Months ago I was selected to join the Twin Cities cast of Listen To Your Mother, an annual, nationwide series of motherhood-themed story telling events.  Thursday night I shared the stage with a very special group of women, and their stories left a permanent imprint on my soul. 

Here is my story. 

My daughter is especially self-conscious about her body, very picky and specific about the parts she doesn’t like. She’s 6. Given her tendency I knew this day would come and it would suck.

“Fat.”

One of her favorite buddies called her “fat”. She is not fat, but believes she is. When she finally told me what had her so upset, she collapsed in my arms and sobbed. And sobbed. I wanted to sob, too.

I remember being called ugly when I was her same age. I remember being certain it was true. A part of me still is.
Since the day I became a mother, I have worried about putting my kids on the path to good self-image. How could I train them to be resilient in this world where looks matter and meanness is common?

Many of us have an idea of the worst version of ourselves, whether in outward appearance or our deepest inner being. At any age, another person drawing that same conclusion is painful. The notion that such a conclusion could hold truth is … defeating.

That day my daughter and I had a long and teary conversation. I was stunned at how well she articulated what bothered her and how she felt. Nothing got fixed. We only shared the pain of being judged by others, and acknowledged that it was a part of life with which we all must deal. In that moment I knew she had what it takes to figure out tough emotional challenges.

But since then I have still wondered, and worried, how she would find her way and how I could help.

Two days later I was to attend an event with my sweet friend Mary, one that required dusting off a pretty dress. I had one all picked out, conservative but flattering. There was this other dress in the closet, same color, but more…form fitting. But no, too fitted, not appropriate… nah. Never mind that it is the only off-the-rack dress in existence that was made for my peculiar figure, but…nah.

As my conversation with my daughter lingered, I was reminded of this truth. The only time my kids do what I want them to do is when I set an example. Ask any parent, one of the most humbling experiences of parenthood is seeing your child copy your behavior.

I can’t teach my children how to feel good about themselves. I can only practice it. As I approach 40, I have the gift of knowing myself well, bad and good, and finding the comfort in my own skin.

So I said, Screw It.

I cranked up Pink on the stereo, slapped on that tight dress, and got more in touch with big hair and makeup than I had ever before outside my home state of Mississippi. I danced the night away with a big band and a room full of strangers. I had a grand time.

Dear daughters and dear son, happiness doesn’t lie in a tight dress or heavy makeup. Happiness lies in doing what brings you joy regardless of the opinions of others. Happiness lies in being true to yourself.

***

I wrote that five years ago.  

My daughter has since fallen in love with basketball. While learning to navigate the world around her like any middle schooler would, her love for the sport has grounded her in confidence, routine, focus, self-discovery, and incremental growth that extends far beyond her time on the court.

I, however, am 10 pounds heavier, physically exhausted, and at a frightening professional crossroad that threatens my financial well-being. The weight of these things has me engulfed in the fear that the worst version of myself is the defining one. I am trying to beat back that sense of defeat.

As I watch my daughter practice devotion toward something outside herself, I am reminded the power of love to clarify our priorities and inspire our work ethic. This is the essence of how to crawl out of the dark corners of my psyche. And my role in helping my children navigate the world seems turned on its head, as it is they who do it for me.

 
I wrote these last paragraphs in the worst valley of a scary time. The professional crisis cleared, but the lesson stuck.   

For an endless supply of LTYM stories, visit their YouTube channel

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