Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

Indisputable

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with the feeling of wanting to tell Leta how remarkably stunning she is. Every parent I know feels this way about their kids, that their children are undeniably beautiful, but I’m often told that I shouldn’t use such quantifiers because she will grow up thinking that her sense of self is directly tied to her beauty, that if I keep commenting on her looks she will learn to think that beauty is more important than it actually is. But when I comb her hair into pigtails and the ends curl in perfect circles under her chin, it is hard to hold back the truth, that she takes my breath away.

Jon likes to tell Leta that she is smart. And she is, she can count to ten in Spanish and put together a 30-piece puzzle. But is this any better than telling her that she is beautiful? Smart is not a neutral quantifier either, and when I was an awkward teenager with crooked teeth and a padded bra I worried just as much about how smart I was as I did over whether or not I would ever have a good hair day.

I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing that we tell her that she is beautiful or smart, as long as she knows we love her despite those things. They have no bearing on how much we love her. The bigger challenge is making her feel and understand something that has taken me a lifetime to learn, something I would have rather heard than any comment on my looks or intelligence. I want her to know that she will always be good enough.

  • rockr girl

    aaahhhh!!! seriously, this made me cry.
    i know that my whole chidlhood, i was told how pretty i am, or how smart, althetic, whatever, and that my parents were proud. but i think maybe all this had lead me to believe subconciously that if i messed up, i would be a huge disappointment, and that was worse than anything. its probably the reason for a lot of my cynicism and secret feelings of failure. and i don’t know how you teach a child that they will always be good enough – because your love is totally 100% unconditional – without ruining the idea of rules and discipline and all that…

    seriously, you tell me if you figure it out, because i have yet to. and i am terrified that i am screwing up some little life everyday. <-- just another bit of proof of the fear of disappointment...

  • All things in moderation is what I say. There’s nothing wrong with a balance between “You’re beautiful, you’re a genius rocket scientist, and I love you when you’re obedient, naughty, tired, happy, angry or sad. Nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you.”

  • andsoitis

    I think it’s important to tell children that you love them, and that you will always love them no matter what. I also think it’s important to tell little girls that they are beautiful and that they are smart. I was never told either. I grew up wondering if I was pretty and finally had to ask my mom when I was about 13. I got straight A’s my entire school life but no one ever said Good Job or Wow Are You Smart or Wow Am I Proud of You. I am now in my 30s and I still can’t feel beautiful and even though I have a graduate degree I never feel smart enough. I always knew I was loved, even though it wasn’t stated often, but I have always questioned my looks AND my intelligence. If I ever have a child I will tell them they are beautiful and smart and more than good enough.

  • rbiggs

    Heather,

    What a wonderful post. This is something that I struggle with daily too. My girls, however, also know that regardless of their looks or intellectual capacity – I will love them forever! It has even become kind of silly. At ages 7 and 9, they will ask things like – “If I had two heads would you love me just as much?” They try to shock me, but I am hard to shock.

  • jess

    you are an amazing mother.

  • Leta is so lucky to have parents like you and John. In a society that pushes brains and beauty, growing up in a household that bold prints “good enough” is so hard to come by.

  • I always compliment my nieces and nephew on their sanity. “Still sane then? Good job!”

    Given their/our heritage, I think maintaining sanity is an admirable goal.

  • JessicaP

    wonderfully amazing post.

  • I did really well on tests growing up. When I was in the 4th grade I got a perfect score on an IQ test and this made the local paper. My high school math teacher was concerned about who I was dating because “I had a responsibility to my genes”. My parents were constantly talking about how smart I was. I went to an Ivy League school and did very well. My whole sense of self-worth was built on being smart and to this day I never feel “good enough”.

    Laurie Berkner has a song for kids called “I’m not perfect” that I think every kid should have.

  • PinkPoppies

    Hey there,
    There’s nothing wrong in telling your child that they are beautiful, smart, kind, generous, wonderful etc. Kids learn from what they hear and fit it into what they already know to make sense of the world. If Leta understands she is beautiful by your definition, she will less likely measure herselkf by the standards imposed by pop culture. If my child shares, or soothes his cousin, he’s being kind and gentle, and learns to recognize it in others. There is beauty in intelligence, and genius in appreciating beauty. I think another post put it very well and when they said if they assume that because of beauty or brains, or both, then they desrve, x, or y, or z without effort, then that’s wrong. Our son knows we love him unconditionally, currentlygap-toothed and wild haired, but he’s still my precious. Pinky

  • MissEmtoo

    You got it exactly right.
    EVERYTHING Leta does, ALL that she is… her beauty, her intelligence, her adorable nose, the way she cocks her head, her lovely hair, her delightful smile, the way she laughs, how often she cries, how well she walks, the way her hands hold crayons (or “crowns” 😉 ), how frequently she hugs you… ALL good enough. Always.

    I have a friend whose daughter was stunning. STUNNING — all tan-skinned and curly-haired with the most amazing chocolate eyes. You couldn’t get past it when looking at her. Then, her daughter lost one of her eyes. And it was suddenly all anyone could talk about… that she’d lost that beauty, or some of it. It made me SO sad, realizing that the “thing” that everyone had defined her by… was gone. Because there had been SO much more to this delightful, wonderful little girl. I wish we’d all noticed and paid more obvious attention to the other amazing parts of her BEFORE.

    So now, when people fawn over my daughter and swear that she’s just the most beautiful creature, sure, I agree. She is… 😉 But she’s so much more than that, and I make sure that I let her know it.

    Like Leta, above ALL else, I want her to know that, no matter what she does, no matter what she looks like… she will ALWAYS be just right. ALWAYS be good enough.

    Thanks for putting all of this into perspective, Heather.

  • rebecca

    I’ve always made a point of telling my both my son and my daughter that they were beautiful and smart and kind and loved. It’s worked so well that my almost 4-year old daughter had the following discussion with her dad the other night:

    “I’m beautiful and pretty with my hair in a ponytail.”

    yes you are, sweetheart. you get that from your mother.

    “Yes, but I’m prettier.”

    LOL!

    She also informed me last night that EVERYONE loves her, except the people in China, and that’s just because they don’t know her.

  • Amy D.

    Kudos…I think that’s the perfect way to look at this issue. I have piebaldism (a skin pigmentation thing, I have spots!) and was always in the academically-gifted programs. All I ever wanted as a kid/teenager was to NOT be so freaking special! That led me to do a lot of stupid things to try and ‘fit in’ and ‘be cool’ and less of a ‘smart’ kid…it was all great fun, but I certainly compromised my self-respect along the way, and that’s not something that’s easy to re-acquire. I think you’ll help Leta avoid a lot of those problems just by being willing to listen to her talk about how she feels, and not just blow it off. My mom always just said “don’t worry about what they say about you.” Because that’s so easy to do, right? Just let her know that even if she’s known by the company she keeps, there’s NO shame at all in not being like them and doing what they’re doing….individuality is a difficult thing to embrace.

  • Meg

    Ah, my mom said this to me a week ago, and I swear, at 32, it’s saving my life that they love me like they do.

  • I had parents who told me both, and I bet most people did. And I’m still insecure as hell on both counts! Go figure.

  • Beauty on the outside comes from beauty on the inside. I tell my kids all the time that they’re beautiful, and I make sure they know that I’m talking about both kinds of beauty.

  • Wow, Heather. If you ever figure out how to get that message across, please let the rest of us know. You rock.

  • ktjane

    that last sentence…
    that’s what i wish someone would have told me.

    no, wait, what i still wish someone would tell me – even though i wouldn’t believe it.

  • Lolo

    I think the greatest gift my parents ever gave me – and this includes a new car when I graduated from college – was the deep-down, unshakable knowledge that I am a great person and that, just the way I am, I’m completely and eminently LOVABLE. That’s gotten me through a lot of bad times and bad people.

    It’s more important, to me, than feeling pretty or smart, because those things come and go. Being loved and lovable, that lasts forever.

  • Krooie

    Growing up, I was often told I was smart. That was nice, and I believed it. I was never, however, told that I was beautiful. And now, at age 42, when my wonderful boyfriend tells me I’m beautiful, I still have a hard time believing it.

    You are telling Leta exactly what she needs to hear. She’s lucky to have you both as parents.

  • Lolo

    I think the greatest gift my parents ever gave me – and this includes a new car when I graduated from college – was the deep-down, unshakable knowledge that I am a great person and that, just the way I am, I’m completely and eminently LOVABLE. That’s gotten me through a lot of bad times and bad people.

    It’s more important, to me, than feeling pretty or smart, because those things come and go. Being loved and lovable, that lasts forever.

  • dlouise

    The world’s worst case of late-thirties PMS ever + this tidbit = workplace weeping.

  • I think it is important for kids to hear both that they are smart and beautiful. Especially from parents.

    Kids go into the real world and just hear how they need to better themselves. How they are not as pretty or smart as someone else. And it is true. But it is good for them to have a core belief that they are pretty and smart. It balances it out.

  • Mercedes

    This is an amazing, insightful post!
    I’m 24, I drink and curse like a sailor — and as far as parties are concerned, costume or otherwise, I also “always go as the girl who is there to drink all the alcohol.” The postings about your daughter and family life have given me faith that if my future includes these things I’ll be able to adjust and enjoy, and not lose myself. Thanks Ms. Armstrong.

  • sdpfeiffy

    My beautiful (step) daughter will graduate from high school this weekend. Many, many people have told her that she’s gorgeous (which she is) but she still points out her physical flaws to herself and others. She is also witty, intelligent, and extremely kind-hearted. In spite of all of this (and due to lots of problems with her bio mom) I still have to remind her that she is and will always be *good enough*. For some reason, it’s hard to convince females of their outstanding characteristics.
    A good friend of mine has a daughter who was very assertive as a toddler and young child. My friend worried that her daughter would be perceived as “too smart, or too bossy” and asked if she should try to rein in her daughter. I quietly told her that life (and middle school) would diminish those tendencies by at least 50%, so she should encourage her daughter to be exactly who she wanted to be. (Much to my sadness, I was right.)
    (By the way–Leta is gorgeous. And she’s so so lucky to have such fabulous parents.)

  • I looked at that video of her singing, and I thought, “Wow, she’s turning into such a little lady!” Leta is for sure beautiful and quite smart. You can’t hold back the truth, but yeah, it’s good to keep her head near the ground, where things that are more important matter.

  • I struggle with this subject, as I’m a Mom of a teenaged girl. I want my daughter to know she’s beautiful, inside and out. I want her to know that she’s brilliant, conscientious and amazing as well. My biggest fear as she’s a teenager, is that she’ll put too much worth on her body, or boys, (or since she’s not there right now, that other people will influence her that way) and become depressed, or anorexic, or something life-threateningly devastating. At no point when my daughter was a toddler, did it ever occur to me how much in fear I’d be of her emotional well being at the tender age of 13. It’s frightening. If she read this right now, she’d tell me to “Chill, I’m smarter than that Mom.”

    I’m so with you on the “good enough”. You are wise for including that with Leta. I CONSTANTLY convey to my children that I love them NO MATTER WHAT! No matter what. That’s not negotiable.

    Moving post.

  • Beautiful and so wise. I particularly love that you want Leta to know that you love her despite the brains and beauty.

  • Seth

    The best thing my wife and I have done with our 3-year-old is tell her she can control her emotions and her decisions.

    It sounds a bit weird, I know, but we’ve taught her a very simple breathing technique for when she goes into one of her “OCD Threes” rages if someone walks incorrectly down the hall.

    The best thing I’ve ever heard her say is “Mommy and Daddy I calmed myself down!”

    Best. Phrase. Ever.

    It sucks, mostly because they’re pulling away from you anyway, but teaching your kid to be independent and self-reliant and telling them they have the power to achieve is incredibly powerful.

    Which isn’t to say we don’t lavish her with “smart” and “beautiful” all the time, but we’re aware – as you are – that no matter what, we love her.

    Oh, and if you’re in the tearjerking mood today, watch Fred Rogers testifying before Congress in 1969 on behalf of funding for PBS and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood [Via Waxy]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Sd7TcVH670

  • Arwen

    The last sentence of this post is so, so right on that it took my breath away.

    I had a wonderful childhood and have great parents who did a lot of stuff right, but the single most important thing they did for me was to make me understand that, although they thought I was beautiful and smart, they loved me in spite of that stuff and not because of it. That no matter what I did, I would always be good enough for them.

    It actually kind of bugged me when I was a kid… my friends would bring home As or even Bs on their report cards and their parents would given them money as a reward. Meanwhile, I’d bring home straight As and my dad would hug me and say, “We’re very proud of you, but you know you’re precious to us no matter what grades you get.” I thought my dad was such a dork!

    But now I’m grown up and married and my twenty-five-year-old husband is still struggling to please his parents, and I’ve finally realized just how priceless it is to know that my parents will love me whatever I do, that I really am good enough for them. Their unconditional love is one of the most important things I have.

    Incidentally, Leta is pretty darn beautiful.

  • As a mother of a 15-year old, I have a comment to add to that. It’s possible that a day will come when you will wish that Leta would be better than she is making an effort to be. You were an over-achiever, right Heather? Try maintaining that stance when your child is an under-achiever. It’s very difficult to make them feel accepted for “who they are” when you know they should be doing so much better. I’m sure my daughter does not feel “good enough” some days, but does that mean I lower my expectations? It’s tough…

  • PrincessMo

    My mom told me that I was smart and pretty and talented, and that she loved me…but also that she LIKED me a whole lot too. She liked me so much, she said, that she would even like me if I was not her kid and she met me somewhere else and she didn’t already know how smart and pretty and talented I was.

  • HannahB

    Remember that beauty isn’t just about appearance. When Jon wrote that this was a beautiful post, he didn’t mean that the font was attractive or that the colors coordinated pleasingly (although all that is true). He meant that it was honest, and thoughtful, and kind. Beauty is all of those things, along with prettiness. If you teach Leta that beauty is as much about singing for her farting aunt as it is about “smooshness,” she will grow up to be not just a good enough person, but a great person. She’s on her way, and she has 2 beautiful parents to thank for that.
    Hannah
    Charlottesville, Va

  • I tell my kids their pretty (even my son) and smart all the time. When I was growing up people always told me I was “cute.” Not the same as pretty, but I think it helped me be secure enough about my looks that I didn’t obsess over them. I think it helped me free my self worth, not pin it on my looks.

  • FashMags

    Later on, when she is a hormonal & obnoxious teen – you can present her with a bound copy of your beautiful love notes to her. That should stop her in her tracks! You rock.

  • first of all, leta is beautiful, and her pigtails make me want to bite her head. second, my mother calls me beautiful all the time, and it doesn’t make me feel like my self worth is tied to loveliness… the thing is, when it’s your mom, you don’t believe her so much. 🙂 it’s more that it teaches you that when someone loves you, they think you’re beautiful.

  • Beautiful post! Well said. I never had a sense of enough, and I went all over the place trying to figure out how to define it. I think that teaches you to look to others for validation, and when you do that, you’re never enough. I’ve felt like that for a long time. Thanks for putting it into words.

  • MomO’Grace

    Even though she’s 12 going on 20 I still put my beautiful girl to sleep with: “I’ll love you forever / I’ll love you for always / As long as I’m living / My baby you’ll be.” I do think think it’s important to let her know that she will always be entitled to these affirmations from me. And it may be a little too hippie-dippie but I believe that these are the kinds of affirmations that make people appreciate the good and wonderful things in the world rather than crave, or certainly claim entitlement, to the less important things.

  • I tell my children they are beautiful inside and out.

    When my 8yo was about 6, he did something clever (can’t remember specifically) and a dialoge insued…

    I said “Good job! you are very smart”
    He replied “Yea, I know!”
    and my husband added “And he’s humble, too”.

  • caitlin

    that gave me goosebumps.

  • The most meaningful compliment I have ever gotten from my parents is “We’re proud of you.” It has nothing to do with my appearance, or my intellect…and yet it always feels so amazing to hear.

  • chelle

    I also struggle with how to/ not to tell my daughter how beautiful she is. I make a point of telling her just as often how strong she is, how smart, funny, etc. Because I’m one of those parents who is in the process of healing the wounds from my own childhood as I raise my daughter with loving care (its not a concious effort, the healing just happens) I am always afraid of overdoing it with praise becuase I never heard it enough from my own mother. I don’t want to smother her, or make her full of herself or make her immune to the praise.

    My brother and I talk about this issue all the time, and how the over-praising from our mother (specifically about his looks) affected him in a negative way. Because she put such an emphasis on his good looks (his nick-name was “Handsome”, and I rarely remember her using his acutal name in conversation) when he became an adult with a self esteem issue, not thinking himself handsome after all, he didn’t really know what he was left with. As siblings, we are the perfect example of how over and under emphasizing a child’s physical beauty by a parent can be desctructive.

    I think Heather, as long as your heart is obviously in the right place, your intentions are the very best as you praise her, or compliment her beauty, it will land in the right place. After all, your Leta is GORGEOUS!!

    Michelle

  • jenjifer

    Since he was little I’ve been telling my oldest that he’s gorgeous. Well, imagine my embarrassment one day (he was three at the time) when my mom called him “cute”, and in a disgusted tone he corrected her, “no I’m not, I’m GORGEOUS!!!”

    Leta is wonderful, and so are you.

  • Take it from a kid whose parents told her on a regular basis how unattractive and stupid she was, it’s OK to tell Leta those things. Like it or not, the voice we hear in our heads is that of our parents- until we can find our own voice. I’m glad for Leta that you guys are filling her with positive images of herself.

    And it tickles me that you and Jon have the foresight to go even further, to let her know that she is a good and worthy person- that her internal value can not be measured. There are no scales or tests for that kind of beauty.

  • PG32

    definitely tell your kids they are beautiful AND smart and perfect in their imperfections…home is where you should feel complete and exactly as you should be.

    Bretley, that’s just sad honey.

  • “I want her to know that she will always be good enough.”

    Good call. That’s a concept I’m still trying to get my brain to realize.

  • ShanH

    When I was little, my parents told me both that I was smart, and that I was beautiful. My dad’s nickname for me was “pretty girl.” It seems odd now that I’ve typed it, but it always sounded sweet (despite the fact that he and I no longer speak).

    But the one thing I remember the most is my mom saying, “Shannon, Shannon, Shannon, why do I love you SO much?” And my answer, the correct answer always was, “Just because I’m me.”

    I think as long as Leta understands that your love is unconditional (and I cannot imagine her ever thinking something else from everything I’ve read here), the comments about her beauty and brains can only support her self-esteem.

    You seem like a great mom, Heather.
    -Shannon

  • Bretley

    Oh Heather, please do tell her. My parents never told me I was pretty or beautiful, though they did praise me for my smarts. I wanted to believe I was beautiful too, and it was hard never to hear it.

    One day, I think I was about 4, I sat in a chair in front of a mirror we had in our dining room. I studied my face – nice big brown eyes, nose not too big or too small, one cute dimple and a handful of freckles, and soft brown curls. I decided then, empirically, that I was pretty. I told this to my mother, “Mom, I was looking at myself, and I think I’m kind of pretty.” She snickered at me. Hand to God. And I have never, ever been convinced I am pretty since then.

  • Chelley

    I think you hit the nail right on the head with the “good enough” comment. My parents always told me that I was pretty, but not the prettiest girl. They told me that I was smart, but never seemed completely happy with my accomplishments. I could have always “done better”.

    Now, at 36, I still struggle with feelings of not being good enough. My boyfriend loves me, but won’t marry me … so in my mind, that translates to “not good enough”.

    Please always remind Leta that she IS good enough.

  • PG32

    It never goes away Heather. My youngest will be 7 this year and I found myself, just last night, looking at him while he slept thinking “he is so perfect and cute and adorable”. Of course, I could never say those things while he was awake or he’d be mortified! But I still find time as often as he’ll stand still to tell him I think he’s terrific in every way.