An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation


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.

  • literatigirl

    I think that there is such a thing as an overpraised child. It’s actually quite a hot topic right now.

    I think Heather’s instincts, that telling Leta she’s so smart all of the time may be as problematic as telling her she’s beautiful all of the time. I think both are fine for parents to tell their children, but I’d rather praise my children’s efforts. “That’s a lovely and interesting painting”, for instance, rather than “You’re the smartest and best artist ever.” What does the kid have to strive for if they hear things like, “Oh, Johnny, you’re the most intelligent boy ever” all the time. Or, how about, “you look beautiful in that special outfit, Janie” rather than “Oh Janie, you’re gorgeous!”

    Praise like this prevents Johnny and Janie from relying on some kind of innate “beauty” or “intelligence” they may or may not have in the eyes of the larger world. They’ll know they’re always capable of “looking” beautifully or of “doing” smart things.

  • sylvia

    Okay, she should always believe that she is good enough. I don’t think that will be a problem, simply because you are aware of the need to instill that belief in her. My point is that since she is undeniably beautiful, uniquely and amazingly photogenically beautiful, you should not hide her light under a bushel. SOMEONE has to be american’s next top model! The gifts she has been given by virtue of her specific gene pool are something to be celebrated, not agonized over for pete’s sake! They always use kids in the Welch’s juice drink commercials and you can write the lyrics for a jingle to the tune of baa baa black sheep. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Where’s the shame? Yes I am somewhat tongue in cheek here but also don’t see the down side of being beautiful and smart as long as the parents have correct values and instill them in the kid. Geeze.

  • Wow, what a lovely post. What I can say that hasn’t already been said? Today’s entry made my heart swell and it brings back all the memories of when my children were Leta’s age. And I still have those moments of heart-swelling-love as they I watch them traverse each new phase of growing up.

    I think gypsy in post#10 gave the best comment; I totally concur! Motherhood is often a thankless job; kids aren’t born grateful. Seeing them develop confidence without a selfish sense of entitlement, along with the the boundless love they give makes every one of those what-the-hell-was-I-thinking (when I considered motherhood!) moments worth it!

  • I’ve written a bunch on my own site about my angst-ridden childhood, which was tortured not as a result of anything my parents did or didn’t do — they always made me feel loved, no matter what — but rather because of how my peers (and even teachers) chipped away at whatever protections my parents had put into place for my self-esteem. The damage has taken decades to repair.

    Not only was I considered unattractive (tall, gangly, glasses), but I was also openly smart in an environment where intelligence was not a valued currency. So even though I always had a great deal of confidence in my academic abilities (if not my looks), I still felt inadequate because I didn’t fit in and what I did have to offer was effectively ignored. It made for a miserable 12 years of schooling. My way of coping was to become incredibly hard on myself (again, even though my parents weren’t) and to accept nothing less than perfection in every way. I set incredibly high standards for myself (since I didn’t mesh with the standards in place in that society) and fell to pieces if I fell even the slightest bit short of them. It was not an enjoyable way to live, although, of course, it laid the groundwork for the successful life I have now — the greatest success of which is being able to be comfortable in my own skin.

    I guess my point is that, even if Leta runs into a period of years during which the going is rough for whatever reason, she will ultimately be able to draw upon the feeling you are instilling in her that she will always be good enough. It may take some time for her to realize it, given all the crazy stuff girls have thrown at them socially and environmentally, but one day the light will go on and stay on, and she will be thankful to you forever for giving her this gift.

  • shenshe

    You’re just an awesome mommy.

  • I think that every good parent has these same thoughts/concerns. And every child, once they are old enough to have self doubt…will no longer believe their parents praises. At least, that has been my experience.

  • Morgan

    “We will always love you, even if we don’t always like you.” I heard that from my parents growing up, generally when I was being an unbearable brat. And it helped. It meant that I was always very aware that their love wasn’t tied to my looks or my grades or my ability to do sports or anything else.

    Then there is my boyfriend, who grew up not even believing in familial love, because of how little he got from his parents and how conditional it was. It messed him up pretty badly.

    Better to be over praised and “over loved” then to be starved of it…

  • mom of six

    You’ve got the right idea. My mom always said how “smart” I was when she was screaming at me about getting a “B” instead of an “A.” And always said how “Pretty” I was when I was wearing a dress. If I wasn’t getting A’s or wearing a dress I was neither smart nor pretty. “Good enough” is all I wanted. Hence, why we haven’t spoken in 10 months.

  • You just keep telling her she’s pretty and smart and loving her unconditionally and you know what you’ll end up with? You’ll end up with a child who has better self-esteem then you had! Rock on! I’m thinking it’s that unconditional love thing that’s the real clincher.

    The other thing that’s worked real well for me so far is honesty and being able to admit when I’m wrong. Turns out my 14 year old really respects me for that. Imagine! Respect from a teenager!

  • k8sblueis

    i think probably i am simply concurring with most of the above people, having not read all 213 comments. sheesh.
    but i will say, that your daughter is beautiful. and she is smart. and telling her this will not swell her head to proportions unmanageable. it will let her know that she IS good enough when as a teen, she feels nothing she does or is IS GOOD ENOUGH.

    and making sure she knows you love her when she isn’t being beautiful or smart (because heck, there are days when the most beautiful geniuses look horrid and make stupid decisions) or any of the other wonderful adjectives that she is or can be or will be, is vital. loving her regardless of what she looks like, does, thinks, or believes is something i know, from reading you for 2 years, is what you do. and her knowing it will help her to be the most phenomenal woman she is destined to be.

    so to you heather, i say -keep it up. you’re an awesome mom, and an excellent journalist.

  • In my experience, even the people who grow up thinking that beauty is the standard by which they will always be judged, deep down, don’t think they are all that pretty.

    I don’t think you can ever tell your daughter enough that she is intelligent and beautiful and that she takes your breath away. I think you loving Leta so unconditionally, so immensely, and telling her all of those things, is beautiful.

  • Holy crap, 200+ comments. I’m probably just echoing at this point, but I struggled with that and in the end I gave up. My girls ARE beautiful. My oldest has this amazing curly hair (that she didn’t inherit from me, that’s for sure) and it became impossible for me to keep from telling her she’s beautiful. I just make sure I also tell her she’s smart and funny and creative, etc so that she knows there’s more to her than just her appearance.

    I just can’t bear the thought of her growing up and thinking she ISN’T pretty because Mommy never said that she is.

  • Sunni

    Every night during our cuddle time, I tell my 3 year old daughter that she is so pretty, so funny, so smart, i love her laugh, i love her eyes, she is good at soccer, she is good at swinging, etc. I list all of the positive things about her that I can. I think it’s important for a kid to know their parent sees all of these positives about them. She loves to hear it of course and I love to hear “you pretty too mama!”

    But, the best is when we have this conversation…

    me: how’d you get so pretty?
    her: like my mom!
    me: how’d you get so smart?
    her: like my mom!
    me: how’d you get so silly?
    her: like my dad!

  • Well said.

  • garsha

    This is one of the things I’ve struggled with for the past few years with my son (who’s 6). I don’t want him to think his entire worth depends on his athleticism, artistic ability, intelligence, looks, or anything else. There’s a lot of pressure on parents to always say the right things, and I think too many parents end up making their children feel ‘not good enough’ even with the best intentions.

    I have to say, though, that from what I’ve read here over the past year or so, you are the kind of parent I aspire to be. Just this site alone goes a long way to show Leta just how much more than ‘good enough’ she is to you.

    By the way, she is absolutely beautiful and I love the audio & video posts. Her voice makes me smile (almost) as much as my son’s voice does. 🙂

  • Wicked H

    I am no expert, but I think Leta will be just fine. If ever she has any doubts on how she feels about herself or how her peers are making her feel, all she has to do is read this particular entry as well as countless others. You and Jon are doing a fabulous job.

  • Heather, I haven’t read all the other comments, so forgive me if this is redundant.

    I think that one of the most important things for the brains/beauty and self-esteem of issues of little girls is how their mothers handle their own brains and beauty (and insecurities thereof). Your example will speak volumes to Leta. (And I think you are doing a fabulous job!)

    Her relationship with her daddy is really important too. My dad used to take me out on “dates” starting when I was about Leta’s age. That did so much for my little girl’s heart – knowing that he wanted to be with me and enjoyed my company. I never had to go looking for it in unhealthy ways later on in life. There were times when I certainly didn’t feel beautiful (we all go through that, no matter how stunning), but I was always confident of my parents’ love and support.

    She’s precious, by the way, and so are you and Jon. Best to both of you. 🙂

  • freecave

    Heather, I have worked with kids in the past and I live amongst them in Banff. There is far too much emphasis on raising kids the P.C. way. Too many shrinks telling the world how to raise kids to be better. A lot of the kids I see now don’t know how to do laundry, wash dishes, enjoy nature, or hand write an essay, etc. The were raised on technology by their parents and I think SPOILED. You raise Leta the way YOU want to not the way OTHERS tell you you should. At 33, I am disenfranchised with people born in the 80’s, I think it’s that bad.

  • Aayla

    I really do love your posts. I’ve been a lurker for over a year now and have been hooked. Leta is beautiful and smart and there’s no shame in telling her so. I have an almost 7 year old who just knows how handsome and smart he is. lol

  • My parents, till this day (and I’m now 28) base beauty on how slim/skinny one is. As much as I know how you either get over it and move on and learn from your parents’ insults, it still affects me.

    I’m no authority on this but I think you’re doing a great job with Leta. “Loving her despite beauty and brains” and telling her so is what I wish my parents had said to me. That brains and beauty (either one or both) are great to possess but that they love me no matter what. It would have helped with the whole parent-child bonding thing. I wonder if they know that’s one of the reasons why I moved away from Singapore to the US – to find a sense of self worth on my own.

    Positive reinforcement is a wonderful thing for a child. You’re a super cool mom!

  • Great post… Having an 11-month old daughter of our own, I couldn’t agree more…

  • bexcetera

    I just want to say that Leta is totally cuter than the kid you posted a picture of. I say this as a totally objective observer.

  • Very astute, dooce… I was a smart kid, way above and beyond most of my classmates in a lot of ways–not just book smarts. But I grew up with everyone telling me how smart I was, which had two effects: 1) my sense of self-worth was inevitably tied to my image of myself as being smarter than everyone around me; 2) thinking that being smart was somehow enough to assure success in life–its not. Brains won’t get you anywhere in life if you don’t get off your keester and do something with it.

    So your thoughts are dead-on (as they usually are). Make sure your daughter knows she’s loved no matter what, encourage her in whatever direction she wants to go, but give her the drive to finish things she starts as well, and the rest will fall into place. (… says the man without any kids!)

  • Okay, one more thing. The pretty thing? If you tell her she’s pretty, but you also tell her that beauty isn’t everything, I imagine that’s enough.

    There is nothing wrong with believing you’re beautiful. It doesn’t mean you believe that having beauty is the be-all and end-all. It doesn’t mean that you will be shallow. I mean, let’s face it, being good-looking will help you out rather than hinder you in this life.

    Being so confidant that you accept your body the way it is, looking in the mirror without analyzing the reflection for faults as opposed to striving to look a certain way to please everyone can’t really be a bad thing, provided you have your feet both firmly on the ground, can it? Imagine if every woman had the confidance to love herself and find herself beautiful no matter what she looked like. Imagine.

  • thleen

    I am blown away by the response to this amazing post.
    So many people, so many feelings.
    Tell her she’s beautiful and brilliant and special and good enough.And tell her it’s ok to color outside the lines with her “crowns”. Yes, tell her.
    Rock on, Heather!

  • Thérèse

    Well see, that’s just exactly it, Heather. The thing about loving your kid that much is that you can’t hide it. She knows. She’ll know her whole life.

    My parents did that for me; they showed me they loved me no matter what happened. They told me, all the time. I’m not saying they were never disappointed, but they explained why and made sure to reassure me that they still did and would always love me. You can’t really put a price on that. It’s the foundation that yields the best people. You live through anything. You weather everything. Everything is survivable when you have people who love you like that, no matter what fool thing you do or what happens in your life. Plus, knowing you have a network of support like that gives you strength to take over the world. Uh, I mean on. Take on the world.

    I should know. My parents loved and supported me through every idiotic thing I ever did, and I’ve grown to realize that I am the beautiful, smart, talented, self-absorbed, obnoxious, over-confidant, fabulously delightful and ridiculously fun girl that I am because of it.


  • jennplas

    i love reading your posts. i have a 4 year old daughter and have wondered the same thing VERY often about saying she is beautiful or smart and how this will affect her later on. i came to the conclusion that i would expand on “complimenting” her. Now i gear myself towards the behaviour and what type of virtue she is showing by doing what she is doing. so in other words, when she is helping me, i remind her “you are being so helpful sweetheart by doing… *fill in blank*”. i usually focus on values, virtues, and health. even when she was 2, i would, for example, offer her a snack, and when it was something healthy, i would say “Maelie, you are making a very healthy choice for your body by choosing a fruit” and stuff like that… i have often been looked at told “she doesn’t understand that at her age”… but i kept going, and now i must say, she is reiterating the same stuff i say to her when she sees someone make a good choice, or someone being helpful or sharing… and she has got to be the most polite and reasonable 4 year old! 🙂
    i guess the point of this post is that i chose to tell her she is beautiful a lot, but i also added so many other qualities that are not focussed on looks or on the general *smartness*.
    I make her notice when she is helpful, caring, patient, gentle, hard working, etc..

    you guys have such a sweet daughter! she will appreciate all that you have been through for her when she is older… and of course when she has kids of her own!

  • paper

    I don’t know any child, or any adult, who thinks of his or her self as “good enough” at all times. part of this, I’m sure, is nurture. an even larger part, I think, is nature.
    We have certainly given our daughter praise — for effort, for inate intelligence, for looks, for grooming, for overcoming physical challenges. And yet, she is not always in her own mind “good enough”. She is disappopinted when she gets a 97.75 gpa (98 gpa gets you breakfast with the principal). She is disappointed when she gets a gold, rather than platinum award, at the music festival. We, her parents, are not disappointed, and tell her we are proud of what she has accomplished, but it is not always enough for her. She is always striving to improve. We rejoice when she can run a mile (her friends can run 3, but her physical condition is different).
    the old nature of survival is too always want to “do better”. not because it is better, but because then you get to live another day. So, we keep telling our child how wonderful she is, but remember that she will keep evolving, changing, and growing, in an effort to “do better”. I also plan to keep helping her “do better”, not as measured against others, but as measured against herself and her abilities.
    and boy, she is wonderful!

  • My daughter is now ten. We’ve always told her how smart she is, happily encouraged her natural love for reading. She is a smart girl.

    An aunt told me when my daughter was born that I should never use the word ‘pretty’ with her because she would learn to plce an importance on beauty. WHAT? I understand her point, but I felt it was too simplistic to define a word just one way…aren’t flowers pretty? aren’t colors and nature and the sky beautiful? Pretty, beautiful, stunning, we can all define them in different ways.

    So I tell my daughter she is lovely and smart. When she reaches her teens, I want her to know that no matter what, their are two people who find her enchanting no matter what she may look like.

    How can I not find her beautiful? When I see her I see a virtual map of my loved ones: my husband’s smile, my mother’s eyes, my father’s nose. She has traces of all of them, and yet she is completely herself. That’s beauty.

    btw, my latest post on my flash fiction blog was about a very similar subject: girls and the pressure to fit in with societies version of beauty.

  • 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.

  • jessiker

    I am personally of the mind that more you tell your kid(s) how smart, beautiful, and wonderful they are, the more they will be such. Also, it will make up for all the awful things you’ll say to them once they are teenagers.

    Wonderful post!! She _is_ stunning!!

  • suz-at-large

    Great post, and many thoughtful comments! Thanks. The key, as others have said, is at the end – being sure she knows your love isn’t based on her beauty, it’s unconditional.

    BTW I read a very good novel 30 years ago about a mother-daughter relationship and the business of being “enough” for each other – Hannah’s House, by Shelby Hearon. Which, obviously, I still remember. Think I’ll go hunt for a copy and see how it reads after all this time.

  • When I was 5 or so, my grandma told me that another little girl was prettier. When I had a fit, she said, “What does it matter? Pretty is as pretty does.” Our culture puts so much emphasis on looks, it’s impossible to get away from that; only a woman born in 1900 could think otherwise.

    I love the way you said what you said, and I wish it could be t-shirted somehow. I’d buy one.

  • Sajhill

    C’mon y’all, cut to the chase! None of that really matters. She may be cute now but we all know it’ll always be about her boobs (or lack thereof) in later years.

  • danioz

    Beautiful post. I lost my father early (18) and as I get older and think about my parenting potential – I realise that I was always compared against milestones that I had no way of achieving. The only thing that I want to teach my child is that they are loved by me no matter just because. My cat is THRIVING under this rationale by the way.

  • kianasmum

    Loved that post (first time commenter)! I think one way to make Leta know that she is loved unconditionally, is to tell her she’s beautiful when the pigtails refuse to curl the right way – or that she’s clever when she’s doing nothing special at all. I’m trying hard with my daughter (almost 2) not to breed another high achiever – for her to know that there’s no effort required on her part to get mum and dad’s love and support. BTW, I love your sense of humour!

  • Kids need to be, not to be told of what they are or should be.
    Sometimes we don’t need words, they are just a kind of mental-pollution.
    (So you’re beautiful.. and smart…)

  • my boyfriend’s son recently set off the fire alarm at my apt complex – although he knew he shouldn’t, he read aloud, “pull down” and did so. He didn’t truly understand why he shouldn’t until the siren went off, immediately following his “pull down” – For 20+ minutes of ear ringing alarm with 50+ angry neighbors out in the parking lot with all their eyes on the culprit, the boy-O bawled his lil’ eyes out from the time the siren 1st began, up until the firetrucks drove awa over an hour later. I had been holding him in my arms (his legs wrapped around me – he’s 7 and not exactly small). I had already told him that he should feel bad for what he had done – and that that his guilt was healthy, and that I knew he’d never do it again…1 5 minutes before the firemen left, still unable to console the boy-O, I told him that he’d made a mistake, yes – but that he was still lovable – – that this incident, nor any other could ever change that — he hugged me around the neck tighter than I thought he ever could and bawled even harder – – and so I told him again, “You’re still lovable, baby. Nothing can change that, no matter what.” And it was then, that his tears began to subside…
    I think you’re absolutely right – – no matter how cute, how beautiful, no matter how intelligent our children are, the most important thing we must tell them is that they’re loved and that they’re good enough. AMEN.

  • I always tell my daughter, Claire, that she’s pretty. I know she’s only 14 months and probably has no idea what I am saying. But recently I’ve tried to not do this. I don’t want her to think that’s all I think of her. Your message was well put.

  • torihoney

    exactly my thoughts on how i propose to raise a girl, should i be lucky enough to have one.

  • Meg

    If ever anyone has thought you a bad mother, this post proves them wrong.

  • Ambrosia

    You tell her every wonderful thing you can, because soon enough the things other people say will be dinging her little armor and a little extra irrational confidence never hurt anybody. I think my Mom’s opinion of me was pretty much absent from my self image for my entire teen years, but the foundation it laid kept me from sinking. Just because you think she’s beautiful doesn’t mean other people will treat her that way, and from my experience, pretty few people get the adoring crowd treatment. Smart is different. I figured out my path to social stability with the following flowscheme: If you’re smart, you’d better be funny. If you’re funny, you’d better be kind. If you’re pretty, you’d better think fast.

  • i think you should just continue what you’ve both been doing. tell her she’s smart, beautiful, and can conquer anything.

    coming from a family who told me i wasn’t smart enough, was too fat to ever be loved, and would never amount to anything, i only wish i had parents who cared 1/1000th as much as you guys do.

  • Perfect. You have perfectly captured what we ALL should have learned from our parents. Leta will grow up knowing that she is exactly who she is meant to be, and that she is perfect.

    Sometimes, honestly, it is frustrating how effortlessly you seem to articulate everything I feel about being a parent.

  • Heather

    I was told all my life by everyone — family, friends, strangers — that I was the smartest and most beautiful child in the world. I won some baby beauty pageants and people tried to convince my mom to get me into modeling when I was a child; in the first grade, I was found to be reading on a college level and subjected to IQ tests that proved I had a genius’ mind.

    Needless to say, I had a lot to live up to.

    Naturally, I became a perfectionist and eventually broke under the pressure of trying to be the perfectly beautiful, perfectly brilliant person everyone always told me I was. This was especially true when a health issue made my hair fall out, and ADHD stole my ability to concentrate on things that didn’t engage me completely. With what I believed was the loss of all I had going for me, my looks and my mind, I felt as though I was no longer a person with any value. I dropped out of school in the tenth grade, drank too much, and battled an eating disorder.

    I’m 29 now and my life is getting back on track: I work at Harvard, am chipping away at an English degree and am in a longterm relationship that is leading to marriage. But my journey to this point was a rough one, and I still have a long way to go. The day I can look in the mirror and love myself in spite of the fact that I am human, and, therefore, imperfect, will be the day I let go of the perfect girl in whose shadow I grew up.

    Foster in Leta a sense of worth that is attached to her spiritual self. Let her know you love her and believe in her, and certainly tell her that you think she’s beautiful and intelligent — but don’t let her believe that those are the things to which her entire worth is owed.

  • I was often told that I was a smart child. I rarely was ever called a pretty child, even though I wasn’t a homely or ugly child. To be perfectly honest, not telling your child she’s beautiful is probably worse than telling her that she is beautiful. If I’d been told that I was a pretty girl during my most impressionable years, I’d probably be more well-adjusted in the self-image department than I am. It would’ve saved me a lot in therapy.

  • Nessa

    we used to always tell Miss B that she was beautiful and there was a point around age 4 that she started to reply with “as usual.” precocious and absolutely hilarious, but we did change the way we said it and pointed out the things that were beautiful about her…her nose, her compassion, her love, her toes, etc. There’s nothing wrong with it – give her a strong sense of self! Miss B’s 10 now and is one of the most well-rounded grounded kids in her grade (told to me by others, not me) and I have to think it has something to do with the way we encourage her positively…

  • Scarlett

    As a baby and young child, I was “beautiful.” As a child and teenager, I was “smart.” Although I have to admit that at almost-30 I sometimes doubt both, I have no qualms about the consistent comment I’ve heard from my mom from Day 1 till, well, about two hours ago on the phone: “I love you more than anything.” No strings attached, no questions asked… That’s what good moms are made of, and you certainly are one.

  • RzDrms

    heather, i challenge you to look through your archives and find a better post than this one. my opinion is that this is, by far, your best (most comprehensive, most insightful, most thought-provoking and meaningful, and definitely your most long-lasting) post in the past four+ years. leta brings out the very best in you. we love her.

  • Heather, very awesome. That post is incredible. I think our generation of children will have the best self esteem of any others before them.

    More than anything, all children and adults need to know we are enough, just as we are.

    You are the new Oprah, you totally know that right?

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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