I get why my mother did what she did. When you’re overworked and way underpaid, and you’re of a generation that thinks kids are to be controlled, rather than reasoned with; and you’re afraid of having to deal with the cascade of hormone-driven adolescent problems that come with being the mom of a girl child, you search for silence. Demand it, even. Talking about tween stuff like periods and first kisses and confidence and beauty wasn’t an option for her, because speaking about it somehow condoned and encouraged a flurry of inappropriate behavior—invited her daughter to be difficult.
Let’s just say difficult wasn’t an option for my mom.
Of course, her no-nonsense parenting style had its plusses: I stayed out of trouble and it kept me focused. But her be-quiet-and-do-only-as-I-say approach gave me a wicked case of low self-esteem—made me uncomfortable with my body, with the opposite sex, with the accolades that came with my successes.
Coping with these things is still a struggle, but I promised that it would be much less so for my girls. From the moment I found out Mari is a girl, I made the conscious decision to help her square her shoulders, walk with her chin held high, be comfortable in her skin, and appreciate who she is, no matter what.
And I work hard at this every… single… day.
For instance, every morning, I lean in and kiss my girls—Mari, 11, and Lila, 8—and triple dog dare them to be brilliant. “Who are you not to be?” I ask. They are, after all, smart girls. And their dad and I invest a massive amount of time and cash on art and music classes, academic enrichment programs, science camps, even Mandarin lessons, to show our girls that our world is huge, and that they don’t have to be average when culture, class, and yes, brilliance can take them places their parents and grands have never gone.
It is these constant reminders—those high expectations—that not only keep the A’s coming, but make my girls proud of their smarts. They are trying to please their parents, sure. But they’re also impressing themselves—planning to be great. Something I was too afraid to do when I was their age.
I was also profoundly uncomfortable with my looks; my kinky hair and my dark skin and my curvaceous body seemed always to be a study in what was wrong with, rather than what was beautiful about, me. And so, ashamed and terribly shy, I hid—always tucked myself into the shadows of my prettier friends, avoided talking to boys at all costs.
I don’t want this for my girls, so I tell them they’re beautiful—every inch of them—everyday. I also make it clear that there is true beauty in being different—kinky hair and plump physiques are just as amazing as any other characteristic pop culture serves up as an ideal. Knowing this not only makes my girls comfortable with their loveliness, but encourages them to forgo judging others because they don’t fit whatever “ideal” others serve up. Do I run the risk of creating conceited monsters? Maybe. But there is honor in loving oneself—in appreciating you, even others don’t.
The most important thing I teach my girls every day, though, is...
To find out the most important lesson I give my girls, CLICK HERE to see in its entirety this post, written exclusively for Unilever's Don't Fret the Sweat campaign. For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing "moments," check out www.DontFrettheSweat.com.