To begin, I want to give a loving, sincere shout out to all the parents (in every shape, age, and form) who work diligently to ensure the mental and emotional health of their children and the children around them. You are warriors against an established community-thought of how we are supposed to look, supposed to act, supposed to exist. Not only are you fighting this with awkward conversations with your children, but you are fighting it within yourselves as well! You, the parents of today’s youth, have one of the hardest jobs in the world and I tip my hat to you.
I was inspired to write this by something I read in my Facebook newsfeed – a friend of mine, who I have known since middle school, has just recently had her first dose of painful self-esteem reality with her three year old daughter. A daughter who is afraid to go to school dressed a certain way because the other children will laugh at her. It is heart breaking. What do you say to something like that? How do you build her in strength rather than encourage doubt? How do you make sure she feels loved and brave and smart and beautiful all day long when you aren’t there to remind her?
Now, I may not be a mother, but I have worked with children as a pre-school teacher and as a component of Child Protective Services (which is the same thing, right? Riiiight.) In that time I have observed some interesting psychology. Mostly, and this should come as no surprise, that children are a mirror of you. Absolutely and completely. If ever I was curious about the home life of the three year olds in my classroom all I had to do was watch them playing “house” or dress up. We even had a little girl shout out to a kid on the playground when his mom arrived “You better get your f**kin coat!” (We all about died.)
Children pick up on our ticks. Our fears. Our speech patterns. Down to the inflection in our voice and the placement of our hands when we are angry. It’s a terrifying thought. These little people are watching our every move, immolating us. Even when we think we’re alone, they’re watching. Listening.
They are watching when we take selfies and say, “Oh God! I look awful! Let’s do it again.”
They are watching when we step on the scale and sigh in defeat.
They are watching when we decide not to eat a cookie because we are on a diet.
They are watching as we put on our make-up.
They are watching when we complain about hating our job, but still go every morning.
They are watching when the self-doubt creeps in.
They are watching when you talk on the phone with your mother or your friend about your neighbor.
They are watching as we throw our clothes around the room because we can’t find anything to wear.
They are watching as we pinch our sides and thighs and upper arms.
They are watching as we airbrush and edit our photos.
They are watching as we yell at the television over a football game.
They are learning.
They hear our negative self-talk and they grow to believe it is normal. And they take it all in as gospel. I remember learning to focus on a child’s actions rather than their character – so saying things like “Thank you for sharing” or “Thank you for using your walking feet” or “Use your words” rather than telling them they are good or bad. The idea is that by not focusing on their character it offers them the opportunity to build it themselves rather than believing they are simply good or bad.
Now let’s take this and apply it to ourselves. What defines you as an individual, a parent, a spouse? What words come to mind immediately when you talk about yourself to yourself? Are you beautiful? Are you honest? Brave? Stupid? Fat? Weak? Strong? Perfect? Overwhelmed? Afraid? Unstoppable? Intelligent? Diligent? Organized? Spiritual?
What words would you like your child to use when describing themselves? What words do you fear they will use?
It is your job as a parent to remind them every chance you have how inspiring, kind, and loving they are – how absolutely perfect they are just as they are.
It is my job to remind you every chance I have of how inspiring, kind, and loving you are – how absolutely perfect you are just as you are. On your days of doubt I want to remind you how flawlessly capable you are of all things laid before you. When you can’t find the words, I am here to remind you they aren’t necessary – your spirit, your time, your embrace is enough to heal all wounds and is often the best medicine. You, my darling friends (and strangers), are uniquely beautiful in action. I love you all.
Never forget the light within you burns brighter than the confusion of this world. We might push it down and hide it underneath layers of magazine covers and false inadequacies, but it is always there, always burning.
And I can see it.