Children are smart. They are master negotiators. My husband recently attended a lecture on negotiation, and the instructor used children as the example of the most fearless, ruthless negotiators, with their single-minded focus on the goal. For any of you stuck in the dinner-time “hostage negotiations,” as one workshops attendee put it, you know what I mean. (“OK, so if I have two bites of potato, can I then just have one bite of fish so I can get my dessert?”) But allow me to digress from food and feeding for a moment.
As a mother of a young girl, I have tried to impart the message that looks aren’t important. As a physician who has treated deadly eating disorders in young women, I strive to instill a positive body image. As a woman in our society, I know how near impossible it is to hang on to that positive self-image, with the onslaught of messages telling us we are never, ever good enough.
In my own home, with my daughter, I’ve let her go with uncombed hair for days, wear the same shirt three days in a row, and even wear uneven goofy ponytails to school picture day, because most of the time I do believe that how she looks is just not important. Beyond getting her teeth brushed twice a day, and tending to basic hygiene, I am choosing to let a lot of the rest slide. Soon enough she will be fretting over her looks, bombarded by our culture where she will be told that how her hair looks, how big her hips or breasts are, or how clear her skin is, is the measure of her worth. I want to push off that day as long as I can. That’s some background…
So, this weekend for my Book Party, a celebration and thank you to the friends and family who supported me as I wrote and published Love Me, Feed Me, I asked M to put on a different shirt, and maybe brush her hair for the special event. (As a child myself on such an occasion, I would have been presented in a lovely black velvet dress with my brushed hair in a clip. And, to be honest, I liked dressing up back then, and occasionally still do. See this stuff is complicated!)
However, to my new shirt request, my M replied, “Mom, I’m comfortable in this shirt, I love this shirt. You always say looks don’t matter, do you not believe that anymore, because I believe it in my heart…” I was about to launch into a speech about making a special effort sometimes, when I just stopped.
Well played little one. You get to wear your crinkly peace-sign hand-me-down shirt and pink leggings. You get to avoid wrangling the knots from your hair, and you are beautiful, and really, really smart. And thank you for reminding me again about what is important and what isn’t.
P.S. We had a great time at the party. M spent thirty minutes getting ready for an event the next day, combing her own hair, requesting poofy ponytails in various places on her head, and wore a dress too. I’m picking my battles, and this battle was one I was happy to lose. Oh, and the photo is of M at the Minnesota State Fair, with “fair hair.” So I’ve also chosen not to fight the plastic pink heels (only for home) or the princess dresses.
How about you? Has mothering and thinking about how your daughter looks surprised you at all?