We argued back and forth for at least a couple minutes. Neither of us would budge.
I was trying to convince my three-year-old daughter that she is, in fact, beautiful, but her rejection of my compliment came swiftly and forcefully.
“But you are beautiful.”
“NO, I NOT!”
“You are! You’re smart and funny and beautiful.”
I added some extras to make sure I was covering all the inside/outside self-esteem bases.
“NO, I NOT!”
“Then, what are you?”
That’s her name, by the way.
I wasn’t ready to give up so quickly. It turned into a challenge for me – a mission. I needed her to know that not only did I think that she’s beautiful (and smart and funny and talented and amazing), but I needed her to think it about herself – right then and for all the days of the rest of her life.
My desire for her to be a girl who grows up feeling comfortable saying “I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am strong. I am capable. I am smart.” became so strong in that moment – during that two-minute-long exchange – that I was instantly overcome with panic that I might be failing as a mother, because she just didn’t get it.
It turned out that her will was much stronger than mine.
I gave up, and she continued to believe that she is just Summer. All was right in her world.
That day, a few weeks ago, wasn’t the last time she found it necessary to correct my obviously confused ideas. It has become an almost daily conversation that looks something like this:
“You’re my sweet baby.”
“I not a baby. I Summer.”
“OK, you’re Summer.”
But then, this morning, I actually took the time to think about what she has been so patiently trying to tell me.
She can accept that I think that she looks beautiful. She understands that some perceive her intellect to be impressive. She knows that when she tells a joke that everyone will (or at least should) laugh very hard. (Her “chicken butt” joke is an epic crowd-pleaser.)
She also doesn’t care much when her father and I worry that she may not be able to make it up the rock wall at the playground because “she’s not big enough yet.” She knows that she can do it. It doesn’t matter if we call her “big” or “strong” before she tries. Our words and opinions have little influence on her actual range of capabilities.
She knows that she is Summer, and that is enough for her. Summer doesn’t have labels or boundaries. Even her name is just a way to call her out from the crowd of her gang of brothers and sisters. She’s as big and limitless as the empty space of a fill-in-the-blank.
And that’s just not acceptable to her.
I always say kids come to us whole. They know how to love and to trust and to express themselves just as they are. As parents, it’s our job to teach them the less important lessons like how to tie their shoes, to always look before crossing, and to remember to say “please” and “thank you” (the stuff that helps their souls manage their way around this weird, temporary pit stop called “Earth”). And then there’s our most important function: keep them safe and fed while allowing them their wholeness.
My need to make her know all the things she already felt (because she hasn’t been exposed to the ugliness and small-mindedness of the media yet) was about me and all the things that I needed her to feel because I sometimes (oftentimes) don’t feel comfortable feeling them (even though I do make a practice of saying them).
I was forgetting the most important parts of my job. Part 1: Let her be. Part 2: Show her how OK I am with being just me.
I still tell her constantly how beautiful, smart, funny, sweet, amazing, nice, and even naughty I think she is. It’s part force of habit and part insatiable desire to express how blessed I am to get to live with this incredible creature.
But now my practice is to also allow her to tell and show me who she actually is – according to her and no one else – because her opinion is truly the only one that matters.
No arguments here.