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.

  • Bravo, dooce! I wish more people put half as much thought as you have into how to instill senses of self-worth and personal pride in their children.

    and for good measure, would you mind calling me and telling me I’m good, no matter what? 😉

  • There ya go babe. you’re ready for number two. Child # 2 that is!

  • Ter

    I’ve always told my kids they’re beautiful — even my boys. I know I’m reacting to their sheer physical beauty, but it’s more than that: everything about them is beauty to me, including how they feel in my arms, how they make me feel at the moment I’m doing something with/for them, a moment of joy I would never otherwise experience — I’m certain as parents that we call our children beautiful because of so many variables, not just their appearance — at least that’s how I’ve always felt. I can just talk about one of my children, without them being present, and describe how beautiful they are.

    Having said that, I don’t think you can ever tell your kids enough how beautiful/smart they are — so many people say so many damaging things to their children & to tell our children how special we (as parents) think they are is totally cool.

    This post really made me feel good — thank you.

  • Wow. What a truly amazing post. Thank you for sharing it with us. Now we just need all the other parents in the world to get that message across!

  • My father is dying of cancer, and as I drove away from my last visit, these words flew into my head, “I turned out pretty good, and he knows it.” And then I burst into tears.

    All I ever wanted was to measure up. Now all I want is more time to measure.

    Good for you to see how important that message is, for it is probably the most overlooked one.

  • kawaface

    love no matter what. it’s such an important thing for children to know, i think.

    my mom would tell me i was beautiful when i was feeling ugly…it surely must be nice to be told that for no reason, not just as a way to cheer up.

  • Trouble in Mind

    My folks did a great job at making me feel like I was loved no matter what. I am tring to pass that same sense of security on to my (nearly) eight year old son. I tell him he is handsome (he doesn’t like the word ‘cute’) and smart and funny and most of all that I love him ‘no matter what’.

    I also tell him that even when he is a wrinkly old man with a long gray beard, he will still be my little baby boy. He has learned to laugh and roll his eyes at the same time.

  • GoodTxGirl

    My boys are 15 and 20 and I still tell them how handsome and wonderful they are each and every day. No one was around to tell me those things when I was growing up so I vowed to NEVER let a day go by without telling my children how important they are in this world….and that they are loved, no matter what!

  • Oh, god. You know, I struggled with that with my girls, too… tell them they are more beautiful to me than any other being on the planet? Tell them they are the most brilliant girls I have ever known? Tell them I will always love them, no matter what? I finally settled on D) All of the above, and it seems to be working well so far.
    Wish they gave out instruction manuals for these things when you pop ’em out, but they don’t. Sounds to me like you have a damn good handle on it, though.

  • GoodTxGirl

    My boys are 15 and 20 and I still tell them how handsome and wonderful they are each and every day. No one was around to tell me those things when I was growing up so I vowed to NEVER let a day go by without telling my children how important they are in this world….and that they are loved, no matter what!

  • snubbed

    I think hearing positive things is really important to a child. I’ve never thought of separating comments about looks from those about intelligence etc., because I think all of these are encouraging. I thik that as long as you also tell her that she is good enough, and she always will be, then any compliment will just add to her truly believing that she is.

    I often tell my little guy that he’s perfect… No human really is, but in the eyes of those who love him truly, he is perfect. We wouldn’t change anything about him…

    I say go ahead and shower her with compliments, and back them up with assurance that she will always be good enough. Period.
    🙂

  • What a beautiful post. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to tell Leta she’s beautiful. She is! And besides, isn’t beauty just the spark of life and goodness and promise that’s inside her? Children are beautiful because they’re fresh and pure and just because you can see it in her face doesn’t mean it’s not as “real” or it’s less meaningful as praising her kindness or her patience.

    You’ve made my birthday (today) even nicer. Thanks!

  • I apologize for not reading all the previous comments, but I applaud you for weighing your words carefully as you choose which ones to laud upon your daughter. I would not hesitate to use “beautiful” or “smart.” I would caution you about calling her “special.” Lately, it seems a lot of the spoiled young brats of the world took that compliment the wrong way as they heard it growing up, and it has given them the idea that they are more-deserving of the species. They have used it to justify actions that are unappealing and selfish.

    Then again, I can’t believe I even commented. You are fantastic parents, and just neurotic enough that Leta will come away with confidence and a sense of what’s right and wrong in this world.

    And she is beautiful, inside and out!

  • i don’t know if someone already mentioned this or not, but last night when there was nothing else on i watched “shalom in the home” on tlc, and if you don’t already know it’s a little jewish guy named schmuly [schmoo-LEE] who travels around in a silver mobil home to help families.

    anyway, your entry just now was pretty much exactly word for word what last night’s episode was about, it was kind of eerie.

    and you are absolutely right, and now you can say the jewish therapist guy agrees with you, so you KNOW you are right.

    🙂

  • Here’s my two cents.

    As long as you are saying positive things to her, it doesn’t matter. Tell her she’s beautiful. Tell her she’s smart. Tell her you are proud of her. No harm can come of it as long as it’s positive.

  • textilesdiva

    You seem to have a good handle on this parenting thing (as best one can).

  • I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling someone they are pretty or smart. Then again, being told both can lead to problems, or being forced to be one or the other can lead to problems. Last night’s episode of Shalom in the Home was a prime example. But it sounds like Leta is neither being forced to be something she isn’t, nor is she being showered with too much praise. You are just being parents, giving your child unconditional love and acceptance. And that is beautiful.

    That post was amazing, Heather.

  • I have five girls and given this a lot of thought. I don’t know that there is any one ‘right’ answer. I think we need to tell them they are beautiful just as much as we need to tell them they are smart. I also think that at some point, they are going to discount both of those as “Well, you’re my MOM so you *have* to think that.” and write us off altogether.

    I remember once my mom telling me how OBSERVANT I was. That stuck. I think it was because she pointed out that most kids my age were not that. I was also labeled as CREATIVE and that stuck too. I think when we give genuine praise on what makes our child special from others, that might be what they remember.

    But I still think we need to tell them all the other stuff too, just because if we don’t, our hearts just may BURST with it all.

    Even with praise of the physical, as they get older, I would say be SPECIFIC. My 2nd daughter was always told she had very full and beautiful lips and a great arch to her eye brows. She believed that ’cause it resonated.

    You can mention Leta’s eye brow arch but she might not really appreciate that until she’s older. LOL

    By the way, Leta has the most beautiful large sincere looking eyes… and oh, those lashes. Yes, we all think that they are just incredibly beautiful. Because they all are.

  • nicklebee

    This entry finally drove me to comment. I know others have said something similar, but that last statement is so important. My mother once told me that I was pretty, but not beautiful, and it crushed me. I always got the feeling that I did good in school, but I could do better. Everything was like that.

    My boyfriend on the other hand has such a supportive family/extended family and I know he feels like he will be good enough no matter what. I wish I know how that felt. Even though I love my parents, at 23 I’m just starting to feel like it’s possible to be good enough, just as I am. And I have promised myself that I will make sure any I children I have in the future will know that about themselves.

    I hope you are able to teach Leta that, it’s the most important message you can give her. She is smart, she is beautiful, and she is good enough no matter what. All these things are important.

  • nicklebee

    This entry finally drove me to comment. I know others have said something similar, but that last statement is so important. My mother once told me that I was pretty, but not beautiful, and it crushed me. I always got the feeling that I did good in school, but I could do better. Everything was like that.

    My boyfriend on the other hand has such a supportive family/extended family and I know he feels like he will be good enough no matter what. I wish I know how that felt. Even though I love my parents, at 23 I’m just starting to feel like it’s possible to be good enough, just as I am. And I have promised myself that I will make sure any I children I have in the future will know that about themselves.

    I hope you are able to teach Leta that, it’s the most important message you can give her. She is smart, she is beautiful, and she is good enough no matter what. All these things are important.

  • VeddyVeddyBadAng

    You know, my mom told me I was beautiful all the time, but I never really believed it. I figured she HAD to tell me that, because I was her daughter, and was therefore biased. She also told me I was smart, but THAT I believed. (Mainly because I could figure that out myself by looking at my report card). The people who really informed me of my relative “beauty” was my peers, and they told me I was an ugly nerd, which I thoroughly believed until late high school.

    In reality, the thing that meant the most was that my Mom told me she loved me, and never acted disappointed if I failed. I think she could tell that I was beating myself up plenty – enough for the both of us!

  • A couple years ago my niece said to my Mom “Grandma do you know why people like me?” To which Mom responded “Because you’re smart? Funny? Kind?” “No Grandma, people like me because I’m PRETTY.” (During this time, the first words out of people’s mouths upon meeting my niece were “My, you are so pretty!”

    Needless to say my brother, my niece’s father, was horrified.

    It’s a constant struggle to find the balance between praising one’s child for their beauty (internal & external) without it turning into the only quality they think they encompass.

  • Jordan

    Go Mama! Go!

    Growing up I thought my mother was the most beautiful person in the world, and, because everyone told me I looked like my dad, I never thought I was pretty. When I was 13, after our 8th grade party, my mom told me I looked beautiful. It’s the only time I can remember her saying that to me while I was growing up. She wanted me to be smart and confident, and that pretty wasn’t as important.

    Now my husband tells me I’m pretty all the time. For years I didn’t believe him. Three weeks after our wedding I cut all my hair off, and the lady styled my hair with it’s natural curl, something I do very rarely. When she turned me around to look in the mirror I choked, because I looked so incredibly like my mom it was scary. My husband freaked and made me wash my hair and “fix it.” To this day it makes me laugh, but really, it was that moment that made me realize that I was, in fact, pretty. I was almost 25 years old. That is WAY too old to start feeling comfortable in your own skin.

    Tell her she’s pretty AND smart AND loved. Because, she is all of those things and more. You guys are awesome.

  • I too hope I can let my son know that he will always be good enough.

  • 30yr.plan

    Frequent reader, first time comment….er… didn’t want to sign up for anything because I am just that lazy. Compelled to write today because I was thinking the SAME thing yesterday. I tell my 10 month old all the time that she is so pretty. Then add random things like….and funny! and creative! and you smell nice! Probably confusing her….or she has no idea either way because she can understand 3 words at this point. I worry too much.

  • Shanni O

    You know, every time I see a picture of her I think
    “God she is just such a little cutie” and she’s not even mine, so I don’t know how you couldn’t tell her. I love those eyelashes, the skin and the perfect little lips. She’s your own Disney princess. The photo of her and Chuck is so sweet it speaks volumes. That picture makes me taste the water, hear the giggles in the air and the sun on my skin. I was trasported back to being little and carefree. Thanks for sharring. This is always my little break of the day to check in on you and your family. My son is going on ten and I feel like we must have been on fast forward by accident. Where did it go ? I’m feeling like if I go to bed tonight he’ll be leaving for college tomorrow. Enjoy her, spoil her with love & attention and all the praising you can because life can be challenging.

  • plantain

    I have a 6 month boy…
    I remember reading that you should try and avoid gender specific praise… like “Oh, who’s my big, strong boy?”…. but it just kind of slips out doesn’t it?

  • Mack’sMom

    Your words brought tears to my eyes!

    I of course think the same of my daughter and really want her to know how much I love her and adore her. My daughter has the cutiest blonde curly hair and EVERYONE and their brother is always stopping to OOOHHHH and AHHHH over her. She totally hams it up, but right now I think it’s good for her. Now if she was still getting that response at 12 or 13, then I’d be worried.
    I want her to know that she’s beautiful and smart…and all those things that build a strong person. I just think you’re jumping the gun a little early in your worrying. She needs to know that she’s beautiful…you and Jon are the key people in her life that will help her build a positive self-image! Don’t back off….pour it on thick!

  • Michellody

    I am 26 and my mom still calls me “beauty”.

  • Doc S

    A few months ago I noticed myself calling my 2-year-old daughter “beauty” frequently. I did it not because of how she looks (though, of course, she is the most beautiful child ever born) but because I was expressing the overwhelming feeling I have for the preciousness of her entire self. It worried me, though, because the over-emphasis on looks can and does really hurt girls in our culture. And I don’t want her to think that appearance is what really matters for girls. So now I try to temper the use of the word “beauty.” I use “squishy and delicious” a lot now. The other thing I did? I started calling my 4-year-old son “beauty” too. He thinks it’s great.

  • tksinclair

    We’ve had this “debate” in our home regarding my 11 year old niece. She is smart (straight “A” student) and beautiful. We tell her both. My husband feels occasionally she’s a little full of herself. As a women who had lots of self esteem issues, I’m happy she is a little “over” satisfied with her appearance. I think it’s great to tell Leta she’s smart and beautiful – especially from her dad. Girls get a lot of their self esteem from their fathers. Remember, they will eventually look for a man that in some ways reminds them of their father.

    I believe we’ve done alright with my niece in praising her for both. Last week she wanted to do something and we were talking about trust. I said “well, I’m not sure I should allow you to go there.” Her response? At eleven? “You should let me go, you’ve raised me to have integrity.” Oh. Yeah. Right. Um, okay.

  • Sunshine

    Wow. Sign me up with the rest — of course you should tell her she’s pretty…and smart…and kind…and funny…and that she’ll always be good enough.

    Little did I know the posts would be a sort of therapy in themselves — I’m not the only one who would have been prettier if I’d only lost another ten pounds…or if I wore my hair that way….I have a genius IQ, a master’s degree, a nice house, my own business, a devoted husband and a great kid…and only remember once or twice hearing unqualified praise from my parents…ain’t it amazing how much it still stings?

    I try to regularly tell my son that he’s handsome and smart and funny…and that not only do I love him no matter what, *I LIKE HIM* because he’s a good person.

  • NinasMom

    You can never tell a child too often that they are smart, beautiful, or loved.

  • I have the world’s most beautiful girl, too. I learned a lot about how to keep from conveying that sort of stuff in the book “Between Parent and Child” (Haim Ginott). Basically, he says to state facts, like, “That’s a hard thing to do”, when she accomplishes something. The child infers that it must mean she’s good at it, or smart or whatever. By avoiding the actual judgment and allowing her to make her own valuations of her self, you set a foundation for self-esteem.

    Now, she’s only one, so it’s not like she understands us when we KEEP saying, “You’re so pretty”. But one day (probably next week), we’ll have to watch our words. I don’t want her thinking it matters so much.

    blah.blah.blah. As I drink a beer every night in front of her.

  • Laura Horacefield

    Maiken makes a good point. By the time we are parents, we struggle with beautiful and smart. If Leta is able to believe in those words now and know that to be beautiful is not just from the outside but from within, I would say that would be something she could carry with her for the rest of her life.

    At some point in our adulthood we are able to form a negative connotation to that word. It’s ashame really.

    I think you are going about it the right way. I am pregnant with twins and I know it will be hard for my as a parent to teach them that and to not tell them how amazing they are all the time.

  • kate

    Have you ever heard “there’s only one perfect child…and every mother has it”. (I happen to have 3 w/ my fourth due in 3 months!) Encourage your daughter in anyway possible, be it beauty, brains, comedic timing, poop ability, etc. Positive comments help raise a positive child. Did you know that Moms are children’s cheerleaders! You can do it, you’re fantastic… rah, rah, ree! It’s what we do!

  • I’ll tell my little ones that they are smart or beautiful if and when they are but I think there are two important points to consider as a parent.

    1) the generic compliment (i.e. “good girl”, “that’s nice,” etc.). Sounds insincere and kids see right through it as they get older. I give workshops to teachers about how to reinforce kid’s self esteem without being insincere. When you compliment a drawing, find a specific element that you enjoy. Instead of just “that’s a great picture,” something more along the lines of “I like this one- it’s so colorful!” Or instead of “You’re smart,” something like “I don’t know anyone whose as excellent at puzzles as you.” Obviously a little verbose for the average two year old, but you get my point.

    2)I’m going to compliment my kids often and when they deserve it, but I’m also going to teach them that it’s much more important how they feel about themselves than what I or anyone else thinks. So many people, specifically women, fall in the trap of relying on outside feedback to quantify their own feelings of self worth. When my son asks me what I think about how he looks or something he’s accomplished, I’m going to encourage him to tell me first what he thinks or feels and reinforce those positive aspects of his own opinion of himself.

  • If it matters, I think your prior experiences will lead you in the right direction so that Leta feels “comfortable”…but don’t expect her to have questions about her self beauty, smarts and being good enouh…that is just part of life itself…maybe the ugly part but still, if that is as ugly as it gets, I’ll take it!

  • katliz

    I have never wanted children and sincerely believe that there is a Mommy Gene that is just lacking in me.

    Living vicariously through your posts feeds the (tiny) part of me that wishes I wanted to have children. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, and the whole fact that you bring up these questions make me respect you and Jon as parents moreso than the ones I see around me everyday.

  • Jezzie

    YES. I think that is the uncomromising quantifier for a healthy self image and emotional balance.That just being yourself as you were created is and should be enough. I learned that from my children as well. 🙂 Jess

  • Stephanie

    You are such a great mom. When Leta reads these posts when she is older she will truly understand how much you love her. And it is ok to tell her she is beautiful because she is! In yesterday’s video she was stunning–so adorably cute yet so completely lovely.

  • Meghan

    I’m not any sort of baby expert, and it’s not that I totally disagree with your point… but it’s of my opinion that you should tell your daughter how beautiful you think she is. And I think it’s even more important for her to hear it from her dad. Growing up I was never told that I was beautiful or pretty. In fact what I remember hearing most was “If you could just lose 10 pounds…” I have one memory of getting dressed up and my dad telling me I looked pretty and it made me feel so amazing because I had never heard it before. To this day I think it has effected my self esteem. I have a very hard time receiving and believing compliments, even from my own boyfriend. So although I think what you say is true, I know I will make a big point in telling my kids how beautiful they are.

  • Amen.

  • Maiken

    I feel the same about my daughter. Perhaps the only problem is that people have put boundaries on words like beautiful and smart. Someone could say the same things to me now and I would not believe them because I struggle with using critical definitions for myself and not others.

    What if we had more words for beautiful? Maybe we need to teach our children that beauty is a very personal feeling. We each get to decide how we honor other’s feelings. I choose what I see in others and even in myself. I feel my daughter is beautiful. If she doesn’t believe me that is her choice. I would like her to know her beauty for herself someday, and I think lavishing her with pretty words will be something for her to hold on to when she starts to doubt. Maybe that won’t solve everything, but how else do I show and tell her how much she means to me?

  • CJ mama

    What the hell just happened? I’m just reading along and agreeing with every word because I have two kids and think about this same dilemma all the time, when I get to the last line and started to cry. Dooce, I’m at work! You need to give me a little heads up when you’re going to do that next time. Can’t seem to stop crying. How do you do that? It’s not even that time of the month.

  • Amy D.

    I wanted to comment on firestarter’s opinion on the ‘princess horseshit’….people started calling me princess only a few years ago (I’m 26), and I don’t think it has anything at all to do with looks, at least in my case….it’s just a tongue-in-cheek way of admiring a person’s moxie, or at least it is and will be in my house. They call me princess because I finally have enough self-esteem to not let people walk all over me, so more than anything it’s their way of telling me to relax, and I believe it’s said with love for my personality, not anything to do with how I look…because they seem to get even more of a kick out of calling me that first thing in the morning, puffy and scraggly and very not attractive!

    So I think as long as you’re raising a princess (everyone needs to feel they have some amount of reign over their own lives!) and not a spoiled brat, it’s okay as a loving nickname…it’s not the kind of thing that should be spoken only when playing dress-up or wear-mommy’s-makeup, but also when they make a joke, or do anything non-looks related. If I ever have a daughter I’m sure she won’t be able to escape that label/nickname, but I believe connotation goes a long way….that alone won’t steer her self-worth to be based solely on appearance.

    Much Love,
    the Princess 😉

  • Cloudy

    When I read that last line, tears actually burst forth and SHOT out of my head.

  • Julepeace

    Heather
    I too pause at telling my daughters how beautiful they are but then I remember that I think they need to hear it from the most important person (presently) in their life. You have the right idea of making sure she knows that she will always be enough.

    It has also taken me 39 years to finally get past the point that I was never enough in terms of beauty and smarts as far as my father was concerned. But I am as far I’m concerned.

  • PK

    When I was, oh, 4? 5? I used to ask my mom if she thought I was pretty, and she’d say (not wanting me to get the wrong idea of what was important, I guess) “Pretty is as pretty does.” Which I thought was her nice way of avoiding the question because she thought I was ugly.

    You can’t win, right? I don’t even try. I just tell my kids exactly what I feel–that they’re beautiful, smart, funny, sweet, and that I love them to death, even when I don’t love what they are doing or how they’re behaving. I tell them that no matter where they are or what they do, one thing will be true–I will always, always love them.

    I’m sure they’ll have nice complex about it at some point.

  • Your doing a great thing – says the girl that also was “an awkward teenager with crooked teeth and a padded bra”