I have a daughter who is currently seven. She was playing at my sister’s house, and trying to get her daughter to hold still while they were painting nails. She asked, “Don’t you want your nails painted?” After a negative response she said, “But if your nails are painted you will be prettier and more people will like you.” I was shocked.
My 7 year old thinks you have to look pretty for people to like you. Is that how she judges others? Is that how she chooses her friends? It caught me off guard, but after the initial shock wore off, I did not think a whole lot more about it. However, a few weeks later, she was told she needed glasses. Her reaction told me that this was a real thing. And something I needed to correct quick!
She had a slight astigmatism, and it was impacting her reading. And so we headed out to the optometrist to get her eyes tested and choose glasses. She was devastated. She had a temper tantrum. She cried. She moaned. She groaned. She whined. And she refused to wear her perfectly darling glasses. Why? Because they made her “look like a dork.” (Her words). She was afraid people would think she looked funny, and would not like her as a result. We were moving, and she feared that with glasses she would be unable to make new friends.
I was terrified at what my daughter was learning. She was convinced that how you look determines your worth. If she wore glasses to school, the other kids would not like her. I had to look in the mirror (pun intended) to realize that maybe, just maybe, she was learning it from me. Sure television shows, peer pressure, and other factors might play a role, but kids learn their values at home. As a mother, I play a profound role in how my daughter develops. And her thoughts could be traced, though indirectly, to some of my actions.
Am I someone who always looks great? Or puts a lot of stock in being “picture perfect” in appearance? No way. There are some days that it is a miracle if I make it in the shower, or get my bra on. I literally did not learn how to wear makeup until about 6 weeks ago. My cosmetologist sister had to show me how to curl my hair with a flat iron (not even 4 months ago), and I am not what you would refer to as frumpy, but certainly not fashion forward either. However, there is an area of my appearance that I do care greatly about, and have been complaining about–My weight/body.
I have always been thin and fit. But, in the last year (since my last baby, baby #4), I have had to work at it, and I have not been very good about it. I am the heaviest and most out of shape I have ever been. I am about 128 lbs at 5’6” (Did I just admit that?). So I am by no means “fat”, but I could stand to lose a little and firm up. I realized that by the way I often talk/ed about myself, especially to my husband, my daughter was learning the “feminine art” of self-hatred when you don’t meet some ridiculous self-imposed standard of perfection, as well as this idea that to love yourself (and conversely others), you have to look “perfect”.
This got me thinking. I am not a super model (clearly), but I am a role model. And I need to start acting like a better one. It is those little moments when you see yourself reflected in your child, and it is not your best self that you see, that you realize how much your thoughts, beliefs, and actions impact those innocent, sweet little people who you are tasked with raising.
As a mom, being a role model is just part of life. Someone is always watching you, and admiring and mimicking you. Constantly being a role model is one of the hardest parts of being a parent. You know that everything you do and say and think is going to be remembered by those little brains. Your child or children will eventually grow up to be their own individual selves, but what you do now molds who they become. The things you value, the words you speak, and the actions you show them, teach them how to behave, think, and act.
I recently read an article entitled, “Why are you teaching your daughter to be a mean girl”. It is about how the mean girls in high school often grow up to be mean girls as moms, and that their daughters learn from them. Whether intentionally or not, they are raising another generation of mean girls. In this article, the author talks about things you can do to make sure you don’t raise a mean girl. Read it, it is great.
It was an interesting article to me because I don’t think anyone really wants to raise “mean” children, but it happens. There are still mean girls in high school today, just like when I was in high school (Wasn’t that yesterday?). From the comments my daughter made, I may be raising a mean girl.
As I was researching the idea of parental role-modeling I kept running into quotes like this:
Your child will become who you are, so be who you want them to be.
Children love to imitate, so give them something great to imitate.
Children never listen, but they are always watching you.
Children are more likely to follow your example than your advice.
These were slightly overwhelming to me. For about ten seconds I couldn’t help but think that if I did not want to screw up my kids I had to be perfect.
As a parent, I have the chance to be my child’s greatest teacher. I can make a difference in the most profound way, not just in my home, but in the world. My child and children will be entering the world, and putting their stamp on it, and I play a big role in whether or not that is a good, productive, and kind stamp, or a selfish, mean-girl-esque stamp. This is scary, and humbling, but what an awesome responsibility and privilege. Check out my post: Are you Raising Entitled Kids? How Not To, for more of my thoughts on this responsibility in parenting.
After the ten seconds were up I realized that being a good role model does not mean you have to be perfect. I certainly am not the perfect example. It is not about being perfect, rather it is about how I face my faults and my short comings. My reactions to my imperfections become teaching opportunities for me as a parent. If I complain about my body, for example, I have to ask myself if am I taking steps to change what I don’t like? Am I exercising, sleeping, eating healthy, staying hydrated? If I catch myself gossiping about someone, or saying unkind things, do I hope my children don’t pick up on it, or do I let them know I was in the wrong, and that I will try to do better (then actually try)?
As a parent, and as a role-model, perfection is impossible. Mistakes happen, and they should, your job is to constantly seek improvement. Show your children that it is okay to be human, have badly painted nails or wear glasses, get mad sometimes, or whatever the case may be, as long as you try your best, like yourself anyway, and never settle, rather continuously strive to improve. For the record, my daughter still struggles with wearing her glasses, and is having a hard time letting go of the appearance-centered-worth belief, but we are making improvements every day.
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