It seems to be a growing fad for parents to reflect upon their actions and realize that they’ve been completely bullying their children through harsh disciplinary tactics.
This is in no way a bad thing! It is truly beautiful to see compassionate parents realizing that how we treat our children and the words we use will shape the kind of adults they become, and it is exciting to see this attitude in parenting turn into a norm rather than treated like some kind of “hippy fad”.
One great example of this was seen in a beautiful blog I read this evening written by a mother who realized that she was bullying her child, completely by accident. In her hope to encourage and inspire her child to improve in a skill, the mother actually tore her daughter down. Her daughter began to doubt her ability and ultimately, it destroyed all love of the activity.
All through reading it, I felt both joy for this mother and her realization, but also another feeling was buzzing underneath. It was a feeling that had me disturbed by the whole story and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I reflected upon the feeling that something was missing here, and the statement this mother wrote;
“Over time, my constant critiques and exasperated breaths led her to believe she was no good.
Over time, I’d broken her beautiful spirit—the one that gave her a unique and radiant light.”
At that point, I went back to the top of the document and reread the very first sentence-
“If you needed to lose weight, what would be most motivating?”
That’s when it hit me. The idea that stressing about weight was just a normal thing, expected and accepted. It suddenly clicked what had me upset- This is the ultimate “Do as I say, not as I do” situation! A mother’s compassionate realization that she needed to be more mindful of her daughter’s feelings while never mentioning, what I believe, is a key component of that process.
I sat there thinking to myself, “What about YOUR weight issues, mom? What about YOUR self-confidence? What about YOUR esteem?” (Not necessarily THAT mom, I don’t know her or if she even has these issues.)
Suddenly, I thought of all the moms I know who have teens and young children who openly bash themselves both in person and on Facebook. These moms obsess over their weight; forever on some kind of diet. They obsess over their appearance; their make-up has to be flawless just to go to the super market and every photo on Facebook (if they even allow photos to be taken and don’t run screaming from the camera) is a selfie with their head cocked and kissy lips, sticking their chests out and sucking their tummies in and doing all they can to look beautiful- hardly any “real” photos of them actually exist with them just smiling like a normal person and enjoying life. Their hair is a constant subject of torment and has to be dyed, styled and perfected before anyone can see them.
They scoff at compliments while secretly soaking them in like a dry creek bed, roll their eyes with some sarcastic comment about how the person is wrong or they explain away the comment with statements like, “oh, well, I was only able to afford this dress because it was on clearance at Ross, it’s nothing special” or, “It’s pretty isn’t it? I just wish my fat arms didn’t look so awful in it” or, “The dress is fine, if it weren’t for my fat stomach, it would look great”. If someone suggests to these moms that they are great, beautiful, kind, or smart, they have a knee jerk reply at the ready, some kind of comment that puts themselves down, down plays the compliment, sometimes even making the complimentee feel guilty for bringing it up because it turns on them with statements like, “oh wow, that’s amazing coming from you, I mean, you’re so much more beautiful/talented/creative/etc. than I am!!” Or they reply with some offhanded, snarky remark about how the person is wrong and must be blind, or, “I’m only put together today because I had 6 cups of coffee and spent an hour with a cucumber on my eyes” – as though it isn’t possible for them to look beautiful just because they ARE beautiful.
These women, most women, in fact… Can find something terrible to say about themselves at a moments notice. They’ve done it so often, that they simply cannot just stay quiet and accept a compliment without at LEAST a snicker or an eye roll. It’s not even a conscious reaction for most of them.
Through these comments and commentary about ourselves and our own body image, we make it abundantly clear exactly what value we place upon physical appearance and how important we believe beauty and these superficial things; weight, gray hair, un-plucked eyebrows, make-up and clothing actually are. We show them through our own example how VERY MUCH we actually DO care about fitting in and being physically beautiful, so when we tell our girls, “honey you are amazing, perfect and beautiful JUST AS YOU ARE, don’t worry about those mean girls you don’t have to be like them to be beautiful!”… they know that isn’t true. If it were, you would believe it, too. And you don’t. And they know it. See, there is difference between, “I’m not feeling great about how I look and feel, so I’m going to work out or eat better or take some time to take care of myself” and “I’m a hag, I need 2 pounds of make up and to eat nothing but a pea and a glass of water for a week in order to feel worthy of going out into society”. (Okay, obviously I’m exaggerating, most people don’t say that but you get my point, right?) One teaches our kids the value of taking care of themselves and might encourage them to do so, as well- and the other, shows them that we value our appearance more than we value our Selves and we value other’s opinions more than anything else.
What are we saying to our daughters when we say things like, “oh I am such a fat cow- I ate a whole cheeseburger today. I might as well bring out the “fat” jeans or spend the next two weeks starving myself and killing it at the gym”?
We are saying is, “if you eat a whole cheeseburger, you’re a fat cow and you will need “fat girl” clothes, you should starve yourself and go work out.”
When we say, “ugh… I look disgusting without makeup the circles under my eyes are hideous!” what we are telling our daughters, is “ugh… It’s disgusting to go out without make-up and if you have dark circles under your eyes, it’s hideous and you better cover that up, asap!”
Example; A girl once told me, “I need to buy the really expensive eye cream”. Shocked, I said… “um, you’re 16. Why do you need to buy eye cream??” She replied, “Well, I have a huge problem with these nasty dark circles (I could see nothing under her eyes but her gorgeous, 16 year old skin)… my mom has them too and she hates it, so I want to make sure mine never get that bad.” My reply; “honey, it’s not “dark circles” on you, OR your mother. You’re not white. It’s your genetics. It’s beautiful, YOU are beautiful and so is your mother and you have NOTHING to cover up. In fact, because it’s your biology and not some skin condition or malnutrition, cream isn’t even going to work so save your money and go buy a CD instead.” She just looked at me like I had three heads. It had never occurred to her that there really wasn’t anything wrong with her face. I think she bought the cream anyway and I was sad for her. She was a direct result of her mother’s low self-esteem and I knew she had a hard road ahead, fighting not only her OWN demons, but her mother’s, too.
I have to wonder if these moms realize it, that by dismissing compliments and berating themselves so openly, they are teaching their girls to hate those same qualities in themselves. Daughters see how their mothers can never live up to their own expectations, so then the task of being capable of the same, seems too daunting to even try. Girls with moms like this are forever battling their image of who they think their mom wants them to be based on how their mom wishes SHE, HERSELF could be. If we are not careful, we end up trapping our daughters in a web of negative self worth and impossible expectation. It’s not just girls, it’s our sons too! Don’t think they are not plagued with body issues just as much as girls, in fact it can even be worse for boys because there is such a stigma in our culture that boys should be “above it” and not care about their appearances. Our tender-hearted little boys are looking to you, to show them what confidence looks like and if they can’t see it in you, they won’t see it in them and they won’t aspire to find women who have it in themselves.
So, for all these beautiful sentiments I see online, denouncing comparison games (everyone else is already finished- hurry up!), bullying (what is wrong with you, stop spilling your drink, butterfingers!), and using “cutting down” as means for attempted motivation (I know you can do this better- try again- we will keep doing it till you get it right!), I have yet to see a single piece on self-deprecation and how this translates directly to our children as yet another means of judgement, albiet a more passive-aggressive version, but just as damaging nonetheless.
So I’m just going to be the one to say it.
Moms- stop bashing yourself.
Deal with your self-esteem issues and quit fishing for compliments through self-deprecating comments. Stop saying this crap about how you’re not beautiful, you’re not smart or that your hair is mousy or too thin or too wirey or too straight or your eyebrows are too dark or too bushy, that your arms are too big and your chin is too fat and knock it off with the constant dieting and the forever commenting on your own weight and what you look like in your clothes. Your children WILL hear it, soak that in and directly reflect it upon themselves. Every time you do this, you are teaching them it’s okay to do it, and that just isn’t true. Every time you say something like, “I can’t go out without my lipstick and concealer”- you are proving that the whole, “You’re beautiful just as you are” line is a bunch of crap. Your children are not idiots. They hear you and they understand that if YOU don’t believe it, they have absolutely no reason to believe it when you say it to them. You can’t leave the house without make-up on, THEY will learn that they cant, either.
We have the power, mamas. We can instill within them a true sense of personal pride, a set of tools to take with them on their journey through life, as well as the battles within themselves… Or we can create more wars for them to wage by pinning our own ego problems on their backs and sending them mixed messages their entire lives about value, self worth and what TRUE confidence really looks like. We need to teach them, through our own example, that there is a HUGE difference and a fine line between personal growth/self-improvement and self-bashing/ego-feeding behavior. We have to own our issues and overcome them so our children don’t inherit them.
“Like mother, like daughter” they say… don’t you want to know that you raised a confident woman who knows her worth because she had YOU for an example?
It’s up to us to show them the difference through our SELF-LOVING example, that they are beautiful, perfect and amazing just the way they are.
Because whether you are willing to accept it, YOU, mama… are beautiful, perfect and amazing, JUST.THE.WAY.YOU.ARE.