Heater, Mother of Lance

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.

229 Comments
  • Shelley Bonnechance

    2006/05/23 at 6:24 pm

    We’ve always told our kids that they are smart and beautiful. There’s something wrong with parents who don’t see their children as uniquely gifted. :o)

    But I sensed the other day that we might have gone too far with our 10-year-old.

    She is an adorably cute little girl, and I mean “cute” in the manner of a child and not some scary, tarted-up little beauty queen.

    She has freckles. And she’s still got some of that baby-plumpness in her face. Her cheeks are naturally rosy and she hasn’t started orthodontia yet so she still has these cute little jack-o-lantern teeth. If she were a doll, everyone would want one of her for their kids. Not that I’m biased.

    So anyway, I had just trimmed her bangs and she wanted to see my handiwork so she climbed up on the bathroom counter and looked at herself, gasped and said, “Oh, my gosh I am so cute. And smart enough to know it when I see it.”

    Oh dear….

  • Jill Asher

    2006/05/23 at 6:22 pm

    How wonderful for your daughter to hear how beautiful you think she is….. keep telling her that and build up her confidence and self esteem! It certainly will help her as she enter’s that crappy stage of being a teenager. There are so many ways you can tell her about her beauty – not just the physical beauty, but the internal beauty that she displays each and every day. If she doesn’t hear it from you and your husband, she will eventually look for it in the wrong place! What a lovely post…..

  • firestarter

    2006/05/23 at 6:15 pm

    I tell my daughter every day she’s smart and beautiful and that I’m so proud of her. I also tell her “good job! I’m so proud of you” constantly.

    At the same time, I understand the concern about tying self worth to external things. I have noticed this creepy “princess” horse shit that gets forced on girls at a very young age. The result of all the princess nonsense is that girls think they are valuable or not valuable based on how they look.

    But I think the princess mentality is very different from the “you’re a beautiful person” mentality. A parent who values her child for all the wonderful things about the child and verbalizes it on a regular basis is not going to produce a princess. One of the things that we do as parents is teach our children what a healthy loving relationship is like. And in a healthy, loving relationship you praise each other for all the wonderful things you/they are. My daughter has a right to feel warmth and affection, she has a right to be valued, and she has a right to know that we think she’s beautiful, smart, strong, and funny. We will have to impose enough boundaries on her as she grows up; whithholding praise in all its forms does not need to be one of them.

  • JulieBrown

    2006/05/23 at 5:54 pm

    Hello, Heather.
    Your closing thought in this post clearly resonates with lots of your faithful readers, as it did with me. My father would refer to me as “the pretty one” and my younger sister as “the smart one” — which left us both feeling a bit inadequate. I can only guess how it felt to my other two siblings!
    If only we had ALL been told that we were good enough no matter what. Ah, that devil ‘if only.’ Years of therapy could have been avoided by all of us.

    -JB

  • violet_flames

    2006/05/23 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve never left a comment, even though I’ve read your blog for a year or more.

    But I feel pretty strongly about this. I have known so many people who are so beautiful, but don’t think they are, because no one ever told them that.

    I grew up being told I was pretty and cute and all those things, and I’ve never been one to worry about looks much.

    Tell her she’s beatiful, tell her she’s smart, tell her she’s creative, tell her she’s worthy every chance you get!!!

  • Tonya @ Kingfisher Cove

    2006/05/23 at 5:52 pm

    Wow, you brought tears to my eyes. I grew up in the era of: “If you tell them they are pretty or smart, they will be conceited.” And so ALMOST straight-A’s were not good enough. And I was certainly not pretty enough, (although there were times when I was rather cute, when I look back at pictures). But hearing positive things about me now and then sure would have done me some good.

    My son has grown up hearing those positive things, and they truly come from the heart. He still has some issues (he’s red-headed and freckled), but I honestly believe he’s the cutest thing that ever walked the earth. And I constantly let him know it. (But sometimes hearing that from Mom just isn’t “good enough” — when you’re 20 years old).

  • kelley

    2006/05/23 at 5:48 pm

    thanks for this post heather. i had a rough day and i really needed to read something like this. i am mourning the loss of some close friendships and feeling really lonely and inadequate today. but i know i am enough, just the way i am. so thank you for reminding me.

  • AndreaBT

    2006/05/23 at 5:10 pm

    She does need to know that you think she’s beautiful. I don’t ever remember being told anything like that when I was growing up, unless I put on some especially nice clothes, and my parents did so (apparently) out of obligation. They were quite enthusiastic when they did, but the truth is that I was an awkward-looking chid, wore glasses from the time I was two, etc. And I think they refrained from saying I was smart simply because I knew I was, and was confident enough in that area (until I took algebra, but that’s another story). I tell my daughters quite frequently how beautiful and smart they are, but I also make sure to frequently tell them (not necessarily right after I’ve said they are beautiful and smart) that it’s just as important, if not more so, to be beautiful on the inside and have a good heart, because that is the part they have control over.

  • AndreaBT

    2006/05/23 at 5:11 pm

    OH yes…and I tell them every day that I love them, and always will, which is the most important thing of all.

  • Raughy

    2006/05/23 at 5:28 pm

    okay, compelled to comment b/c i have 3 daughters: no.1 is 10 years old, no.2 is 8 years old, and no. 3 is 10 months old (and before you ask, it was ON PURPOSE). My eldest is beautiful. Really and truly a looker, and at 10, is so tall she looks about 13. But here’s the thing. We’ve told her how beautiful she was from the day she was born, and how spectacular, and everything else, and she DOES NOT CARE about her looks. She is one of the most secure people I’ve ever met. When one of the boys in her tennis class told her recently: “you look pregnant” because her tummy was sticking out, she laughed and said “I have SEEN, pregnant, and I do not look pregnant” (referring obliquely to my shape before the most recent arrival). She was totally unfazed. If that had happened to me as a child, I would’ve been shamed for months, and immediately gone on another diet (at age 10, I already thought I was fat). As long as she knows that you love her for herself (I don’t see how she could miss on that one), all your praise and lovely comments will just be more love in the air. way to go dooce.

  • MsShad

    2006/05/23 at 4:29 pm

    This post and it’s comments is a handbook in child-rearing.

  • UndoneLady

    2006/05/23 at 4:41 pm

    What a wonderful message.

  • budk1

    2006/05/23 at 4:09 pm

    Tell her she’s beautiful, smart, funny, etc., whenever the spirit moves you. Everything I’ve read from you and Jon speaks to how good your instincts are. My father’s message, in word and deed, was that I wasn’t worth shite and would never amount to anything. It took me decades to overcome that.

  • marnie

    2006/05/23 at 4:23 pm

    Tell your daughter she is smart and beautiful EVERY day. Just make sure she knows that a big part of being beautiful is what is projected out from the inside…

    …and please don’t ever cut your child’s hair. My mother did that in grade 3 and I have felt like a fugly beast ever since. She would never recover. Just warning ya…

  • SuburbanTurmoil

    2006/05/23 at 4:08 pm

    Tell her, I say. Tell her how beautiful and smart and amazing she is. I had two parents who did that for me and I grew up believing it, still do, even though I later realized that they were about the only people (besides a few guys who wanted to get in my pants and an even smaller number who were in love with me) who would ever say that to me. Hearing those words from your parents is a blessing, a reassurance, later in life.

  • sarah

    2006/05/23 at 3:55 pm

    The option is what my mother told me when I asked her if she thought I was pretty; “you’ll never be as pretty as Melinda” ( my friend)

  • The Bold Soul

    2006/05/23 at 4:05 pm

    Long comment, but you really hit a nerve for me and I wanted to tell you not to worry about overdoing the praise for Leta.

    We’ve been telling my niece how beautiful she is since she was born. We also tell her she’s smart and funny and we regularly reinforce the things she’s talented at, not just with our words but with our active participation — like going to her school concert tomorrow. For a girl of 13 she’s remarkably self-assured and well-adjusted, and she seems comfortable in her own skin. She’s short and already chesty and probably genetically destined to struggle with her weight (her aunts on both sides of the family have this issue), but to me she’s beautiful, both physically and spiritually. Her personality is part of her “beauty”. It’s not that she never hears a negative word about herself from us, but she’s gotten positive reinforcement her entire life. And it shows in how she handles herself. She’s not boy-crazy, although she is about to have her first “date” with a boy at a school dance. She’s got lots of friends. She’s outgoing and active in school. And her grades have never been better.

    When I think of what I was like at that age — how I scrutinized every facial feature, criticized everything about myself I thought was “ugly” – my nose, my smile, my eyebrows, the shape of my body, my weight — and how little I found to love about myself, I realize how infrequently I was told I was beautiful, or if I was complimented it was sort of in a backhanded kind of way. “You’ve got so much make-up on, you look like a whore; you’re too pretty for that.” I was told I was smart, but in the next breath was criticized for not working harder at my grades: “You’re so smart but you’re wasting your time when you should be studying!” I was told I was musical, but no one believed I could do anything with it.

    Maybe my mother was criticized a lot when she was a child, so she didn’t know how to give a genuine compliment and let it stand on its own. Or perhaps she was of that generation that thought children should be raised to be humble and modest and that you shouldn’t toot your own horn, so she couldn’t give ONLY positive feedback, she had to temper it with something negative. All I know is I grew up in a constant state of fear of being criticized, and I live with that to this day, especially from my mother. I never feel “good enough” in her eyes, and often not even in my own.

    I recall someone on Oprah once (Toni Morrison I think) talking about “When your child walks into the room, what do they see in your eyes?” Some parents are conditioned to look for what’s wrong: is her hair combed, is his shirt tucked in, and why the hell did she pick THAT outfit to wear, it looks like hell on her? They do that because they think it’s their job to create perfect children. Parents don’t realize the subtle or even the overt ways in which they tear down their child’s self-esteem because their so busy trying to be perfect.

    I would have given anything to feel like I could walk into a room and have my mother just RADIATE love and unconditional acceptance of me, as an imperfect person — and for her to still believe me to be the most beautiful child, the most beautiful teenager, and the most beautiful woman. Not “you’re so pretty, if only you could lose weight”.

    So if you and Jon are finding ways to reinforce what you find beautiful about Leta – both her outer beauty and her inner beauty – then keep on doing it. There is no way it can be bad.

  • deannie

    2006/05/23 at 3:54 pm

    What you wrote in your post? THAT is what you tell your daughter, just in words that make sense to a tiny child.

    I have always told my daughter that I thought she was so pretty but she also heard the message that her behavior very much dictated how pretty she really was. It is such an easy lesson to teach at the most innocent moments, like when you are putting on your makeup (“I want to look a little better but I know Daddy loves me even without it, don’t you agree?”) or when you run into children who are so misbehaved and unpleasant you can’t help remark, “They act so ugly that I don’t want to be around them. I am so glad you know how to behave…you can see how nice it is to be around other kids who are good and kind, can’t you?”

    There are days my daughter (now 15) amazes me because she is indeed a kind gentle compassionate soul who doesn’t doubt the love of her parents for a second and worries about normal things like how to care for that stupid acne all 15 year olds have to deal with. She has her own sense of style that has never been swayed much by the popular girls at school. Can you imagine? I couldn’t till I saw her.

    I think you said it in an earlier post about how your mommy instincts had kicked in; go with your gut. No one knows your daughter like you do, never forget that.

    You are a good mom, it is obvious even from a distance.

    Hugs,

  • Michykeen

    2006/05/23 at 3:39 pm

    Over the weekend, someone told me I was beautiful inside and out. It was the best compliment I’ve ever received in my life. I think we all could stand to hear that a little more often.

  • Melanieflorida

    2006/05/23 at 3:23 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with telling your little girl she is beautiful and smart. She’s beautiful inside and out and smart and can do anything and be anything she wants to be. And if more women had mothers like you when they were little girls, then we wouldn’t have as much bullshit to put up with because we’d grow up with stronger self-esteem, knowing these things. Keep it up. (Holy shit, Leta is speaking Spanish now?)

  • Lindsay

    2006/05/23 at 3:25 pm

    This is the reason I keep reading this blog. You astound me, Heather, with how witty and funny you are, and then you make me cry because I can read your love for your daughter, pixel by teeny, tiny pixel, and it gives me hope.

    I hope one day Leta knows exactly what kind of woman you are. She will be so proud.

  • Stacey

    2006/05/23 at 2:55 pm

    My mother would never tell me I was pretty… never let anyone else tell me either. I was 25 before I was convinced I wasn’t hideous because if my own mother didn’t think I was pretty, how could anyone else.

    Tell her she’s pretty, tell her she’s smart. Tell her there’s something she does that she’s the “best” at doing. It’s good for her.

  • monkey

    2006/05/23 at 2:58 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong with complimenting one’s child. I mean, I see what you’re saying and all..but I don’t see positive, encouraging comments as being damaging.

  • just a crazy woman

    2006/05/23 at 3:00 pm

    I don’t have children… but if I ever do, I won’t read any of those “how to raise your kid” books. I’ll take notes from reading Dooce, because your view point is at least truthful and real. Thanks!!

  • lyndsey_elise

    2006/05/23 at 3:02 pm

    I, too, tell my daughter that she is beautiful on a daily basis. You just can’t help it.

    By the way did you watch Shalom in the Home last night too?

  • Bluevartouhi

    2006/05/23 at 3:06 pm

    Gosh Heather, why is it that your posts about Leta always strike such a chord with me? This isn’t the first time I’ve teared up at something you wrote about how you show your love to your daughter. I’ve never felt good enough. Leta is very lucky.

  • barbercharm

    2006/05/23 at 3:18 pm

    As a mother of a son and a daughter (who are both SUPER cute and smart!) I never miss an opportunity to tell them both how wonderful they are. Self worth needs to start young and at home! In my opinion, in this world, especially for girls, people are always trying to make you feel worthless and that you aren’t good enough. So why not equip our children with the confidence and self worth they need to know THEY ARE GOOD ENOUGH and can do whatever it is they desire. And I pray that my daughter will not have to settle for the shmuck that puts her down and makes her feel worthless because at least it’s someone paying attention to her. Our hope is for her to not settle until she finds the man that will treat her the way she deserves to be treated, like the most beautiful Princess in all the land.

    Good job Heather. You, in my book, are a wonderful mother.

  • margalit

    2006/05/23 at 3:22 pm

    She is beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful (I’d kill for those eyelashes) and she’s also smart. These are just two facets of who Leta is in this world. But when you compliment her one these, you want to also compliment her on how kind she is, and how helpful, and how she cares for others, and her empathy with Chuck, etc. Make sure that all the things that make her beautiful, including her singing, are complimented and she’ll grow up feeling good about herself without feeling self-important. It’s the parents that ONLY comment on one facet of their child, whether it be that the kid is a good athlete or very brainy or strikingly pretty that ensure the kid will have self-doubts. As Leta grows, make sure that she knows that even the things that aren’t particularly attractive now, like her ability to argue you under a rock, are good qualities in an adult, say if she wants to go to Law School.

  • gorgeoux

    2006/05/23 at 3:23 pm

    I was about 15 when I learned from my mom and dad’s colleagues that they brag about me all the time, not simply as being good enough but being super good. I was stunned that everybody else would hear it but me. Now I’m almost the double age and I’m hearing it from them, too. However, I think that it imprinted me with a push-too-hard attitude about everything that scares the hell out of many people. It’s unthinkable not to push hard, and it’s unthinkable that I’d lay this upon a child. Luckily, it seems like I won’t have any.

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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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