There are a lot of things about having daughters that I wasn’t prepared for. I can do a decent ponytail, but that’s it. You want a braid? Go ask mom. I’m not always sure how to deal with the roller coaster of emotions. One minute they’re happy, the next they’re stomping their feet because they’re “so angry.”
While I’m no hair stylist or therapist, I do think I can learn how to master these skills over time. I can hvae my wife teach me how to braid hair, and I can learn, or at least attempt to learn, to navigate the complex waters of emotional volatility that seem to be present in my house all day.
There’s one thing that is still terrifying, though. My daughters are 7, 4, and 11 months, and the older two are still in that phase where they’re supremely self-confident. They unashamedly believe in Santa, play pretend, and wear whatever they want, as long as it’s weather appropriate. They’ve not yet been captured by self-consciousness.
My oldest daughter, Avery, just celebrated her seventh birthday, and for one of the activities at her party, they decorated t-shirts. We bought fabric markers, gave the kids white shirts, and let them go nuts. Most of the kids drew what you’d expect 7 year olds to draw: dragons, Pokemon, My Little Pony, etc.
She drew a rainbow, with two trolls dancing underneath it (we had just seen “Trolls” a few weeks beforehand) and on the front of the shirt, in huge letters, the following message: “Show your true colors, be positive, and be yourself.”
Monday morning, she woke up and proudly put her new shirt and bounced out the door to school, so proud of what she had created.
I remember asking her, “Avery, are you sure that’s what you want to wear?” and her responding with all the confidence in the world that yes, this was indeed what she wanted to wear, because she wanted everybody to be their true selves.
I live in fear of the day that Avery, or Rylee, or Hattie for that matter, lose this supreme sense of who they are. When they are no longer at home in their own skin. When some kid on the playground offers up some cutting remark about their outfit, or their size, or their hair, and they come home broken-hearted because they believe something is wrong with them.
Just open up the search tab in your Instagram app and start looking at the posts. You’ll see carefully edited photos of celebrities all conveying one thing: you have to look like us to be beautiful. Apply the right Snapchat filter, workout long enough, buy the right pants, lose the weight, then you’ll be perfect.
I realize that everybody deals with issues related to body image at some point in life, no matter your gender, but I feel like this is particularly hard on young girls. While I can’t relate to those things that girls go through as they navigate their lives, I’m so thankful to have a wife to help my girls be confident in who they are, and teach them that their physical appearance isn’t’ what makes them who they are.
But I don’t want to lean on my wife to do all of the teaching. I want to help take them through these times as well. I know there are little things that I can do to help. I’ll help them focus on being comfortable with themselves rather than looking the way everyone thinks they should look. When they come out of their rooms dressed in some concoction of stripes, princesses, & polka-dots, encourage them. Instead of sending them back to change because nothing they’re wearing matches, ask them if they’re comfortable. If they are, let it go. Our daughters have a few precious years where they don’t care about what other people think. The world will teach them that, they don’t need to learn it at home.
Maybe we’re in too big of a rush for our kids to grow up. Maybe we’re projecting our own insecurities on our kids when what we should be doing is encouraging them to be exactly who they are.
Our kids are going to have the rest of their lives to worry about the opinions of everybody else. At some point, they’ll stop wearing the homemade Trolls shirt, because it’s embarrassing, or because that girl at school said something about it. At some point, they’ll stop believing in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, they’ll want iPhones, and start seeking the approval of their peers.
All this is not to say that you shouldn’t help your kids navigate the world. If it’s 28 degrees outside and they come out in shorts, make them change. If they haven’t brushed their teeth, send them back to the bathroom. If they’re being unsafe, step in. You’re still their parent. But I wonder if we are so busy trying to turn our kids into mini adults that we’re missing out on their lives.