daughter’s tells her hair isn’t long (something she associates with being beautiful) she gets upset. This happened when she was 2 and a half years old and she was almost in tears telling me about it. After this, I knew that I wanted her to understand a few things:
- That her hair (which is curly) is special and beautiful.
- That her hair didn’t have to be long to make her beautiful.
- That beauty is about more than the way you look, but also about the way you act.
Now, point 3 here is very important in life and is a statement that a lot of people would agree with. But, No. 1 and No. 2 are also important because her belief that she is pretty or beautiful will influence her self-esteem long-term.
According to DoSomething.org, more than 70 percent of girls from the ages of 15 to 17 say they “avoid normal, daily activities” when they feel bad about their looks. In this same study, about 75 percent of girls with low self-esteem said they were involved in “negative activities.” This included bullying, smoking and eating disorders among other things. Only 25 percent of girls with high self-esteem reported engaging in these types of activities, which I still think is high but it is better than 75 percent.
These statistics speak volumes about the way women, and more specifically girls, value themselves and a lot of that is wrapped up in the idea of beauty. It’s sad really and I wish it were different.
While the world is becoming a more accepting place, there will always be some standard of beauty that my daughter and your daughters are measuring themselves against. To make sure that they live the best, healthiest life possible, they need to believe confidently that they are beautiful “without it.”
Maybe 2 or 4 seems a little young to try and reinforce that message, but it’s better than starting too late and trying to convince a pre-teen of their beauty during their awkward years.
I love that my daughter already has the confidence to know that she is pretty and she doesn’t need to put anything on her face to enhance that. I honestly wish I felt the same. Maybe I can actually learn something too from all these lessons I am teaching her. Maybe having a parenting win isn’t just about what we teach our children, but what we ourselves learn along the way.