I have been thinking a lot about my girls and the lessons, intended and unintended, that they are learning from me.
I have always said my goals for my daughters were kindness and curiosity. Within those two qualities were empathy, vulnerability, purpose, and learning – all I deem valuable in life. I need to specify another layer – kindness to self. This doesn’t mean happiness or selfishness, mind you. Quite the opposite.
It means accepting, appreciating and loving the person each daughter is becoming.
We have learned to talk about our highs and our lows – learning from our mistakes and finding ways we can replicate our successes. In this way we regularly take stock of an experience – we appreciate what it taught us, the joy it gave us and we allow disappointment or unmet expectations to wash away. At least we are trying to do that.
This self-love requires something more, for I am fighting against human nature, against social pressures and against my own lifelong habits. I want them to value themselves first – before they fear rejection, crave inclusion, or rush to judgment.
How do I do that in a way that makes sense to an eight-year-old and won’t elicit an eye roll from a budding teenager? I’ve thought a lot about killing two birds with one stone. Twice a day (hopefully) my daughters stand in front of a mirror and brush their teeth. What if they use that time to find one new thing in the mirror everyday that they love, accept or at least are curious about…if not about themselves about their immediate world… for instance, the way a cowlick keeps Grace’s hair away from her face, but Ella’s falls over her eyes. Maybe they can just explore something “wonderful” twice a day. It can be the memory of a kindness extended, a problem solved or a lesson learned. On other days it might just be the wonder of the ladybugs that migrate into the corners of our house each winter. I would like it to be that Grace accepts the gap between her front teeth, or Ella appreciates that she tells a story with her eyes. Any wonderful idea would be welcome, however.
It will take practice. They will resist. I will need to model it. Some days it won’t work at all.
Then we will start again tomorrow. We have to.
I do not want them to grow up discounting the value of their skills, their thoughts or of themselves. Yes I want them to have humility, but not to the extent that they feel like they have pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. I don’t want them to feel unworthy or be paralyzed to share their talents at the risk of feeling like an imposter.
To that end I’m thinking we practice simply saying “thank you” when given a compliment. No additional commentary – just “thank you” and stop. Take it in. Accept proudly that someone noticed a positive trait or skill.
I’m also thinking I model for them the many ways I can “put myself out there.” I can apply to new programs, propose presentations, submit essays , etc. I can succeed and I can fail in front of them. When accepted, I can do it with grace. When rejected, I can find a “coach” to strengthen my skills. When I hear that voice in my head that makes me doubt myself and feel like an imposter, I can embrace it, and then go ahead and prove her wrong.
Mostly, I need to smile. It works to change a mood, and it is contagious. I also need to be mindful of the words I use – the judgments I pass on others, but mostly on myself.
I am lucky. I can kid myself that I need to do these things for Grace and Ella. It gives me purpose and makes me committed to the task. These are things I need to do for myself. And doing something for myself might be the best lesson I can teach them.